Catching Up with Ivan and Spence: Driving Innovation Forward with Maxy

It’s been an exciting journey for Ivan Roy (25) and Spence van Asperdt (23), the dynamic duo behind DriveMaxy.

Meet Maxy

Ivan graduated from the MBA program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2021. He came up with the idea for Maxy to improve the traditional driving school market. Ivan’s strong dedication to innovation and customer needs has been crucial to Maxy’s progress. Meanwhile, Spence is pursuing his master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence. Although early in his academic career, Spence’s passion for programming and eagerness to learn have played a significant role in shaping Maxy’s innovative platform. Together, Ivan and Spence have brought their unique skills to the table to reshape driving education.

Founded by Ivan in 2019, Maxy aims to revolutionize how students connect with driving instructors and navigate the road to obtaining their driver’s license. With its user-friendly platform, the young startup is committed to transparency and quality. In a recent catch-up, they share their trials, triumphs, and invaluable lessons learned along the road to entrepreneurial success.

From Idea to Implementation

Just 10 weeks since its official launch, Maxy has already seen the first cash flow, marking a significant milestone for the team. But getting here hasn’t been without its challenges. Ivan reflects on the early days when the idea was just a spark of inspiration. “I had the idea, but no one to develop and make it happen,” he shares. That’s where Spence entered the picture, armed with a passion for programming and eager to learn. With his contributions, Maxy began to take shape, one line of code at a time.

Navigating the Startup Landscape

One of the most significant challenges for any startup is navigating the complex landscape of funding and partnerships. Ivan and Spence were at a crossroads, seeking support to keep their dream alive. Through strategic partnerships and the guidance of Mercator Launch, they found the fuel they needed to propel Maxy forward. “Mercator Launch’s tips were invaluable,” Ivan reflects. “They taught us to think local, to start small, and to focus on simplicity.”

Learning and Growing Together

For Ivan and Spence, the journey has been as much about personal growth as it has been about business success. “We’ve learned more than we ever could have imagined,” Ivan shares. “Being part of a startup is about more than just writing code. It’s about embracing the process, embracing the journey.” Spence agrees and admits that he had to face a steep learning curve when joining the team. “I’ve grown in ways I never thought possible,” he adds. “And working alongside Ivan has been incredibly rewarding. “Their complementary skills and positive vibes have been key to navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Facing Challenges Head-On

Of course, no journey is without its challenges. From the ultimate low of losing a key team member to the exhilarating high of launch day, Ivan and Spence have weathered it all. “It takes hard work, patience, dedication, and yes, a bit of luck,” Ivan reflects. “But we’re proud of how far we’ve come.”

Looking to the Future

With their eyes set firmly on the horizon, Ivan and Spence are ready for the next chapter of the Maxy journey. With Tilburg as their pilot city, they’re focusing on expansion nearby. Collaborating with student associations and driving schools, they’re determined to bring Maxy’s innovative approach to new markets.

As they reflect on their journey so far, Ivan and Spence feel thankful for the support they’ve received. From Mercator Launch to their shareholders, partners and early adopters, each has played a vital role in Maxy’s success. And as they continue to grow and evolve, one thing is clear: the future looks brighter than ever for this dynamic startup duo.

Feeling Inspired to Start Your Own Business?

If Ivan and Spence’s journey with Maxy has ignited your entrepreneurial spirit and you’re considering starting your own business, Mercator Launch is here to help. Whether you need mentorship, guidance, or resources to get started, our team is dedicated to supporting aspiring entrepreneurs every step of the way. Contact us via email at or subscribe to our newsletter here to stay updated with the latest insights, events, and opportunities for startups in the Nijmegen and Gelderland region. Let’s turn your vision into reality together!

McLaunch at Science Park!

Today, we­ shared plans for an exciting new addition: a ve­gan McDonald’s location! While this idea gene­rated interest and curiosity, this is an April Fools’ Day prank!

At Mercator Launch, we’re passionate about supporting early-phase entrepreneurship and innovative business ideas. While the vegan McDonald’s might not become reality, it highlighted the university’s ongoing efforts to embrace plant-based options.

We fully support Radboud University’s mission to increase vegetarian and vegan offerings on campus, as outlined in its sustainability objectives for 2025. Embracing change and innovation is key to creating a healthier environment for everyone at the Science Park

Imagine a vegan McDonald’s as a hotspot for community gatherings! While this idea might not be coming to campus soon, the spirit of creativity and collaboration it inspired is something we’re proud of.

While you won’t be sinking your teeth into vegan McLaunches just yet, we encourage you to continue supporting sustainable initiatives and exploring new ideas that make a positive impact. Together, we can create a brighter, greener future for the Science Park and beyond.

Do you have a game-changing business idea of your own? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us here to make your innovation reality.

