Catching up with… Adjmal Sarwary!

Adjmal is one of the founders of MindTrace, a company that offers a remote prototype testing tool so you can optimize your content before you publish it. Their technology turns a webcam into an entire testing lab. We are very curious to find out what Adjmal has been up to and what he is working on right now!

We have known each other for a couple of years now and you were there at the start of Mercator Launch. Why do you think it is so important that Mercator Launch was founded?

“Back when I started my company, I could have really used the services that Mercator Launch offers right now. The services and programmes Mercator Launch provides are a valuable addition to the university as it allows people to build something real. I also feel like Mercator Launch created the perfect startup atmosphere right away, because the way the team works is the exact same way as a startup would. Full of passion, enthusiasm and ambition! Business coaches Rob, Brechtje, Britta and Ed helped me get into touch with people in their network, which was great. I really had the pleasure of watching Mercator Launch grow into the professional company it is now.”

How are things at MindTrace?

“Things are going well at MindTrace. There will be some changes in the company though, because I decided to look for a new challenge. I still love the technology behind MindTrace and firmly believe in our business model, but continuously working on the company caused me so much stress that I decided it is time for something new.”

Does leaving MindTrace mean that you are quitting the business world altogether?

“No, definitely not! MindTrace is doing very well at the moment, so getting out of a successful business does not feel like a failure to me. I have been debating with myself whether entrepreneurship suits me or not, but at the moment I am very convinced that I will not stop being an entrepreneur! But I would like to do something else. One of the things I want to keep working on is my podcast about the intersection of science, technology and business. That is a very interesting domain because when you discover something new in science, how do you build technology around it and create a business model that works? Take for example speech recognition. First, scientists will try to segment and understand language on a theoretical level. Once they discover something new, you need to decide: how fast do you move to the market? How do you build your business around that? This trajectory really interests and fascinates me: how do you make sure that your science, tech and business (people) work well together? Do all people involved speak the same language? Topics like these make me so curious, and that’s why I want to keep talking to people on my podcast.”

What are your plans for the future?

“I am on the job market again. It is a very interesting process as I have not had to apply for a job in such a long time. Being an entrepreneur, I sometimes felt like a generalist. I was not particularly good at one specific thing, which can feel weird. On paper I know what I am worth and what I am qualified to do. I have also some programming abilities, but to me that feels so normal that I do not see it as a special skill, especially not one that could land me a job. I started looking at my skill set differently and figured out what I could offer a company, which got me looking in the direction of Data Science or Product Management. These jobs are often a combination of working with products, lots of contact with people, possibly some programming and thinking creatively about solutions. All things I love to do! And most of these skills I learned while being an entrepreneur!”

What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

“I learned two very valuable lessons I would like to share. The first is: don’t wait. If you are not happy with something your programmer created or there are errors in your financial model, you need to communicate that right away. You need to prevent yourself from carrying around stress and frustration. Make sure to communicate respectfully and open, and don’t be afraid to contact people if you have questions for them. This is also true for when you do like something a lot, communicate it and don’t wait!

The second lesson is to focus on people, not on technology. Technology is obviously very important, but if people do not understand it or do not need to use it, the technology becomes useless. And if you don’t understand your user, then you can’t let the technology fit their needs. You need to validate to see whether your technology matches the need of your users, so: people come first. Always. Being a techie myself, it took me a long time to understand this. You need to get past your enthusiasm for your product, and listen to the people and what they want. Only then your business will be successful!”

Do you have a tip for entrepreneurs (to be) who want to turn their passion into their job?

“Never base your job or company solely on your passion. A lot of people think, passion comes first, skills second. But I think you should follow your skills and let the passion arise from there. Passion always sounds positive, but the thing with passion is that it can make you super happy but also super frustrated. If you do something you do not care about, you will feel less stress when something goes wrong. Only when you work with your passion do you feel such highs and lows. So, my tip would be: follow your skills and start from there. Of course, you still need a base of passion to build on, but just make sure you do not build your business on passion alone. Surround yourself with a good team, atmosphere and dynamic. Ask yourself the question: why do I want to start this business? Is it worth starting this, even if it doesn’t work out in the end? If the answer is yes, then go for it! It means you have the right entrepreneurial drive for your business.”

Why do you think it is important to celebrate successes?

“Because successes are rare. A friend once said to me: “dude, you gotta celebrate your successes, because the rest of the time you will be eating shit.” When you celebrate your successes, you literally take a step back and look at the bigger picture of where you are at that point. Successes are not the rule, they are the exception. And celebrate your successes together! Everyone has played their part, so involve your whole team in the celebration process!”

Curious about Adjmal’s podcast? Go check it out at

Interview with the winner of the Innovation Competition: Thomas Bronzwaer

It is important to celebrate successes! We are very excited to interview Thomas Bronzwaer, winner of the Innovation Competition, about his start-up “Machine Precision“. What do they do exactly and what makes them so unique and innovative that they came in at first place?

What is the idea behind your startup ‘Machine Precision’?

