Global Entrepreneurship Week in Maastricht: What does it take to go from good to great?


Over 125 countries took part in last week’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. The Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship has made it a tradition to join in the initiative aimed at inspiring students and entrepreneurs all over the world and reached over 200 students through high quality events such as the GEW Conference, the Local Heroes Business Plan Award and an Innovation Safari to the Limburg multinational company DSM.

The GEW Conference on Tuesday 12 November brought participants together in the very room where the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992. Twenty years after the foundation of the European Union, young entrepreneurs were given a chance to learn from the best in order to create a vision for their future and build their own foundation.

With a speaker lineup of 11 inspiring entrepreneurs and the founder of TEDxAmsterdam Jim Stolze serving as host of the day, the GEW Conference in Maastricht was set to impress.

Follow your passion

Passion clearly emerged as the word of the day across all talks. Whether working in finance like Ohpen’s Matthijs Aler, starting a franchise chain like Oil & Vinegar’s Femke Stevens, or throwing parties for over 30,000 people like Marcel Mingers, all entrepreneurs highlighted the importance of passion in finding what we truly want to do.

RTL Netherlands CEO Bert Habets spoke at the conference as a proud alumnus of Maastricht University. Although he has never been an entrepreneur himself, Habets said he applies entrepreneurial thinking in everything he does. He believes that great teams grow together, build competencies and gain momentum.

Habets also stressed the importance of creating an environment where people are encouraged to experiment, even at the risk of failure: “But if they do, they should fail quickly, often and cheaply.”

With this mindset, Habets more than doubled RTL’s profitability and helped it become the uncontested number one network in the Netherlands. Using a four-pillar strategy based on television, digital media, entertainment and ventures, RTL reaches out to its audience across several platforms and creates a perfect circle that Habets defined as a “total experience”.

“Even though our business is B2B, we always put our consumers first in all our decisions,” he said. “A well-integrated client approach not only enriches their experience but also creates a better value for advertisers.”

Besides these pillars which RTL continuously keeps on innovating, Habets mentioned another element that adds to RTL’s success. “We focus on acquiring the right man for the right place and we create an environment for entrepreneurship because we’re only as good as our next success,” Habets said. “There is a budget for every good idea.”

David Bizer of Hackfwd also stressed the importance of A+ players. As a former top recruiter for Google Europe, he is now managing his own recruitment company. Bizer elaborated on three critical features one should pay attention to when hiring a new employee: passion, adaptability and resilience. “Successful employees and entrepreneurs always start with passion,” he said. “You’ll never get to the top if you don’t have intrinsic passion for what you are doing.”

UM alumnus Marc van der Chijs and founder of the successful online video platform Tudou in China described passion and motivation as the main drivers in his life as an entrepreneur. “Life is short, so do what you really like,” said Van der Chijs. “As an entrepreneur you will face a lot of challenges but you need to have a goal and keep focused.”

Van der Chijs gave the audience some insights into the Chinese business world by comparing it to the Western approach. “Don’t expect to be accepted into Chinese circles,” he said. “Competition is much tougher and aggressive. Even though China works very much like a group culture, your competition will try to kill your company. You cannot be mediocre or humble. You have to lead and think long term in order to be successful.”

Marcel Mingers closed the conference very much in the same vein. “I go with the flow. I do what I like,” the founder of the popular Extrema/Solar festivals said. “To be an entrepreneur, you have to give up everything and give everything. Be yourself and make some magic. Create the best product together with your team and be patient and persistent because the very first years tend to be very tough.”

Local Heroes Business Plan Competition

The Maastricht startup company Finido, represented by Maastricht University students Henri Boersma and Christian Nauerz, won the 2012 Local Hero Award offered by the Limburg University Funds. Finido is an iPhone application that facilitates efficient workflow through task prioritization. The prize consists in a prize of 10,000 euros in seed capital. The team worked on the concept during the Three Day Startup event organized by the Maastricht Centre of Entrepreneurship in May 2012. It subsequently applied for the Local Heroes Business Plan Competition and won the finals over three other contestants.

Marc van der Chijs and former winner Maikel Beerens also joined the day to inspire and support the participating students.

Innovation Safari at DSM

Robert Kirschbaum, Vice President of Open Innovation at DSM welcomed a group of selected students to take part in a company tour and a case discussion at the DSM Dyneema headquarters in Heerlen on November 14.

This last activity organized by GEW Maastricht aimed at giving students some insights into the Limburg-based multinational life sciences company and into intrapreneurship possibilities within its Open Innovation branch.

Kirschbaum gave an introduction on DSM’ history and explained the company’s holistic approach in creating value. Abiding by three keywords “People-Planet-Profit”, DSM focuses on high growth economies, innovation, sustainability, acquisitions and partnerships while continuously innovating and creating value for its customers.

Sustainability is a main priority and functions as a true business driver. Eighty-nine percent of DSM’s innovations and 40 percent of its running business are eco-friendly.

“Innovation is our sport, science is our power,” summarized Kirschbaum. DSM does not only make innovation an integral part of its development but also opens it to key stakeholders. New insights provided by outside actors are essential in creating groundbreaking innovation.

Kirschbaum also gave his views on the difference between scientists and entrepreneurs. “Scientists focus mostly on publications through which they gain their reputation,” he said. “They do not focus on economic feasibility and are recognized for giving away their knowledge.”

“Entrepreneurs on the other hand are more commercially focused,” he observed. “They protect their work through patents and recognize the advantage of teamwork.”

Likewise, an intrapreneur is willing to take the same amount of risk as an entrepreneur but the main difference between the two is that for an intrapreneur, the investment mainly comes from the company that is backing the project. Kirschbaum listed a few intrapreneurship rules, among which: “Come to work each day willing to be fired; recruit a strong team; under-promise and over-deliver.”

The students were also invited to take part in a case study that the Open Innovation part of DSM is working on and were able to gain some insight by offering their input.

With this wide variety of activities, the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship was proud to support and encourage entrepreneurship in Maastricht and is looking forward to organizing an even greater for next year’s Global Week of Entrepreneurship.

By Ana Mihail

Ana Mihail is Designer and Social Media Promoter at MC4E and a student in International Business Economics at Maastricht University.

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