From Green Roots to Innovation: Meet our New Colleague Mathijs

Meet Mathijs Buddingh’, our passionate project manager at the Science Park, a thriving hub nestled within Radboud University and Radboudumc’s green campus. Here, knowledge-intensive companies collaborate and innovate, driven by a commitment to sustainability and impactful change. With a background rooted in stewardship principles, emphasizing responsible resource management, Mathijs brings a unique perspective to his role, blending sustainability with innovation for a brighter future.

Nature’s Influence on an Entrepreneurial Journey

Mathijs’s journey originates from a ‘green’ background in Agricultural Property Management, where stewardship principles profoundly influenced his worldview. Transitioning from real estate to municipal roles, Mathijs sought greater impact; “I wanted my talents to mean more… entrepreneurs often hold the key to the big challenges we face”. Now, as project manager at the University’s Science Park, he embraces the opportunity to contribute to an innovative entrepreneurial community.

Overcoming Industry Challenges

Mathijs points out the unique challenges of entrepreneurs, emphasizing the need for swift responses and perspective maintenance. Drawing from his pandemic experience, he applauds entrepreneurs’ resilience and creativity, showcasing their capacity to collaborate, support one another, and innovate amidst adversity. “In times of crisis, creativity and positivity are crucial”, notes Mathijs, highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit’s enduring strength.

Nurturing Entrepreneurial Growth in Nijmegen

Having fallen in love with Nijmegen, Mathijs witnessed the heart of the city’s entrepreneurship – a community that cares, collaborates, and works together. Believing that entrepreneurs contribute to the city’s livability and vibrancy, he sees a bright future ahead. With the Science Park, Mathijs aims to contribute to the ongoing care and support of Nijmegen’s entrepreneurs, ensuring that their creativity continues to shape the city’s dynamic.

“The Science Park is about creating a place where entrepreneurs can come together, collaborate, and achieve their full potential.”

With a vision for the Science Park as a hub of innovation and collaboration, Mathijs outlines plans to facilitate knowledge exchange and community building. “We aim to unburden entrepreneurs and foster a sense of community,” he shares. “By bringing residents into contact with each other, we can generate business together and maximize value.”

Join the Movement

In Mathijs’s words, Mercator Launch isn’t just a space; it’s a community-driven ecosystem where starting entrepreneurs thrive. “With our services, we want to unburden entrepreneurs,” he emphasizes. “By bringing Science Park residents into contact with each other, knowledge and experience can be exchanged, and companies can generate business together.” For aspiring entrepreneurs, Mercator Launch offers more than just a physical space—it offers a supportive network, tailored resources, and opportunities for collaboration that can accelerate growth and maximize impact. So, to those considering their next entrepreneurial leap, Mathijs extends a warm invitation: “Come join us at Mercator Launch, and let’s start this journey together!”

Mathijs’s journey embodies a dedication to nature, community, and meaningful change, positioning him as a driving force in shaping Nijmegen’s entrepreneurial landscape. Through the Science Park, his vision unfolds, cultivating a vibrant community where innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurial well-being thrive.

A business diary: Mercator Launch from an artist’s point of view

You’ve probably heard that creative minds often get distracted because they’re always busy catching up with a new idea. Let me illustrate this with a cute metaphor: creative minds are like balloons, they’re created to fly but if no one pulls the strings, they can disappear completely. It means that creative thoughts risk remaining only as a mind-based idea.

As an artist, I always suffered from being “too creative” in the sense that when it comes to realizing my ideas, I was often lost. Which idea should I choose to elaborate? Which of my ideas should I work on? Blah blah blah… never-ending internal conversations…

One of the benefits that Mercator Launch provided is being “grounded”. We’re talking about business and the market, in other words, the material world. An opposite world compared to mine as an artist. But thinking in terms of business and the market pushes you to re-interrogate and re-encapsulate all of your ideas, but also your artistic practice and your social response-ability as an artist. Are all of my creative ideas important? Which idea is more practical and doable? Which one(s) will satisfy a need or solve a problem? Flirting with these questions is already a tool of grounding because (especially as an artist), finally, you’re getting out of your mind. 

Sadly, most art schools don’t inform students about the real and business world during the education period. The problem is when you graduated from an art school, you’re a little bit… lost or you feel ignorant about the market. As art students, we often think that in the future, we must be or do something related to the department we graduated from. If I studied acting, I “have to be” an actor; if I studied dance, I should be a dancer, right? I sincerely believe that these kinds of mental limitations limit one’s potential. Whatever might be the department that you graduated from, with your power (which is your artistic practice), you can make a lot of new things, create, produce, sell, and reach out to people you don’t know yet. So, I guess the other benefit of Mercator Launch has been to point out what it means to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t only mean being “a businessman”. No! It’s a leadership that involves courage. It’s an innovation process that you truly believe in that you can make a new and alternative contribution to the world. 