“The idea of ​​Machine Precision is that we build software tools that allow engineers to work faster and make fewer mistakes. The initial idea came from my cofounder Daniel. He used to work at Boeing as an engineer and he was often asked to look for very specific technical parts. When searching for specific components, it is important to ask the right questions. Is the component big enough, how long will the part last, will it corrode quickly? He had to look up all these details in different catalogues. Combining this massive amount of data took him a lot of time. That’s where the idea for our company originates. We wanted to seamlessly merge the data from these different sources together and create a much more pleasant way to find technical parts.”

When did you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

“That’s a funny story, I followed somewhat of an erratic path as a student. First, I studied computer science, then I went to the USA and completed a second bachelor in aerospace engineering. After that, I started following a master’s degree in astronomy in Nijmegen and then continued as a PhD candidate in the same field. I met my ‘Machine Precision’ cofounder Daniel in engineering school in America and we have always kept in touch. We have been thinking about starting a business for over 10 years. Over the years, we have bounced many ideas off each other. Eventually we decided that the efficiency improvement that could be made at Boeing, and therefore at other engineering companies, was something we could create a good system for. He has the technical experience and I know how to tackle problems in a smart way. As a PhD candidate you learn how to conduct your own independent research. All the skills I have learned during my PhD, I can now implement as an entrepreneur. But the funny thing is, my PhD research on black holes has absolutely nothing to do with Machine Precision. Most successful scientists only focus on science. I myself have a broader interest, I don’t want to just sit in the books all day and think about what happened some 30,000 light years away.”

What made you enter the Innovation Competition?

“I first wanted to develop and set up ‘Machine Precision’ all by myself, unhindered by any knowledge of entrepreneurship. I was already talking to a large engineering company that was interested in my technology. I was very enthusiastic about this and contacted Mercator Launch who told me about the Innovation Competition. During the competition, I learned that my conversations with that engineering company were not going anywhere and I changed my entire product idea. You cannot immediately have Google as the first customer, it is much smarter to start with smaller companies. I had started building a prototype where the most logical customers turned out to be oil and gas companies, but I didn’t empathise with that industry at all. So, I had to think more holistically about my business idea. I wanted to approach aerospace companies and satellite builders. Focusing on a new industry luckily did not really change the nature of my product, because I keep combining data from different sources into a more efficient system. I use the same physics, but I have to go back to the drawing board to create a new prototype. Currently, I am participating in the IMPROVE programme of Mercator Launch where I will further validate my business idea with real customers. Tomorrow, I will go to a company for my first interview. I wonder what problems they have that I can respond to with my technique.”

What did winning the Innovation Competition bring you?

“First of all, it is a very nice confidence booster. I learned an awful lot and got a stamp of approval from entrepreneurial experts. But the most valuable thing I learned was how to set up a startup. I wanted to approach everything in a big way, but the Innovation Competition made me think about that in a completely different way. Mark Robinson’s Masterclass on pitching has also given me great insights. I have now found an office, at Mercator Launch, where I will continue working on my business idea. You shouldn’t be too careful and your idea doesn’t have to be completely perfect right away. You just have to talk to people, then it will take shape automatically.”

What are you hoping to learn during the IMPROVE programme?

“I really want to get in touch with more potential customers and find out what their challenges are. And how I can help them. I would also like to run a pilot and continue the IMPROVE programme with the Venture Track after I have completed the Discovery Track.”

What are the future plans for Machine Precision?

“If all goes well, I would like to work full-time on my company from next year on. At the moment, I just finished my PhD and I am working for the university. Mercator Launch helped me with looking at the Intellectual Property of the technique behind Machine Precision. Fortunately, I don’t need a patent. My cofounder Daniel came up with the original IP. I think he will play a bigger role in the business once it really gets off the ground. He knows many investors and companies in America and there is a lot of market potential there. Our dreams for “Machine Precision” are definitely big!”

Do you have an ultimate tip for (future) entrepreneurs?

“I’ve got two. First: the fundamental building block in the entrepreneurial world is ‘the deal’. It’s not the idea or the technology behind it. I focused a lot on the technology behind my idea but I never called anyone to ask them for tips or to pitch my idea. So please do that! And second, listen to experts who have been in the business world for some time, don’t be stubborn (like me) and think that you are special and that no one understands your situation or business idea. Welcome those tips, you are going to need them!”

Digital Working: the experience of… an employee and researcher

Some already swore by it, others were not such big fans, but last year we all had to start working digitally. Sentences like “you’re muted”, “your camera froze” and “do you hear an echo too?” have turned into classics, almost as input for a non-existent bingo card. At Mercator Launch, we are curious to find out what the benefits and challenges of digital working are according to you!

We sat down with our colleague, dr. Esther Steenbeek-Planting, Coordinator Societal Impact at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and asked her about the do’s and don’ts of digital working.

What is it exactly that you do at the university?

“Within the university gravitation consortium programme ‘Language in interaction’, 70 researchers focus their research on language. Within that consortium, I coordinate the societal impact work package. We try to find out how we can make a difference in society with the fundamental knowledge we have generated. When we develop something new that solves a larger societal problem, we often need other parties to work with. In addition to our fundamental scientists, we need applied scientists to test whether what we make actually works in practice. In those cases, it is useful to start a public/private partnership. We do this in combination with grant applications, so that we can contribute to larger social projects and help answer the big societal questions and create impact.”

Last year, we made a major transition to working 100% at home and digitally quite abruptly. How did you experience that?

