Tell us about yourself, your hobbies and interests.
On a cold evening, early January, I was born in the quiet and historic city of Brielle. Soon after, I moved with my parents to a small village north of Rotterdam close to Rotterdam Airport. The regular take-offs and landings drew my attention and as a child I was interested in early aviation; the various and exotic aircraft, and the people that build them. It motivated me to study aerospace engineering. But it was at a time that Fokker went belly up and I decided to finalise my bachelor and continue business administration. Yet technology remained drawing my attention. Today my interest is more broader and apart from new technology developments I enjoy riding my race bicycle, go sailing with the family and if time allows, go camping with our restored Volkswagen camper bus.
How did you become the Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship?
During my study Business Administration, I was interested in entrepreneurship, more specifically in technology-based entrepreneurship and the first developments at university to support this. Twinning and biopartner centres were new, incubation did not exist yet in the Netherlands and I decided to conduct my PhD in this field. After my PhD I worked shortly at RSM Rotterdam, but my interest in technology pulled me to TU Delft, where I started in 2007. Initially to contribute to entrepreneurship courses and later to build new programs for various faculties. Since 2016, the centre started to operate as an separate entity and I took the responsibility to become the director of the centre to better the education we offer for faculties and allow for more students to take these courses.
What do you think the contest's main takeaway is for students?
The core benefit of the contest for students is the network of industry professionals. Students are resourceful and are great in dropping ideas. Immediate validating of the idea is the crucial next step. Yet, it is beyond our expertise, as educators and coaches, to assess the validity of the idea and whether it would make a difference in industry. Industry professionals that are part of the contest network are most welcome to help speed up opportunity evaluation.
How do you define innovation?
Traditionally innovation is considered an invention that has commercial value. Commercial value is then translated as a large group of users willing to pay. For start-ups, the first market entry is important and if you can show 1 person willing to purchase your offering, you can start because you have an innovation.
What is the role of innovation in entrepreneurship?
In my view, without innovation, entrepreneurship cannot exist. Off course you can start a business without an innovation, but I would not consider that person an entrepreneur, maybe a trader or self-employed person taking considerable personal risk. In my view the entrepreneur brings change or welcomes change, and that is inherent with innovation.
How can the TU Delft encourage their students to become more innovative entrepreneurs?
At university, engineering students learn about technology which is often the first step to innovation. But more importantly, students have this inner disposition to question how things are done and tend to think it can be done better. While universities in technology have centuries of expertise to improve student’s specific technology knowledge, the tools to trigger the inner disposition of students are yet to emerge. These tools to make students aware of their strength and potential to become an entrepreneur or act entrepreneurially need more attention. One such tool are programs like the contest to support the interaction with industry professionals.
What do you think is more important: social or innovative entrepreneurship?
This is a tricky question. I would give preference to social innovation and let me explain why. In my view social entrepreneurship, is not only aimed at developing solutions for the poor, the underprivileged, but it also includes new solutions based on innovation in terms of a new process, a new business model and the inclusion of various stakeholders that can equally take place in high-end markets. As such social entrepreneurship is about changing the existing, thus also innovation, but through interactions with people, not only your customer, and thereby increasing the changes of acceptance and thus success.
Do you have any last advice for the students?
Students are smart, but sometimes they are too confident about the technology, the solution they have in mind. It works on the drawing board, hence it will sell by itself. However, reality is harsh and you cannot beforehand predict what a customer needs. Therefore, I would stress that it would be good to question yourself, question the initial solution you have as a student. Listening, listen very careful, to users, customers, stakeholders and industry professionals is the key skill to success.