Since I follow the Discovery Track at Mercator Launch, I started to think that my artistic practices can reach much more people via the entrepreneurship side. It means that entrepreneurship where art and business are tightly interconnected can be a tool for expanding my artistic and aesthetic knowledge in many different directions. Mercator Launch provided a “bridge” to me between my artistic practice and the real business world. Because as you can imagine, as an artist, we sometimes feel lost since things don’t work out as we wish in our carrier (applications, residences, festivals, …).

A third revelation: the Discovery Track at Mercator Launch showed me that there isn’t much difference between artistic research and entrepreneurship. As in the artistic research process, you also come up with an innovative idea as in entrepreneurship. And an idea is always something alive, capable of shifting its shape. Our first creative and innovative idea(s) become(s) embodied throughout the sessions and the guidance we had at Mercator Launch. It finds not only its tangible and final shape but also its targeted audience. The creative idea – as an abstract entity – becomes framed and concretized. Again, the innovative idea finds a ground to bloom and to serve other people. It becomes grounded and ready to provide a service, either to solve a problem or to meet a societal need. 

To conclude, a final argument. Being an entrepreneur requires excitement, but it also involves fear, which is very human and normal. Rob, Ton, Florine, and Radboud University support and guide you throughout this journey. Then, you feel cared enough to make steps forward to touch your final aim despite whatever your troubles are.

Written by Can Bora (IG | canbora.berika).

Most promising startups of 2023

Happy belated new year! We can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store for us. Traditionally, we relive the highlights of the year at Mercator Launch by putting a few of our startups in the spotlight. This year we’re doing things a bit different. Instead of looking back, we’re looking ahead. And we do so by paying special attention to 10 startups that are likely to have great impact.

We start off with startup Radix Security. The mission of founders David Rupprecht and prof. Katharina Kohls is to make mobile network security accessible, by providing reliable services and products to their customers. And their efforts are paying off. For example, they secured base stations against eavesdropping attacks by finding and disclosing implementation flaws in large-scale deployments. Besides, they recently got a €500K grant for funding!


Speaking of security: Levi Bouman and Mohammed Saeb aim to prevent fraud whilst selling tickets for events, by using blockchain technology. To do so, they founded Soteria Tickets last year. This SaaS (Software as a Service) developer delivers ticketing software to event agencies. Other benefits are that event agencies receive royalties from the ticket sale and that neither organizers nor visitors have to deal with cryptocurrencies or wallets – everything is done through iDeal. Levi and Mohammed are currently adding the finishing touches to their startup and plan on going live in the second quarter of 2023.

We’re staying at the software department just a little longer. Founders Stan Wijn and Tim Govers of Medip Analytics develop software to assist Biotech and Medtech companies. This software allows them to show the added value of technology, for patients and for society. 2022 revolved around laying the foundation for the startup and finding investors. Now, the founders received the Startup Fonds Gelderland pre-seed loan for startups. They’re going to use these funds to permanently settle on the Novio Tech campus, hire employees and further work on the development of their software.

Next up is ReneoLabs. Remco Gevers and Jeroen van Wijk are developing a unique kind of lipbalm that can reduce taste dysfunction due to COVID, pregnancy or chemotherapy. The lipbalm has a certain scent and putting it on makes the nasty tastes less strong. They’re currently testing the product on safety, shelf life, and compatibility at SkinConsult. The result will be a very comprehensive information sheet, which makes the product ready for introduction on the Dutch market. By the way, they want to test more scents in the future. So if you have any suggestions, let Remco and Jeroen know!

EnginX also has exciting things on the horizon. This startup makes software for engineers, to help them make better and faster decisions. In June, EnginX received funding from Startup Fonds Gelderland, which enabled it to get its own office! To celebrate, the whole team flew in for a grand opening of the office. According to co-founder Saskia Eijkelhof, EnginX currently has one paying customer, and is in the process of getting more. Meanwhile, they’re talking with European investors, to secure local funding so they can accelerate even more.

Marcel van Gerven and Nasir Ahmad haven’t exactly stood still, either. Their startup Constence is active in the field of neuromorphic computing; inspired by the human brain, the team has developed a new AI algorithm which can realize enormous performance gains and energy efficiency. In 2022 they received a Takeoff grant, which enabled them to engage with various relevant companies and validate their proposition in the market. Their goal for 2023? To get commitment from their first customer.