“It was super stressful, because I had a lot of important meetings while my husband had to teach his elementary class digitally. Because he has a vital profession and we also had to take care of the children, I had to drop some work otherwise it wouldn’t fit. Luckily my agenda was relatively empty after a while, because I was writing a strategic plan. That allowed me to maintain a flexible work schedule. After the lockdown, when my children went back to school, I was able to go back to my ‘normal’ work routine. I immediately started organizing my time differently. Group conversations online are so intensive that you cannot plan them consecutively throughout the day. I started to take more mini-breaks and one longer one every day.  During my lunch I would go cycling for1-2 hours. And after that, I felt completely calm and ready to tackle the rest of the day! At the office, you are regularly distracted from your work by a colleague and sometimes you really need to be taken out of focus to take a breather. The online meetings took some adjustment as well, because you cannot look each other in the eyes when you are talking and you cannot always tell immediately who is talking when. It is really the little things that take up a lot more energy.”

What challenges did you face with digital working?

“For me personally the biggest challenge was new forms of stress. Things that need to be done while also taking care of your children. To relieve the pressure, I started working on Sundays because I did not always know how the week would be. As a result, you do not have time to really switch off. Luckily, I was able to let this new habit go after a while. It is precisely because of this that I have experienced much more personal development than in other years. You really start to think carefully about the reasons you have stress. Another challenge is: you have to learn to deal differently with work focus. At the office you are more easily distracted and you get time to defocus. You need those moments. If I have focused very hard for a couple of hours, I lie down in my hammock at home. I also block empty spots in my agenda, for myself. To take the time I need to process information. I have really noticed that I need more time to process information and if I do not take time for that, I sleep restlessly.”

Your home is now both a work place and a place to relax. How do you create the right balance?

“When I’m done with work, I close my laptop and put it in my bag. I also have a home office, which really makes a difference. I can just close that door behind me and my work is literally done. I try to be strict with myself and not check my mail on my phone. I shut down all my push notifications to help myself with that.”

How did you see other colleagues and students cope with working from home?

“People are working harder and more intensively. Normally there is always a relaxing factor in your work, namely social contact with your colleagues. That all fell away. An acquaintance of mine has had so much trouble connecting at a deeper emotional level with people during online meetings that he completely burned out. It is much more difficult to get feedback from people during online meetings. That is why I have so much respect for teachers. Teaching online takes a lot of extra energy, much more than teaching offline. And they have been doing it for over a year now, I have a lot of respect for that. I am lucky that I am very flexible in my work so that I can adapt well in these times of working digitally. What I really like is that the contact with my foreign colleagues has become much closer. That contact has always been online, but it has now become much more personal during meetings.”

If you could give us one tip to make working at home fun and efficient, what would it be?

“A couple of months ago, we brainstormed about efficacy and optimalisation of online meetings with researchers and colleagues from ‘Language in interaction’ and we created a very handy infographic with really good tips. You can find it here. Other than that, I have two more tips that really helped me:

  • Schedule a 1-hour-lunchbreak once or twice a week. Just do it, treat yourself. Go cycling, walking or do something fun to shift your focus. It is so nice to just be outside in the middle of the day and it always makes me more effective the rest of the day. Added bonus: I tend to come up with good ideas during those breaks.
  • If you are in a Zoom call with more than 50 people, more than half probably has their camera off. There is a function in Zoom that allows you to only see participants who have their camera on. A great solution for never having to stare at or talk to black screens again! Go to settings -> Video -> Hide non-video participants, and you are done!”

Digital Working: the experience of… a PhD-candidate and entrepreneur

Some already swore by it, others were not such big fans, but last year we all had to start working digitally. Sentences like “you’re muted”, “your camera froze” and “do you hear an echo too?” have turned into classics, almost as input for a non-existent bingo card. At Mercator Launch, we are curious to find out what the benefits and challenges of digital working are according to you!

We sat down with Radboud PhD-candidate and entrepreneur Chen Shen. She founded Leafy Cha, a startup specialized in the relaxing art of traditional Chinese tea rituals, based on the importance of having a healthy work/life balance. How does she embrace digital working and what are her ultimate tips?

How important is creating the right work/life balance for you?

“I have struggled with my work/life balance for many years and I know I’m not alone in this. About 10 years ago, I went to the World Exposition in Shanghai where I attended a traditional Chinese tea ritual. This 15-minute tea ritual really transformed me and I felt like I had found my inner peace. But as always, you lose this ultimate feeling of tranquillity after a while and you go back to your everyday, and sometimes quite stressful, life. Over the years, I was constantly reminded of the experience of that simple tea ritual and how it had helped me find my inner peace in the midst of busy modern life. Last year, when COVID-19 started, I was feeling particularly stressed. I was very anxious about not knowing what would happen after my PhD-contract ended. I thought: it’s time for me to pick up the traditional tea ritual again and really do something with it. It’s now or never. The entrepreneurial spirit in me even made me want to turn it into a business! The fear of not having an income after my contract ended gave me the boost to start working on my idea for this startup and to contact Mercator Launch.

How did the lockdown and working digitally affect your balance?

