This is a series on Startupbootcamp HighTechXL. Each year ten young, innovative start-ups begin the accelerator programme in Eindhoven. Over three months business plans are thrown out, teams get to know one another again, investors get ready to reach for their wallets and brilliant ideas come to light. Take a sneak peek behind the scenes of the breeding ground of the next big things. Part 2: Startupbootcamp Global and Amsterdam co-founder Patrick de Zeeuw

The interview with Patrick de Zeeuw takes place over Skype. He’s sitting behind the screen in his office in Amsterdam’s Zuidas district. Two sentences in and he’s off to speak with a colleague who walks past.

“There’s quite a bit going on today,” he says cheerfully as he returns to the screen. Startupbootcamp Amsterdam has just relocated to its new, 800-square-metre location in the former IBM premises in the Zuidas district. This week is the official opening.

Once a semi-professional snowboarder, Patrick de Zeeuw decided instead to go and do something with his management and international economics studies on his 25th birthday. He moved from Eindhoven to Amsterdam and started a successful career at Endemol, which was sold to the Spanish company Telefonica in 2000. De Zeeuw began investing in innovative companies before setting up his own start-up.

Since 2010 he has been the co-founder of Startupbootcamp Global and Startupbootcamp Amsterdam. What are the most important lessons from the world of start-ups? And how does he view the developments in his home town?

Contact, office space and cash

The concept of Startupbootcamp is as follows. Those selected for the programme receive:

3 months of intensive guidance + an office space (which can be used for a further three months after the programme)

access to a diverse network of around 150 mentors and over 300 investors and partners involved in the Eindhoven programme

€15,000 per team.

So far so good. Talking to De Zeeuw it becomes clear that people’s work comes first and foremost. “The idea sounds great on paper, but it obviously isn’t that much. A lot of start-ups come to find that their plans really don’t work as they’re already trying them out. That doesn’t matter, a lot of successful products do come from a completely different idea. Take YouTube, first designed as an online dating site, now the largest video platform in the world.” But what’s important for Startupbootcamp is that potential teams dare go through the process of change.

A pressure cooker situation in Eindhoven

De Zeeuw created Startupbootcamp Global with three other partners in 2010. The first edition took place in Copenhagen before the programme was expanded to nine cities worldwide. “Every year we receive about a hundred requests for new accelerators,” says De Zeeuw. But just as with the potential start-ups, the selection for this is tough. Guus Frericks and Eric van den Eijnden, the founders of the Eindhoven programme, approached Startupbootcamp Global halfway through 2012. They saw the opportunities for a start-up programme geared towards hardware.

It took nine months of talks to proceed, but it soon became clear that Eindhoven was in the same league, and the High Tech Campus was the place to temporarily house these start-ups. The Eindhoven programme has since been focused on 8 topics:

  • Internet of Things
  • Advanced Materials
  • Advanced Robotics
  • Autonomous and Near-Autonomous Vehicles
  • Energy Storage
  • 3D-Printing
  • Renewable Energy
  • Lifetech-Medtech

The Netherlands or “the test land”

There are differences between the cities. According to De Zeeuw, Eindhoven’s strength lies in its enormous network of technological companies. Where many start-up programmes concentrate on the development of new software, here physical products are made. An innovative drone, a tiny sensor for detecting mines or a high-tech gaming glove.

And how can the region improve? De Zeeuw believes that “Eindhoven could be even stronger in the fields of marketing, sales and communication.” Something at which Amsterdam is generally much stronger.

But enough about Amsterdam and Eindhoven. De Zeeuw sees the Netherlands’ power as a whole, as an ideal testing ground for innovative companies. He calls the Netherlands a “tech-savvy market”, a place where people get along well with new technological products. Given the modest size of our country, it’s also a place where things don’t go terribly downhill for start-ups when things don’t work out. And if your product catches on? “Then you’re right next to England or Germany with a market of 80 million people.”

Seeking Managers

Startupupbootcamp Global has been around for five years now. Last year the company was named the best start-up accelerator programme in Europa. What’s next? De Zeeuw explains a problem that many start-ups can encounter at any time: if everything is going well, you need more people – and fast. They are hard to find. De Zeeuw has, among others, the role of ‘caretaker’ in the team. If you are a team of four or five, you can still take care of everything. Once a start-up suddenly grows into a team of fifteen, however, it is crucial that you have someone on board who can manage the team effectively.

But where do you find such managers? “Not usually in the corporate world,” is the answer. “We look for top-notch entrepreneurs with enough experience in this field. Until now it’s been hard to find them quickly, so we will start training them ourselves.” At the end of this year the ‘Academy’ will begin, a training programme that should produce a pool of entrepreneurial talent to quench the thirst for readily available, experienced managers among Startupbootcamp teams.

Prising out the synergy

The Startupbootcamp network is becoming an increasingly important factor. Around 250 start-ups with a total of several thousand employees have now completed the programme. Even after the programme, De Zeeuw and his colleagues remain involved with the teams, least of all because Startupbootcamp receives an eight percent share in the start-ups in exchange for their knowledge, contacts and resources. It’s also because all of those smart, entrepreneurial people who come together to make the programme even better.

“We prise out the synergy,” says De Zeeuw enthusiastically. And with that he’s off again.

Part 1 of this series on Startupbootcamp HighTechXL: #the mentor

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About the author

Renske Mehra is a writer. She makes understandable and interesting stories about difficult subjects.