Another promising startup with an honorable goal is GlycoTherapeutics, founded in 2022 by Johan Pijnenborg, Emiel Rossing, Nienke Eerden, Thomas Boltje, Christian Büll, and Leendert van den Bos. Despite the successes in immuno-oncology, less than 50% of individuals with cancer obtain a durable response. To fill this improvement potential, GlycoTherapeutics develops first-in-class anticancer drugs, targeting sugars which play important roles in tumor progression. They were awarded a KWF PPS grant of €697.550,-, an NWO Take-off phase 1 subsidy of €40.000,-, and €10.000,- for their first place in the Mercator Launch Innovation Competition. On top of that, GlycoTherapeutics presented at the HIHR-EIT Health pitch event in Brussels.

Now we’d like to introduce you to Casper Peters, Sebastian Quiroz Monnens and Marieke Rutten. They met each other during the Student Company course in 2021. They jointly worked on a project, which was such a successful collaboration that they all joined the Venture track at Mercator Launch together. There they founded FitsWell: a startup that aims to ensure that everyone can order the right size clothing in one go while online shopping. They do so by developing a programme, that can give a recommendation for the right size based on a picture. FitsWell is currently developing the technique, so they’re still very much in the startup phase. But the founders are having a blast trying various things and meeting new people.


To say that neuroscientist Martijn Agterberg is trying new things, is an understatement. He was inspired by bees to create better hearing implants. The idea behind his startup Beephonix is to use a directivity sensor in the microphone of implants, to be able to better determine where sound is coming from. Martijn built a prototype with an NWO Take-off grant and it turned out to be a success. Then he joined the Venture Challenge, which got him a solid business case and a patent. The next step? Making the prototype smaller and doing more research to improve hearing aids and implants even further.

Last but not least, there’s QurieGen – founded by dr. eng. Kinga Matula and prof. dr. Wilhelm Huck, this Radboud University spin-off supports pharmaceutical companies in the early identification of successful drug modules. This enables rapid decision-making during drug design cycle, which means that QurieGen will have a major impact on the drug development process. In May of last year, QurieGen won the NOW Venture Challenge. Besides, they recently won the 3rd award in the ZELSIF Award Finals.

Needless to say, we have supported many more entrepreneurs who haven’t been mentioned in this article. However this doesn’t mean that they haven’t advanced significantly or that their ideas aren’t worth a place in this article. As a matter of fact, we urge you to check them out to via our entrepreneur page on the Mercator Launch website, we’re sure they’ll inspire you. We look forward to continue working with many ambitious entrepreneurs in 2023.

Keep up the good work!

The Mercator Launch team


At the end of this year, we’ll have supported over 400 budding entrepreneurs. We’re really proud and happy to reach such numbers. They show our stakeholders what we do and why we do it. They help us convince them that our support is needed and valuable. These numbers also represent 400 individual stories about ambition, goals, dreams, ideas, and innovation. Every story is unique and every one of them fills us with joy. It’s wonderful to see people realise their desired wish of becoming an entrepreneur, improving themselves and growing. As your favourite entrepreneurial skills training programme, we’ll continue to support you on your journey.

With budding entrepreneurs come startups. At the time of writing, Mercator Launch has helped bring over 80 startups into existence. These startups are driven by entrepreneurs, and we know exactly how to guide and support them. However, different needs arise when a startup is founded.

That’s why we expand our services. After participating in our IMPROVE programme, we offer startups the opportunity to incubate just a few steps from our office.

5 reasons why you should join our INCUBATE programme

  1. Office space & facilities. What’s better than owning your own office space? Having one right next to our coaches and other fellow entrepreneurs! Renting an office here comes with extra benefits: delicious strong coffee in the morning, good Wi-Fi, and meeting rooms.
  2. Keep Improving. The journey doesn’t stop after finishing our IMPROVE programme. Together with our partners, we offer numerous masterclasses, workshops, and events during the year. By joining the INCUBATE programme, you automatically reserve a spot.
  3. Support. We always like to chat and are ready to help you out on challenging topics. Support is never far away!
  4. Access to the entrepreneurial world. Mercator Launch has a network of interesting people. With that, we can help you increase your network faster, with funding possibilities, and link you with a large group of supportive mentors and experts waiting to guide you.
  5. Community. Last but certainly not least, there’s a flourishing entrepreneurial community waiting for you to join and participate. You’re not alone on this exciting roller coaster ride. Support, companionship, and fun are always available. We’re in this together!

Are you ready to join our INCUBATE programme or do you want more information? Contact .

You can only achieve success with the aid and support of others

Marcus Coolen (left) and Jarrod Gott (right)

In our newest series “Exchanging Perspectives” we invite two or more parties to talk to them about a topic. In this first episode we interviewed entrepreneur Jarrod Gott and his mentor Marcus Coolen about their relationship as mentee and mentor. Find out what it looks like and how having a mentor helps Jarrod to start his own company Osiris Sleep Analytics.