“In the beginning, my work/life balance was really bad. I could not make the distinction between my work and my private life. Working as a PhD-candidate, writing and perfecting your thesis can be a never-ending process. So, I started working in the evenings as well. Not being able to go to an office really did not help. Separating work and your private life in different physical spaces helps you to create boundaries. When you are, let’s say, at your place of work, this physical location helps you categorise your tasks. And when your tasks are done, you can go home. Working from home makes things more difficulty, because then your work tasks get mixed with your chores at home.”

What do you do to create a healthy work/life balance?

“I try to block time for myself; time for work, time for my chores but – most importantly – time to relax. Organizing my time this way costs a lot of willpower and blocking time for yourself to relax is so difficult. My partner is such a big help in this. What also helps me is my tea ritual. This ceremonial way of drinking tea really puts my mind at ease and makes me feel peaceful. When working on my startup Leafy Cha, I feel relaxed because of the power of inner peace this startup gives me. I have already organised several tea rituals for my family and friends. The first few sessions were difficult but they forced me to take a closer look at my customer segment and reflect on my focus.

Another thing that really helps me create the right work/life balance are my two pet bunnies. They are such a nice distraction; you only have to feed and pet them (but also clean up their living space). They made me realise that life can be quite simple: you just need to eat, poop, sleep and hop. The interaction I have with those bunnies made me realise that I have a very fulfilled life. Less is more. That is, coincidentally, the core of my tea ritual. The simplicity of just drinking tea. Tea with no additives, nothing artificial and no excessive stimulation. There is a real ‘pandemic’ of overstimulation going on these days, with sounds, lights, pressure of performance, etc. This small cup of warm tea has the power to make you reflect and regain focus on all the good things in your life. So simple, yet so powerful!

Also, I try to do yoga every day… but it almost never happens. When I am working, I block my work time like this: 25 minutes of focus for writing or reading and then I take a 5-minute break for some stretches. After 2 hours I take a longer break of 15 minutes and try to do some yoga. I am really trying to form good habits and I use a nice web-app, Marinara, that helps me do this. It gives you feedback data about your focus and your relaxing periods, this really helps me to structure my day!”

Why do you think creating the right balance is so important?

“Reducing your stress in general is very important. A while back I saw a book that was called ‘Do less’. The book basically describes two main concepts: busy and productive. They are two different things. If you’re busy you could be putting in all the hours but you might not finish all of the tasks. If you sleep well and take enough time to relax, chances are that you will be productive. You may not even need to make all the hours to achieve the same results. It is important to regularly look at your mental and physical health. Work/life balance has to be a belief, a habit. When you’re happy and healthy and have created the right balance for yourself, everyone can be productive!”

How do you feel that other PhD-candidates are coping with stress?

“According to a survey done by Nature, more than one-third of their respondents (36%) said that they have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD studies. In my perspective, there is not a lot of help available for international PhD-candidates. And within the international PhD-group, there is even a lack of knowledge on how to find that help. Many PhD-candidates are engaging in team sports, which is a good thing. Peer support is always important, so I’m hoping a lot of people are getting that. Occasionally, some of us take walks together. I am hoping the introduction of my tea ritual can also play a small positive part in this process of creating a better work/life balance for PhD candidates.”

What ultimate tip would you have on creating a healthy work/life balance?

“Be happy with what you have. Realise it and focus on that. It really helps me to take a look back and see what I have already accomplished. And you might just find out that you have already done a LOT! This is more helpful and healthy than to only focus on what still needs to be done.

And, very important: do not compare yourself to others, only look at improving yourself. If you are a better you today than you were yesterday, that is improvement!”

Need more tips on how to improve your work/life balance?

Contact us!

In the spotlight… Techwatch!

Techwatch is a Nijmegen-based, full-service media platform focused on high-tech industry in the Benelux. Due to the pandemic, they have expanded their scope to non-high-tech companies, helping them organise online events. They helped us organise Hero Entrepreneurs and the Innovation Competition online! Because they have quickly become one of our favourite partners to work with, it’s time to put them in the spotlight this month.

We asked them 5 questions about their company.

What is your company mission at Techwatch?

“Since 1999, we write about the hightech news in the Benelux. With our magazines Bits&Chips and Mechatronica&Machinebouw, we have the mission to strengthen the high-tech ecosystem in The Netherlands and Belgium and to make it healthier by supplying independent knowledge and information.”

Why did you create Techwatch at the time?

“We wanted to bring news to and about the high-tech industry. There wasn’t a Dutch newsletter for the high-tech market yet, in 1999. Our coverage revolves around the influence of technology, embedded systems, electronics, mechatronics and semiconductors.”

When should people come to Techwatch?

“At Techwatch we can handle all of your marketing and content needs for the high-tech industry. We bring news, offer content services, organise (online) events (and offer them as a service) and we create and host webinars, podcasts and videos. Just like we did for Mercator Launch!”

What are the future plans for your company?

“In the near future we hope we can organise many events on location. Additionally, our plans are to expand readership for our publications, with a special focus on international readers. With Techwatch, we hope to be able to organise events for customers outside the high-tech market too, online and offline.”

What is your advice for starting entrepreneurs?

“Always keep innovating. Do not relax when you think things are going easy, because markets change and time changes. Keep in touch with you target audience. How do they feel, what are their challenges and what do they need? And, most importantly: how can you help them?”

