There has never been a tight plan and perhaps that is the key to the success of Drinks, Pitches, and Demos. The monthly open stage that connects innovative initiatives from Brainport Eindhoven is now five years old. Nobody has kept track of it, but in that period, at least 250 people must have been on stage with their call, their pitch, or their demo. And many thousands have enjoyed it, with or without the bottle of beer afterward.
It all started at HTC-12, an old cyclotron of Philips Research that was provisionally converted into ‘High Tech Plaza’. The concept is still as simple as when initiators Hans Meeske and Bert-Jan Woertman explained it in 2015. “We just started by opening the doors and inviting everyone and then connecting all those people and organizations here,” Woertman said at the start. “My passion is open innovation,” Hans Meeske added at the time. “And from that passion, we said that we need to share more with each other and bring people together to move this region forward even faster.”
The formula caught on. The DPD community already has over 500 members.
Making connections, meeting and strengthening each other, that is still the goal of these afternoons, says Bert-Jan Woertman. “Not only start-ups and individual pitchers with a vague idea, but also the usual suspects such as ASML, Philips and NXP come here. That’s a great thing. We don’t work with registrations. We’ll just see who shows up each month. Sometimes something comes out of it, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always fun.”
Started at the High Tech Campus and from there fanned out to places like TU/e Innovation Space and Microlab there is still this moment, every first Wednesday of the month, for starting high-tech entrepreneurs who have a specific question for the Eindhoven innovation community. Co-organizer Karina Garcia del Real explains where she believes the success comes from:
A small line of former pitchers makes it clear that this satisfaction is mutual. Marketing & Communications Director Hilde de Vocht of High Tech Campus Eindhoven calls it a top concept. “Drinks, Pitches, and Demos is one of the most accessible and enjoyable activities organized on the High Tech Campus. We can always count on our entertainers Hans and Bert-Jan. Every edition a dazzling news overview, current discussions, interesting pitchers, and a varied audience. Plenty of interaction and everyone feels welcome.”
Folkert Huysinga has experienced a lot of DPD’s over the years. Also as a pitcher: “At first I had to step over a psychological threshold. Do I belong here? Do I know anyone here? Is there someone waiting for my story, my ‘ask’ to the audience? But I soon noticed that DPD is very accessible. Nice people, each with their own story or challenge. Everything is allowed, nothing is required. By sharing my challenge with a diverse group of intelligent people, each with their own specific knowledge and background, I quickly arrive at other, sharper insights at DPD that broaden my horizon. And I can inspire others or help them where necessary. That way we help each other – and it’s fun too.”
Betsy Lindsey was already there in 2015 and has hardly been away since. “Over the past five years, Drinks, Pitches, and Demos has been an important part of my network here in Eindhoven. It’s an informal event where people can mingle, pitch with a call to action for the group, or just get up and ask a question. The pace of the event is fun and lively, so you never know what you’re going to hear”. But it’s not just fun, she says: “At my start-up Airicision, we have had many of our job candidates come from a simple call out to the group, where friends of audience members have heard about an opportunity with us.”
From his role at TU Eindhoven, Woertman also involved the students in the initiative from the beginning. So was Roderick Haarselhorst of student initiative SensUs. He notes that it also had great added value for his project. “The community present has really been able to help us, for example by giving us feedback on our initiative from different angles. Wherever possible, everyone was open to possible collaboration. It is a community that is very good at connecting with unexpected people for different kinds of collaborations.”
Freek van Welsenis is another student that used the DPD-network to start building his company, Hable. “Demos and Drinks is a great platform for young entrepreneurs looking for guidance on important questions, feedback on their plans, and encouragement to take the leap. Because of the casual feel to the event, people are more open to help each other out. Over the last years, it has helped us connect with multiple peers, get a large amount of feedback for important decisions, and learn from others. Overall, it’s the perfect event after a long day to settle down, listen to great stories, and learn more than you know in the meantime.”
Ingelou Stol, a member of the Campus marketing team and booster of the Fe+Male Tech Heroes network, remembers her first time on stage very well. “It’s been three years since my first days on the High Tech Campus. Immediately I’m pulled up on stage to introduce myself. As a former journalist, I loved this. No time to get nervous, just go. And that’s exactly the power of Drinks, Pitches, and Demos. Are you proud of something? Tell us. Do you need help? Ask! And if you’re looking for enthusiasm? You don’t have to do anything, because the atmosphere is always great!”
Terry Boyd found it very useful as a means of integration into the local ecosystem. ‘When you’re new in town and hoping to integrate into the start-up scene, you tend to meet random people who may or may not be representative of the ecosystem. So when we heard about Drinks, Pitches, and Demos, we were curious to find out if the real movers and shakers really did show up at one event. They do, and we immediately met a dozen people who really are innovation leaders in Eindhoven including Bert-Jan Woertman and Hans Meeske as well as dozens of people pitching terrific ideas. One of the real negatives of the pandemic for us is not having a live event to look forward to. We loved encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs when we thought their concepts had real merit. Very rewarding!”
For Victor Donker, DPD marked the start of his own start-up, Usono. “Drinks, Pitches, and Demo’s is an ideal platform to get in touch with a great network in the Brainport region. In early 2016, I pitched the student project Blue Jay, together with Tessie Hartjes. At that same event, I talked to HighTechXL about the start-up I was working on at the time, Usono. At the events that followed, we got to meet staff, investors, and a lot of other nice people.”
Something similar applied to Erik Plasmans, who together with his brother and co-founder at ZENS was able to give his start-up a face at DPD. But his first performance led to something very special as well: “I was standing at the back listening to someone holding a pitch, but I couldn’t hide from Bert-Jan. He brought me forward to tell the ZENS story, about what we do with intelligent wireless charging. I’m not much of a public speaker, yet I was glad he pulled me out of my comfort zone. Afterward, I was immediately addressed by someone from the audience, Marijn van der Pol. He was busy organizing something for an important visit by Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte to the Campus. Together we created something very beautiful in just a few days :-), something that symbolizes Eindhoven and that is Design+Tech.”
“If this is a success, we will do it every first Wednesday of the month”, Bert-Jan Woertman promised exactly five years ago. Today is the first Wednesday of October. Even in times of corona, Woertman and Meeske have kept their promise – although, given the circumstances, we have to do it with an online edition. the live feed will start at exactly 17:00. See you later!