Neuroscientist Jarrod Gott and Information Technology expert Marcus Coolen are in different fields, still Marcus guides Jarrod on his journey as an ambitious entrepreneur. Their relationship started when Jarrod participated in the Venture Track of the Mercator Launch IMRPOVE programme. Marcus, as an experienced entrepreneur, was asked to help Jarrod. As Marcus put it: “I was asked to take a look with Jarrod to see how his process of starting a company could be improved. His ideas are quite complex and very big, this means that they have a lot of details which in turn requires a lot of attention”.

Working out which of those details to prioritise and focus on is one of the things that helped Jarrod. Jarrod: “Marcus was really good at keeping me exactly on track, and reminding me of what needs to be done. There were so many things I was working on. It is easy to get distracted, thinking you need to put out a fire”. The ambitious entrepreneur had been negotiating with many organisations, so he needed to be able to show the key things he wanted to do. Marcus: “If you want to get support from other companies or people, it becomes important to present your ideas, strategic goals and priorities as clear as possible”.

All of Marcus’ support is on a voluntary basis, trying to give bits of information he has gathered through his years of experience: “Being an entrepreneur is not rocket science, but experience helps to speed up processes and Jarrod picks up on guidance extremely well.” Jarrod agrees that guidance can help to let things go smoother and picked up some extra skills. Jarrod: “Slowly over time through a process of correction you figure out how to do things, such as presenting your priorities, without someone looking over your shoulder”.

According to Marcusits Jarrod’s ambition and drive that propels him forward, as he says occasionally giving advice is an easy part to play while Jarrod does all the hard work. Marcus: “To give you an example, Jarrod faced some challenges with funding. So I mentioned some scenarios how to implement his business model. After this he did all the research by himself during which he managed to find his final business model”. The bits of information Marcus gives act as reference points. Jarrod holds this against the opinions of other people he’s talking to, after which he makes his own call. Jarrod: “For example, Marcus told me about a way to keep my burn rate low. When I went to my accountants, some didn’t initially even know what I was talking about, but then they quickly accepted how clever it was, and agreed. This is the kind of stuff that I would have never figured out, if I was just reading documents on the internet”.

When asked Jarrod said he would definitely advice other entrepreneurs to seek out a mentor, as starting a business may be very complex and having a mentor has helped him in many ways. Adding to this, Marcus was quick to mention that you can only achieve success with the aid and support of others: “Figuring out an idea from a psychological or scientific point of view is one thing, turning it into an application and a profitable business model is another. Which is why Mercator Launch is doing very good things for these young people, trying to open doors for them.”

Getting connected to a mentor is an integral part of the Venture Track of the Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme. Want to learn more about the Venture Track? Get more information on its content here.

Risk Mitigation

By Saskia Eijkelhof

Taking risks is an essential part of being an entrepreneur and is, usually only in hindsight, the most interesting part that helps you grow on both an individual and company level. But even though risk-taking is the most interesting, it is also the most challenging. The Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme is designed to help you, an innovative entrepreneur, mitigate foreseeable risks and reduce uncertainty. According to one of last year’s participants it’s ‘A great programme to start with’. This is for good reason, as the programme encourages entrepreneurs to consider different types of risks and prepare themselves accordingly. To illustrate this, let’s take a quick look at two startups that reduced risks by participating in the IMPROVE programme.

First up, startup Yogademics, that started off by teaching yoga to academics in order to reduce stress and improve state of mind. While participating in the IMPROVE programme Yogademics found that it was hard to penetrate the general yoga market. Instead of this, they started looking for their opportunity, their niche. As a PhD himself, the founder of Yogademics identified a need amongst PhDs to reduce stress and improve their Health. That’s when they started exploring the niche market focussed on PhDs. The IMPROVE programme helped them perform solid analysis of the yoga-market, after which they were able to easily define their market segment. Understanding the market and knowing their market segment helped them to focus on the right customers, which in turn mitigated risks.

It’s not just the risk of the market that needs to be taken into account. Let’s take a look at another example. While participating in the IMPROVE programme, AeroCount designed their complete technology and R&D roadmap for the next 5 years. This helped them oversee the possibilities for their technology and take the right measures to mitigate risk, improve technical feasibility and create impact. They waited to launch their particle detector at a time when new legislation was put in place regarding fine particles and air quality. Waiting to launch their product at a time of opportunity, mitigated AeroCount’s risk. This goes to show that preparation is extremely important to combat technological risks.

To conclude, entrepreneurship means taking risks, but the right preparation helps you a lot. As becomes clear from the cases of startups Yogademics and AeroCount, risks can exist in different ways such as economical, organisational and technological risks. But even though they are quite scary, all of them can be mitigated and reduced. Precisely that preparation and the feeling that you ‘did everything possible’ is the part where the Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme comes into play and supports you every step of the journey.

Read more about the Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme here!