Digital Working: the experience of… a student entrepreneur

Some already swore by it, others were not such big fans, but last year we all had to start working digitally. Sentences like “you’re muted”, “your camera froze” and “do you hear an echo too?” have turned into classics, almost as input for a non-existent bingo card. At Mercator Launch, we are curious to find out what the benefits and challenges of digital working are according to you!

We sat down with Biology student Lars and International Business Administration student Arlette of startup Domus Discipuli, a company that delivers, assembles and rents out sustainable furniture to international students, and asked them about their experience.

Last September, amidst the corona pandemic, you started your company Domus Discipuli. Tell us more about your startup process in COVID-19 times.

Lars: “We started the course ‘Student Company’ at the beginning of September last year. Student Company is an elective where you develop a business with an interdisciplinary group of students. We were randomly assigned together and only received each other’s email addresses. To kick off our startup idea, we decided to have live team meetings every Friday. Back in September, this was still possible.

Arlette: “Meeting each other in real life gave us the chance to get to know each other. The first two months we still had classes on campus, but from mid-October on we continued working online.”

How did you develop your business idea?

Lars: “We wanted to come up with a solution for housing for international students: most rooms don’t have furniture and neither do the international students. So, we came up with the idea of rentable furniture. For a fixed monthly fee, international students can rent sustainable furniture from us. We will work both with furniture from thrift stores as well as new, sustainably built, furniture. We deliver the furniture, set it up and pick it up again at the end of the rental period. This way, we simultaneously tackle the problem of international students who can’t get rid of their furniture at the end of their stay.”

Arlette: “We chose this idea, because it is something we can all relate to. Many of our fellow students are internationals. We started interviewing people: we asked open questions about their current housing situation, how they experienced coming to The Netherlands and settling down in a new city. We wanted to find out what their challenges were. These interviews helped a lot in getting a clear picture of what was needed.”

How did you make the switch from working offline to online?

Arlette: “When we first had to go online, we thought it would only be for a little while. Making the switch to working digitally went very smoothly: we still had our Friday meetings and everyone was motivated to make it work. We did miss the little things, such as not having a whiteboard we could use and being able to ask each other small questions.” 

What challenges did you face with digital working?

Lars: “I found it harder to get my story across online. Someone is less likely to be affected with your enthusiasm and so the quality of your story suffers from it.”

Arlette: “At a certain point, we were at a crossroads because we didn’t know how to continue working on our company in an efficient way. Everyone had tasks, yet none of the tasks got done. Last week, we went to a thrift store with the entire team. Being together in real life really energised us! It is so easy to think in terms of limitations; all the things you cannot do because of corona. To solve this, we sat down one-on-one in breakout rooms to get the creative juices flowing again. And we turned to an online programme, Mural, so we had an online whiteboard for our brainstorms again.”

How do you combine working digitally with being an entrepreneur?

Lars: “When you meet someone in real life, you instantly create a bond. This makes it much more likely for people to listen to your pitch or reach out to you. It seems as if the connections you make online, even though you can make more in one evening, are less powerful than the ones you make offline.”

Your home is now both a work place and a place to relax. How do you create the right balance?

Arlette: “I can separate work and my private life very well. It is a struggle for me to get started every morning. But once I get over that first moment, I am fully motivated and good to go. At the end of the day, I close my laptop and take a walk to mentally close off my work day.”

Lars: “To change locations, I sometimes deliberately sit on my couch when I am working. For instance, for this interview. I need a change of scenery every now and then. Also, I am very lucky that I can go to my internship in Culemborg twice a week, which gives me some variation during the work week. Additionally, I think it’s a good idea to go for a walk during your lunch break. After that, you are ready to go again!”

If you could give one great work-at-home tip, what would it be?

Arlette: “Work with a reward system: if I know I will have a busy day with lots of things, I will treat myself to a nice lunch or allow myself to watch a series during my break. And, very important, make sure that you are not too hard on yourself!”

Lars: “Listen to yourself and organize your working day in a way that suits you. Is it necessary to sit in your chair all day and look at a screen? Or are there meetings you could do while walking? Just do your own thing, create your own momentum!”

Need more tips or want to discuss with ML colleagues?

Contact Mercator Launch!

Throwback to our Masterclasses

Last month we organised 4 interactive masterclasses to take the entrepreneurial skills of our IMPROVE alumni to the next level: Build your founding team, Get connected, Pitch perfectly and Promote your startup. With more than 50 applicants in total the masterclasses were almost completely filled. Time to find out what we’ve learned!

Masterclass 1: build your founding team

Founding a startup takes place in an uncertain and complex environment, and requires a lot of knowledge, experience and expertise. More often than not, this cannot be found in one single person. That is why finding the right co-founder is so important! In our masterclass, ‘Build your founding team’, business coach Britta helped IMPROVE alumni create a clear vision for their startup and helped them gain insight into their own competences and skills, and what qualities to look for in a co-founder. One of the participants said: “It was nice to hear team challenges of other start-ups and how they try to solve them. A great workshop where we learned a lot from each other and the input of the coaches.”

Want to know more about building your founding team? Get in touch with Britta.

Masterclass 2: get connected

One of the most important parts of being an entrepreneur is networking. Networking can bring you valuable contacts that could take your startup to the next level. Our second Masterclass, ‘Get connected’ was all about communication and building relationships. Ed and Saskia helped the participants to map out their current network and gave tips on how to approach people, start networking and how to sustain and build professional relationships! The verdict? “It was a very interesting masterclass with enough practical tips and tricks!”.

