Ruben Tuinenburg is van beroep kraanmachinist grondverzet. Hij en zijn kraan worden door Ripping b.v. verhuurd aan BAM. Vandaag is zijn laatste dag hier.

Hij weet nog niet waar hij morgen aan het werk gaat. Hij is bezig met het dichtgooien van de sleuf waar de afgelopen week de laatste buizen uit zijn gehaald. De bodem onder de voormalige Mekelweg is nu schoon zodat er geheid kan worden voor de aanleg van de nieuwe trambaan.

Are students being taught all they need to know about becoming entrepreneurs?
”One common miscommunication is still the patent phenomena. Our young talents think they must patent their ideas to protect them. But in fact if you want to be an entrepreneur, while being still careful, you should be open to challenging your concept against the market. Making a patent in a very early stage is a long and unnecessary step. Also, it seems the message conveyed by people like Ken Morse, of MIT’s Center for Entrepreneurship, is that the only really successful entrepreneurs are those who build the next Google. But this overlooks an important economic reality: 80% of companies are small and medium sized. Never feel disappointed if you only have 5 or 50 employees, and not 50,000.” 

What are the first steps in becoming an entrepreneur?
”First, understand that there’s a difference between an idea and opportunity. Opportunity is to be able to see, it’s a famous intellectual capacity called serendipity, and it’s being able to see what others are not really seeing. And that’s usually what successful entrepreneurs have been able to do. Everything starts with an opportunity, but between spotting it and making it happen, there is an extremely discontinuous link. Once you spot an opportunity, perseverance and focus are the two main capabilities you must have.” 

What major challenges should a TU Delft student entrepreneur expect initially?
”I always start my lectures by saying, ‘if you want to work for years with no money, be treated like shit by lots of people who think, ‘who are you to tell me anything’, and yet you still want to go through with it, then you might have the basic requirements of what an entrepreneur needs.’ Initially, you probably won’t have many contracts, which means not much revenue. If you get some revenue, you must first pay your employees, and if something is left over – usually there isn’t – then you can pay your own salary.”

Once you’ve identified a real business opportunity, what then? 
”You start by writing your business plan and talking to people who are knowledgeable about setting up companies and assessing market potential. Feedback is what you should really be after, in order to not lock yourself up. You must never think, after a while, that you know everything about your target market. You must talk to venture capitalists at every stage, and always get some kind of feedback to help polish your idea and modify your business plan. That’s really a crucial first step.” 

Is there a specific entrepreneurial recipe to follow for finding investors?
”There are no recipes for convincing venture capitalists to support you. Everything depends on you and your specific idea, market potential, etc. And you must be sufficiently ambitious: there’s this perception that I sometimes see with my students of ‘we got this great idea, and we only asked for 20,000 euro’s!’ But nowadays, venture capitalists aren’t really interested in very small ideas. This doesn’t mean they’re only interested in companies like Google, but they are interested in companies with 10, 20 or 100 employees, and still paying off. Don’t think that just because you have a low profile, in terms of how much money you need, that it’s better for you.”

What else are venture capitalists looking for?
”One of the first things venture capitalists look at is the quality of the management team – and if all the skills are present to make the idea happen. For example, many CEOs aren’t technologically educated, but does that mean they’re incapable of running a technological company? No, because management is an entity of itself.” 

What’s your opinion of the Dutch entrepreneurial spirit?
”The Netherlands has always had the world perspective. I’m from Belgium, and there it’s like ‘you stay around the church’ and don’t stray very far. The Dutch however had the East-Indian Company, the whole world was their market, and they still have that philosophy. TomTom is a good example of a successful Dutch high tech company that’s become a world leader in a specific sector – GPS navigators.” 

Does Delft have the potential to become the Silicon Valley of the Netherlands or even of Europe?
”No, Delft is much too small, and Delft should be conscious of this. Eindhoven knows this, Aachen knows this, and Leuven knows this too, so what they’re doing is trying to make a triangle, to become part of some kind of Silicon Valley in Europe. But even for them it won’t be enough. It’s only through a larger network of top universities that you can actually create an environment that stimulates and provides the necessary inflow of knowledge and highly skilled people, as Silicon Valley does. Delft shouldn’t have that Silicon Valley ambition; instead, the university should affiliate with others or team up in much larger contexts and networks to play any significant role.” 

Is it complicated for foreigners to set up their own companies here in Holland?
”I’m not aware of all the details, but generally Holland is a very open society. Sweden however is also a good example. Sweden offers free education – you can do a Master’s there basically for free, and the real benefit is that all these foreign students from wherever in the world stay there to work or start their own companies, which is very beneficial to Sweden’s economy and society. The Netherlands also understands this phenomenon as a good thing. Highly skilled, educated people are always a big plus for society.” 

What would you change about TU Delft and the city of Delft to make them more entrepreneur-friendly?
”The patent-oriented mindset and lack of a financial center. For example, something the University of Leuven has done very well and TU Delft can substantially improve on is to have its own capital funds. A portion of TU Delft’s financial means could be reserved for this. Such capital reserves make it easier for graduates and colleagues to spin off things; they have easier and rapid access to the money needed to help them bridge the first crucial stages, when they’re fine tuning their ideas and perhaps building prototypes, and to move on to the next stage, where they deal with venture capitalists. That’s something TU Delft can definitely envision.” 

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