Top startups of 2021

We are almost at the end of 2021. Time to look back at a fruitful year and share successes. Mercator Launch’s success is all about its entrepreneurs and startups. Today we pay special attention to 11 of those startups, reliving the highlights of their year. That being said, this doesn’t mean other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have deserved a place in the spotlights. As all of the startups we have supported have made progress in their own various ways. Without further ado, join us on a journey through the year 2021 and learn how 11 startups prepared to impact the world.

Kicking off with startup Leornova, founders Lisette te Hennepe and Evelien Renders started 2021 in an entrepreneurial way by registering their company at the Chamber of Commerce. Their workshops for higher education institutions on digitalisation, internationalisation and sustainability have seen immediate success. Leornova has managed to find a market with untapped potential as their workshops are in high demand.

Talking about demand, startup Data Origins aimed to supply restaurants with accurate demand forecasts. Last February Data Origins was in the running for the Voice of the Future award and made it to the top 10. They grew very quickly and created a huge buzz amongst their target audience. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works and the entrepreneurs decided to discontinue the company. Nevertheless, we are very proud of the learning curve that they experienced.

Making a name for yourself is about hard work, something the founders of Monoceros Analytics didn’t shy away from. In the beginning of 2021 the science-based startup won the runner-up price of the Innovation Competition and even got selected for the reputable NWO Venture Challenge in September. The team is well on its way to impact the process of drug development.

Development is also key for startup Machine Precision, as founder Thomas Bronzwaer is working on a software service that allows engineers at system-integrator companies to work faster, while making fewer mistakes. Thomas Bronzwaer won the Innovation Competition by pitching his startup and convincing the jury that his idea has a bright future. Currently performing two pilot projects during the Venture track, he is proving the jury right.

Another company that took great steps this year is AeroCount, developer of a particle detector (in the picture below) that helps create a healthy living environment at home. In May this got some well-deserved media attention as founder Beate Stevens was interviewed in an article in the Financieel Dagblad. The sustainable startup kicked off their growth as they launched their particle detector this year and have already sold 50 products.

Popularity can be hard to gain, but Hermes Asset Management is definitely an exception to this rule. The startup provides algorithm-based predictions of the stock market to regular everyday-people. So we aren’t surprised that they managed to win the popular vote for most promising Student Company in June. After this, the Hermes Asset Management team is working to progress by certifying themselves and laying the necessary foundations to operate in the financial market.

Shifting our gears to September we arrive at startup Drive Maxy. The multi-sided platform for driving instructors and students took big steps developing its platform and business case this year. This all cumulated into Drive Maxy making it to the finals of the Most Innovative Student of the Netherlands Competition. Quite an achievement!

The team of former Student Company Delreco has proven to be great at pitching its idea. The startup started off the year by winning the Voice of the Future award and got nominated for the Most Innovative Student of the Netherlands. Recently the startup made it to the finals of the Rijk van Nijmegen Ondernemerspitch, getting exposure for their circular service to deliver, repair and pick up furniture for students.

Another startup that made it to the Rijk van Nijmegen Ondernemerspitch finals, Sofee is working hard to improve the order process in bars and clubs. The founders are currently busy validating their business model and intend to start a pilot at an event location soon. As seen below, Sofee makes sure to have all necessary knowledge at hand.

Startup Micro-Cosmos, has recently started two pilots to test their product. Having developed a dome for hospital beds that allows patients to control their own environment, Micro-Cosmos is currently working together with both the Radboud UMC and the Canisius Wilhelmina Ziekenhuis to get valuable feedback from both patients and nurses.

The last startup we focus on today is QR-FIT, winner of the recently awarded Stimuleringsprijs. Their goal is to stimulate activity by creating fitness tracks with scannable QR-codes. The startup is gaining lots of traction as it already offers 22 tracks and is slowly taking over the national market attracting more and more customers.

Looking back on 2021 we have to conclude that it has been a great year for our entrepreneurs. We are very proud of all entrepreneurs that have chosen to follow their passion and have put in blood, sweat and tears. Needless to say, we have supported many more entrepreneurs who haven’t been mentioned in this article. However this doesn’t mean that they haven’t advanced significantly or that their ideas aren’t worth a place in this article. As a matter of fact, we urge you to check them out to via our entrepreneur page on the Mercator Launch website, we are sure they will inspire you. We have enjoyed this year tremendously and we aim to continue to work with many ambitious entrepreneurs in 2022.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all of you,

The Mercator Launch team

Just start!

Catching up with Karel Leusink

In this series we catch up with former IMPROVERS to see how they’re doing. For this episode we interviewed Karel Leusink, the founder of International Students Work. International Students Work is a recruitment agency that helps local companies grow faster by connecting them with international students. We asked Karel about his idea, his challenges and his ambitions. Read the story of startup International Students Work below!