Need some help in the networking department? Or looking for a great tip or connection? Contact Ed or Saskia.

Masterclass 3: pitch perfectly

Pitching is key when you want to sell your idea to the world. A great pitch is just as important as a good business plan. But pitching is an acquired skill you should definitely put time and effort into. Professional Pitch Trainer Mark Robinson created the perfect Masterclass and taught us all about what to do and, more importantly, what not to do while pitching, in a way that you are able to pitch your startup to anyone. Everyone worked on their pitches and presented them to the group. And there was only one rule: only give each other positive feedback. One the participants commented: “I loved the positive feedback. Never had done this before and it made me realize what I did right instead of what was wrong.”

Struggling with your pitch? Maybe we can help!

Masterclass 4: Promote your startup

If you have a great business idea, you want people to know about it. The Masterclass ‘Promote your startup’ was very useful for startups in the phase of entering the market. Trainer Aline showed the participants how to translate your company goals and message into a well-functioning and practical marketing plan! We couldn’t have said it better than this participant: “I gained fantastic insights and I’m sure that my company will benefit a lot from this.”

Questions about marketing? Or would you like to join one of our next sessions?

Let us know! And keep an eye on our website for the next series of masterclasses.Please contact us!

A day in the life of… Evelien!

By Evelien Renders, cofounder of Leornova & information manager at Radboud University.

The slight buzzing wakes me at the exact moment my sleep is the lightest. My Sleep app’s AI tries to estimate when it would be the best time for me to wake up. This 7.47 hour night of sleep gets a four-star rating, not bad for a Wednesday! Another algorithmic miracle shows me my monthly fertility status. I’ve only been awake for six minutes, and already two algorithms have influenced my day.

The NOS gives me an overview of what I missed while sleeping. Ah, our prime minister has had a tough night… Still in bed, on to some email. My first attempt at my inbox today and I organise my emails into appropriate categories, answer mails that take under 2 minutes, and plan to-do items on today’s action list.

While working from home, there are also some recurring household activities. Fold laundry? Snooze till tomorrow. Clean the kitchen? Ugh, not today. Care for plants? Mark as done. After some weeding, the list is still slightly longer than I would like – just like every day.

I am getting up. A sweet jingle shows me that I haven’t lost any of my corona kilos yet. The smart scale never lies. Should I add a Body Pump lesson to my to-do list? I’m not sure yet, so I put it as an option on my calendar for tonight.

The first Zoom meeting of my Radboud-morning is starting while I’m still putting on some makeup. Turning on my camera, I look a bit sickly… A quick check on my white balance, and I’m back at a nice glowy sun kissed look. Time flies while clicking through Zoom, Outlook, OneNote, WebWhatsapp, Slack, Teams, and many Chrome tabs. Over the last months, I’ve optimised the distribution over my three displays. My two work laptops, one for Radboud University and one for Leornova, have become fully equipped virtual offices.

After a short lunch walk, I open my Leornova office (laptop). Our last Digitalisation Essentials workshop with 25 international colleagues from all over Europe goes smoothly. Our evaluation survey reflects terrific feedback, and many compliments. With five minutes of transition-time (toilet-break), I join the Mercator Launch Venture Track Return Day. What better way to finish my Digital Day than with these incredibly supportive people together with a good whisky.

At 19.00, laptops are shut off. I switch to my iPad for an episode of Vikings during dinner on the couch while catching up on my social messages. After a couple of episodes, I get in bed again. Dragging and dropping, I promise my calendar to do the 30 minutes of Body Pump tomorrow. At 21.00h, airplane mode makes me invisible to the digital world. Nobody needs to know the last-read page in my book when I fall asleep, except perhaps for Amazon.

Catching up with… Day-1-Dutch!

In our series “Catching up with …”, we catch up with former IMPROVERS to see how they are doing and what they are working on!

Day-1-Dutch is developing a fun and educational app that helps refugees with their integration process.

Jeltje Alberts, Majlen Reinerink, Vera Russchenkamp and Isa Toorneman are Discovery Track alumni and currently participating in the Venture Track. We’re curious to find out what they are up to these days at Day-1-Dutch.

How did you come up with the idea for Day-1-Dutch? And how did you turn it into a business?
“For our studies Social Work at Saxion Enschede we followed the course Innovative Organising. In this course we had to focus on a target audience, investigate the problems they face and come up with a solution. We got the idea for an educational app that helps refugees with their integration process. We reached out to VluchtelingenWerk and pitched our idea. They were so enthusiastic that they connected us to refugees. We talked to them and learned that it can take up to two years to get a residence permit! During that period, many refugees are very keen to learn and start their own integration process, yet they get little to no opportunity to do so. So, we sharpened our idea for the app further: we want to give refugees the right tools to start their integration process from day 1 they arrive in The Netherlands! The tools allow them to learn the Dutch language and our culture and society faster, more easily and within their own pace. We were so excited about our app that we decided to do more with our idea. We approached the Center for Entrepreneurship in Enschede, who in turn helped us find Mercator Launch. We then applied to the IMPROVE programme so we could continue working on Day-1-Dutch and turn it into a successful startup!”

Tell us more about the Day-1-Dutch app!
“Our app is an interactive educational integration game, with multiple levels. The app will be available in different languages and each user starts with an entry test to determine their start level. They will then be assigned to that starting level and begin their learning process. Users will go through multiple modules about different (cultural) topics: the names and use of Dutch objects and things such as furniture, Dutch society and our norms and values and practical things such as ‘how to use public transport in The Netherlands?’. Learning the Dutch language is enabled with showing translations in the app. At the moment, the app is not finished yet but we are working on a demo video that demonstrates the different features and modules within the Day-1-Dutch app.”

What are you currently working on?
“We just finished the Discovery Track (the first part of the IMPROVE programme, red.) and are now starting with the Venture Track. We have been working a lot on validation with COA (Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers), municipalities and VluchtelingenWerk. We are now shifting our focus towards a product/market fit involving market research, financials and Intellectual Property Rights. The end goal: a working product and our first actual customer.”

What challenges did you face over the last year?
“Around this time last year, we started the course that led to Day-1-Dutch and at the end of June we decided to continue working on our idea and develop it into a real product. That’s when the real challenges started! Since our customers are entities, like municipalities, we have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy. It is hard to find and reach the right person and it takes up a lot of our time. As we are all trying to combine our business venture with our course load, work and internships, it was sometimes difficult to find enough time to do it all. The four of us really needed to make sure we put in the effort needed to make Day-1-Dutch succeed. Fortunately, we now have Britta as a coach. She helps us map our processes and asks us the critical questions that help us move forward. During the IMPROVE programme, we already looked at a lot of important things, i.e.; how does the refugee system work in The Netherlands, who is responsible for what and who finances it all? The insights we gained were all very useful for the development of our app and getting it to our future users.”

What is your ultimate goal with Day-1-Dutch?
“Ultimately, we want to reach every refugee in the integration process that wants to learn from day 1! We want our app to improve the well-being of people in asylum centres and make sure they don’t just spend their time waiting around while they could be doing something fun and useful. Furthermore,we want our app to be one of the standard learning tools people are given when they enter the asylum centre. In this way, we can give all refugees equal opportunities and help people that are excited to learn more about the local language and culture.”

What inspires you to do better every day?
“The knowledge that we can do something useful for motivated people. We can make sure their time and energy does not just go to waste and we can ultimately contribute to the improvement of the integration process, both for refugees as well as for Dutch society. Working for others is very much rooted in our hearts and in the Day-1-Dutch company.”

Do you have one last tip for entrepreneurs (to be) who want to turn their passion into their job?
“Working with your idea and starting a company are amazing experiences that will teach you a lot. You will get to know new people, gain a lot of knowledge and improve yourself in the process. Even if nothing comes of it, it’s educational and makes you a better person.”

Are you interested in helping the Day-1-Dutch team develop their app or do you know someone that can help bring the app to the users? Contact Day-1-Dutch.

4 Tips for Working Digitally

It’s April 2021 and we are working digitally for over a year already. It’s not always easy to find a routine in your day at the home office. In this list, we offer you some tips to make your digital working day as comfortable as possible.

  1. Communication: ‘’you’re still muted’’

Where previously communication and decision-making was fast and easy while being together at the office, it now requires more effort to reach out to your team in order to discuss a topic. There are however tools to facilitate fast and efficient communication. The first one is the most traditional and old-fashioned one you can think of: it’s called the phone.

In The Netherlands, there is a good reason for saying ‘’De beller is sneller’’, so pick up that phone if you need something from your teammates or business partner or simply want to have a chitchat to kick start the day. Other beneficial channels are for example Slack, Whatsapp for Business, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

2. Work/Life Balance: prioritize and realize that things can wait

These times it remains a hot topic: how to establish a healthy work/life balance? Firstly, it requires a little bit of your own effort to close your laptop after a busy day and leave it until the next morning. However, we can imagine that working and living in the same place could make that difficult. Try to remember that not every mail, message or task needs to be completed the same day. You could apply the simple ABC Method to prioritize your jobs and get more grip on your work day.

3. Take a walk they say, it will be good for you, they say

We know a lot of you can’t stand to hear it anymore: take a walk and exercise. Guess what? It is true… When you start your day with a stroll around your house, you feel more energized for the rest of the day. Another thing you can do is to schedule your meetings in combination with a walk. Next to some exercise, you get the opportunity to meet your colleague in real life. And last but not least, to vitalize your body, try to do your work in standing position occasionally. It gives you more freedom to move which results indirectly in higher productivity and creativity. Don’t have the money to buy such an expensive desk? No worries, because with Stand Up Box you can simply create your own standing desk.

4. Distraction is annoying

There is always more work to do than we anticipate beforehand. Distraction by communication channels such as Outlook, Whatsapp or Slack disturbs your concentration and withholds you from ‘’getting things done’’. It’s recommended to go digitally ‘’offline’’ now and then to focus on the job that needs to be done. Only look at your mail twice a day for half an hour or simply turn off the notifications for a while until you finish your work.

The most important trait to have as an entrepreneur: do you know what it is?