Karel has a simple explanation for how he came up with the idea of International Students Work. He has been an ‘international student’ himself in Osaka in 2017 and in Rome in 2019: “When I studied abroad in Japan it was really hard for me and other foreigners to find a job. One of the main issues was that I didn’t speak the local language. Off-campus not many people spoke English, so even finding a job in a restaurant was tough. You feel very limited in your options”. When he came back to the Netherlands he saw that international students here faced the same difficulties, something he didn’t expect as most people in the Netherlands are able to speak English quite well. But as it turns out, in most workplaces around Nijmegen and Arnhem, it’s still a necessity to speak Dutch. “This is a shame, as international students can potentially be a real asset to both large and small businesses. They have the guts and motivation to travel to the other side of the world to reach their goals. I am 100% convinced that companies are looking for employees with such a mindset.”

Karel decided he wanted to tackle the issue and provide international students with a fair chance of succeeding on the local labour market. He founded International Students Work together with Jeroen Verboom, whom he knew from his student association. “Starting a foundation was an option but we decided not to go that route. We wanted to make an impact on the long term and provide continuity with International Students Work, which fits better with the organisation structure of a business. Adding to this, we wanted to challenge ourselves and see if we were able to start a business successfully”.

Jeroen and Karel started talking to potential employers for students directly. “We just walked in and started asking about the possibilities. We had no experience with negotiating job placements and we decided to just try it”. During this time, to gain more knowledge about starting a business, they joined the Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme. “Mercator Launch helped us see where our idea could go, they gave us the feeling that our idea could be big. They accelerated our learning process by offering knowledge during the tracks. I remember a guest speaker that talked about funding that made me see that there were a lot more opportunities for growth capital than I realised”.

One of the biggest challenges Karel faced came when co-founder Jeroen Verboom left International Students Work. “We were a good team and Jeroen has specific skills and knowledge I don’t have. He always had great insights and we had a lot of fun in the process of building the startup. It is different when you’re on your own, but this is not all negative. Now I can make decisions faster and I’m the only one to blame if the startup doesn’t succeed. Seeing these advantages and taking this new situation on as challenge was important, as getting demoralised would not have helped International Students Work progress.”

The students that Karel helps to find a job are also his biggest inspirations. Getting their feedback means a lot to him: “To hear a student say that getting a job has really made a difference in his or her life is amazing. Getting a job for these students means having less stress, as it gets easier for them to get by, which in turn helps them to focus on their studies”. This drives him in his ambitions to help students and employers in Arnhem, Nijmegen and Wageningen to find each other. “There is a lot of potential to grow in this region. Of course I have higher ambitions for the future, but helping this region is the logical first step”.

During the interview Karel advocates challenging yourself and trying out new ideas. He tries to adapt continuously when he gets feedback or when he sees areas of improvement. It is therefore not a surprise that when asked about a tip for future entrepreneurs he says this: “Just start! Trying things helps you find out what works and what doesn’t. Go get help at Mercator Launch, everyone there wants to help you. Starting something is always nerve-wracking, but you’re not alone. Many people are willing to help you out, you just need to ask. This can really get you on the right track”.

Why calculated risk-taking grows healthy business

By Dick Bos, business accelerator and driving force behind StartUp Nijmegen

‘Put your money where your mouth is’ was the working title for this blog. Why? Because when talking about entrepreneurship and risk-taking, I’m a firm believer of putting yourself out there first. If you’re committing your own time, energy and money to a project, others will dare to take a gamble on you too.

Let’s elaborate

Some might call me cautious, others say I’m conservative. I think of myself as an entrepreneur who dares to take risks, as long as I can bear the consequences myself. I do not gamble with other people’s money.

At StartUp Nijmegen, I have seen my fair share of young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs who come in with big ideas. They want to open up big storefronts right away, or automate their entire business and start off with a team of experts. And they are looking for investors to get their plans off the ground. I however, would suggest starting by using your own skills and qualities. It’s all about working very hard to create something. Once you are buckling down yourself, investors will come naturally.

Convince yourself first

I believe that when you put everything you have on the line – energy, time and money – because you believe in what you are doing, this will be seen. Once you yourself are convinced of your plan, others will start backing you.

Let me paint you a picture: I once ran an advertising agency. Employees came together to create a campaign for our clients. They would pitch ideas and I would ask: “Would you do this for your own business, too?” If they denied this or it took too long for them to answer, we’d know this wasn’t the right path. “How can you sell something to the client, that you yourself don’t believe in?”

What’s more, I strongly believe in doing research. Think critically, assess your product-market fit, validate your options, and make a decision. Make choices every day, but make calculated ones. Some might turn out to be bad. Some might be expensive mistakes. But you will limit the risks by only making choices that have consequences you can bear yourself.

Cash flow is key

Once you have established your product, your company is thriving and new opportunities, chances and risks present itself daily, it is time for another type of risk-taking. For me, successful entrepreneurship is all about taking these calculated risks. I want to be able to pay for my own mistakes.