By Rob GroenendaalBusiness Coach

“A few years ago, in the summer of 2018, we organised the IMPROVE programme for the first time. Not in the exact same way that we are currently running it, but we organized a summer school ‘’crash course’’ edition. This summer school was basically our first pilot and we learned a lot. In this article, I would like to tell you what happened during this pilot and how I discovered the most important trait to have as an entrepreneur.

The one word that defines your why
One of the topics we addressed at the start of the course (and still do) is Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, a.k.a. Find your Why. The Golden Circle is a great tool to find that one important word on which your whole startup is founded. As the why of startups is often very personal (you are the startup, the startup is you), it is also a great method to trigger people to open up about their true motivation behind the wish of becoming an entrepreneur. During that specific summer school edition, I had a chat with starting entrepreneurs about their why and one of the answers I received still triggers me to this day: “We want to make as much money as possible and become rich!”.

Can money be a motivator?

It was a very interesting response and not quite what I expected. But there is some truth in it: money does play a key role in our society and if you want to become a successful entrepreneur, you will definitely need a business model in which revenue exceeds costs. For most of us, this is a desired result. But this person actually said that money was their why. Can money ever be your true why? The reason you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

My simple answer

No, I believe money can never be the why of an innovative startup. Because if earning a lot of money really was your true heart’s desire, you would not start your own company. There are easier ways to earn money than entrepreneurship. I know far more poor entrepreneurs than rich entrepreneurs, to be honest. But most starting entrepreneurs are only ‘poor’ when it comes to money, because they are very rich in another sense. That is because they have the single most important trait you can have as an entrepreneur: passion! They are not in it for the money, but they are starting their business out of passion. A key element for success! And when it comes to passion, the opposite is true: I know far more entrepreneurs rich in passion than poor in passion.  

The “truth” about passion

If you want to start an innovative company, you either want to create something that isn’t there yet or improve an existing product, service or process. Additionally, you probably want to make a difference and maybe even create societal impact with your startup. If this is the vision you have for your startup, then passion is a must! Without it, your entrepreneurial journey will be difficult and your chances of success are low. I will explain why:

Passion stimulates your intrinsic motivation. And let’s be honest, you will need a lot of that when you are setting up a business from scratch.

Passion will help you overcome your screw ups. Yes, you read that correctly, you will inevitably screw up. Not once, not twice, but many times. That is how you learn and improve. Screw ups are necessary, however that doesn’t mean you like them. Passion is needed to accept and overcome them. It helps you to acknowledge the positive side of failure and to use it to your advantage.

Passion will be that unique thing other people notice. Whether you are trying to convince a partner to cooperate, an investor to invest, or a Mercator Launch business coach to let you participate in an IMPROVE track. Passion is part of the decision more often than you might think.

Passion will drive you to persevere, when it is time to persevere. Starting up is dealing with a lot of risks and assumptions. Everything is mostly unclear and pivots are just around the corner. However, sometimes you just need stick to what you believe, keep going and dig even further. Passion is needed the most in these situations.

Passion is the clickbait for customers. Let’s be honest, why do customers choose to do business with your startup? Because of your buggy prototype? Your basic knowledge of the problems your customer is facing every day? Your assumed Value Proposition? Of course, all of the above. You know what else?

The level of . . . . . . . of the entrepreneur.

Want to unleash your entrepreneurial passion into the world?

Contact us

Powerful quotes & great tips about starting your own business!

This month is all about passion. Passion can be extremely powerful, whether it is your own or someone else’s. Nothing is more inspiring and infectious than hearing an entrepreneur talk about their company with unbridled enthusiasm and determination. That is exactly the kind of inspiration we have got for you today: quotes from our passionate entrepreneurs about starting your own business! We have gathered the best tips from our IMPROVE-alumni, based on their own experiences. Are you ready for a healthy dose of inspiration? Here we go.

  1. “If you have an idea, make a plan and make your idea better by testing, testing and then some more… testing!” – Van Eigen Deeg
  2. “Challenge yourself to learn and develop a little more every day. Where you start is probably not where you will end up anyway.” – Tolooba
  3. “Dare to try new things, even if you’re unsure if they will really work. You learn from your failures. Work on something with added social value. Because if you have that, you have the potential to create a successful business and make the world a better place!” – Soluxa
  4. “Your first business idea will probably not work out exactly as you planned it. And maybe not even your second or third idea either. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not about what you want to do, but about why you want to do it.” – Displac3D
  5. “Be proud of your idea, but also be aware. Even if your idea seems great, it will never be a guarantee for success. Keep close contact with Mercator Launch and grab a coffee time to time with your network, to keep yourself on the learning track.” – Pixelstad
  6.  “Do something you really like and see how far you get. If you don’t like what you do, you won’t get very far. And if you don’t try, that’s a real shame!”- AeroCount
  7. “Only start a company out of passion. And ask yourself regularly if this still holds true.” – LABM8
  8. “Just go for it! If you have an idea, don’t hesitate to try and make it work.” – Gelijkspel
  9. “Let other entrepreneurs inspire you and learn from each other.” – Ji Shin Martial Arts
  10. “Do what you believe in, work passionately and be patient!” – Crowdience

Well, if these quotes didn’t inspire you to start your own business, we don’t know what will. Do you already have a great idea? Are you ready for the next step? Sign up for our next Discovery Track that starts in April.

Apply here!