In this, cash flow should be key. If I’m about to take a decision, that is what I look at. Can I take the hit if things go bad? If I can, great – let’s jump in. If not, I won’t do it. Always make sure your company has enough cash flow to cover dry spells. Make sure salaries can be covered for a while if orders might stay out. Grow with a positive cash flow and you will grow healthily.

Do you see your cash flow drying up? Then you’ll have plenty of time to turn the tide. Maybe lay off some employees, increase profits by increasing productivity or move to cheaper offices. Once you have surrendered yourself to sharks, investors or a bank, you lose a lot of say in your business. And wasn’t doing what you wanted, why you got into it in the first place?

Want to talk more about risk assessment?

Feel free to reach out to me or to my colleagues at StartUp Nijmegen. Always happy to help!

Dick Bos, Accelerator at StartUp Nijmegen

Catching up with Kinga Matula and Francesca Rivello

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

Innovation Competition alumni Kinga Matula and Francesca Rivello will be founding, with prof. dr Wilhelm Huck, Monoceros Analytics, a spin-off that will support pharma companies in the early identification of successful drug molecules by offering high-resolution unbiased molecular insights into their mode of action of the drug molecules. This knowledge will have a major impact on the drug development process as it will enable rapid decision-making during drug design cycles to determine successful drug candidates for further studies on patients and drug combinations studies. We are curious to find out what the founders of Monoceros Analytics are working on.

How did you come up with this innovative idea?
“As scientists, we always wanted to make a positive impact on the world and help patients. In our research, we are trying to understand how individual cells respond to drug molecules. By fully describing the mode of action of drug candidates, we can rank the efficacy of the compounds before further studies on animals and patients. Our main motivation was market need, because we noticed a high interest of pharma companies in our technology. Our first proof-of concept,we performed in collaboration with Aduro Biotech (Oss, The Netherlands) by using our technology (QuRIE-seq) to investigate the mode of action of commercially available drug used for cancer treatment.

What made you decide to turn this idea into a business?
“One of the companies that was interested in our idea was Janssen Pharmaceutica. They invited us to visit their pharma campus in Belgium and present our research. They really liked our idea, and saw the huge potential of the technology. Our team started a collaboration to improve further QuRIE-seq to see cell response patterns. We also started to participate in entrepreneurial events to pitch our ideas to see if more companies would be interested. Positive feedback primed us to think of it as a promising business opportunity”

What challenges did you face over the last year?
“We needed to improve our entrepreneurial skills, so we decided to apply for the Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme. During the programme, we needed to focus less on technology, and more on the business side and understanding clients’ needs. The real challenge was to keep the description of our technology simple! We worked on the validation of our idea from a market perspective as well as on its technical optimisation. Dr. Hans van Eenennaam helped us a lot to understand the pharma environment and we are lucky to have prof. Huck as a (very experienced) team member, because getting the right people around you is crucial! The investor events were especially useful, as presenting our ideas here also helped us to prepare for challenges we took on in the future!”

Did your idea change based on feedback?
“Our idea didn’t change but the execution did. We need to speed up the process as pharma companies need results in a very short time. We have to make sure that technology is well validated and the quality of data is excellent. The largest bottleneck is also finding sufficient funding. On one hand, we want to perform expensive experiments to create evidence about the potential of the technology, while at the other hand clients and investors want to see evidence (more proofs) before using our service or investing in the company.”

What is your ultimate goal with your company?
“Our goal is to help pharma companies in designing better and more efficient treatment for patients. The successful use of the knowledge gained from our service will open up new opportunities for studying (new and more effective) drug combinations, finding new disease patterns, and the repurposing of ‘old’ drugs that will reduce the overall cost and time of the drug development process. The long-term goal will be to specialize in different fields (e.g. cancer, immunology), and develop in-house research programs around machine learning algorithms to define cell-type-specific or patient-specific responses to drugs.”

What inspires you to do better every day?
“I think that having a higher purpose is a good motivation booster. To us is it by helping patients by contributing to the design of better treatments. We know how lucky we are to go to work every day working on a mission and a solution that we all feel so passionately about. What inspires us is this deep belief that every day the world can be better — and that we can raise the bar for ourselves to grow and learn more.”

Do you have one last tip for entrepreneurs (to be) who want to turn their passion into their job?
“Persevere! Keep yourself out of your comfort zone. The feeling of overcoming fears and pushing yourself in a new direction is rewarding! Dare to dream and have guts because the only limit to what you can achieve is your imagination. Dare to fail! It’s not about what mistake you make. It’s about how quickly you can learn and correct the mistake.”

Please contact us if you want to hear more about our idea and technology! We are open to collaboration!

Contact details:
Kinga Matuła