This is the fifth in a new series of articles that will focus on the activities and accomplishments of the LaunchBase programme, an incubation platform of the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship (MC4E). Composed out of two specific programmes, LaunchBase covers a comprehensive approach to business development.
According to the webpage of the Maastricht region, “the people of the Maastricht region have the best of several worlds: the free and open nature of the Dutch with the joie de vivre of the French and Belgians and the precision of the Germans.” This international environment is supported by one of the best universities in the Netherlands, and a young, open-minded and creative student population sparkles the region with new ideas. Together, this should create an environment which is perfect for entrepreneurs and people who seek to start up their own businesses. I went to see what opportunities potential entrepreneurs in Maastricht really get offered and how Maastricht is dealing with the loss of high-potential students after graduation.
First, I met with Lydia Gommans, Project Manager of the Base programme, which recently launched its second round with around 30 participants who are planning to launch their ideas soon. The Base programme, which is part of the pre-incubator LaunchBase, helps young entrepreneurs to become ready for their first business by offering workshops, discussion rounds and networking possibilities.
According to Gommans, there are a number of opportunities available that give an advantage to start-ups in this region. Specifically, grants and subsidies are available from the local governments as well as a growing and supportive ecosystem. On a national level, Maastricht has similar offerings to other Dutch cities; but on a European level, the opportunities are much greater.
Because Limburg as a region itself is not exactly the most economically outstanding region of the Netherlands, with a GDP growth rate of -1% and a below-average income on a national level, many people underestimate the potential of the region for entrepreneurs.
Next to LaunchBase, the Foundersclub in Maastricht is another platform for students from all backgrounds to engage in entrepreneurial activities. The Foundersclub is offering free walk-in lectures and workshops. Comparable to LaunchBase, students can learn from experienced entrepreneurs without the need to commit to a five-months program.
According to Alexej Jordanov, Chief Inspiration Officer of the MC4E, the different incubators or programmes in Maastricht are not competing with, but complementing each other. “When the Base programme schedule is published, the Foundersclub tries to adopt and reduce potential overlaps in the content of events,” he says. “The start-up market in Maastricht is just starting up—there is no real competition yet as the market is simply not fully exploited.
A strong community
According to both Jordanov and Gommans, the community of entrepreneurs in Maastricht is, compared with Amsterdam or Berlin, relatively small, but of really high potential. Gommans refers to the main strengths of Maastricht’s community in the field of medical technology innovation and a very strong international business school being present and growing. Furthermore, with a strong history of liberal arts and social sciences and a growing department to knowledge engineering, there is no shortage of creativity and ideas.
According to Jordanov, who loves to formulate his visions in a graphical language: “the soil we have in Maastricht is amazing—there is great potential, we just have to plant the seeds and support them growing, which given their potential they will do on their own.” In his opinion, the community needs to be fostered by entrepreneurial events like the Maastricht Week of Entrepreneurship or the Start Up Weekend.
The potential, in his opinion, is hidden in the possible network of a strong medical programme with good scientists, who probably lack the confidence and skills to start-up, and the business drive of the business students and potential knowledge engineers. Gommans adds: “At the moment, we see that Maastricht is lacking in engineers, programmers and designers. Although there are great connections near by with our partners in Aachen, Eindhoven, Hasselt and Leuven, we typically see start-ups seeking co-founders from these disciplines.”
Fostering the soil
A natural question, given these facts, arises: If Maastricht has a great potential and is surrounded by cities that supply the lacking skills as engineering and programming, why is this not exploited yet? “It comes down to some plain fundamentals,” Jordanov says, “something you probably do not understand at first if you study or live in Maastricht: language barriers still exists, especially if we orientate ourselves towards Aachen. Surprisingly, the language is still a barrier for students from Germany who might not have spoken English since they graduated high school, hence they are quiet reluctant to attend networking events in Maastricht.”
Maastricht offers a great potential, but infrastructure and networking needs to be improved, to speak in pictures again, “foster the soil” and help it growing. The eco-system in Maastricht for entrepreneurs bears a bright future, even though it is still starting up itself.
For LaunchBase, as a relatively new and promising programme in Maastricht, Gommans summarises the achievements so far: “LaunchBase has only been running since April 2015. I am most proud of the passion and enthusiasm shown by the selected participants. For two rounds, I have seen a consistent stream of excited, educated and driven people attracted to the programme. It shows our selection and marketing efforts, and it shows the type of people who are attracted to entrepreneurship and the talent that lives in Maastricht.”
Maastricht and its surroundings seem to be underestimated so far, which could help young entrepreneurs to exploit untapped markets that seem to be developing fast in the upcoming years.
Check out the third article in this series on avoiding burnout.
Jonas Heller has been passionate about the entrepreneurship world since working in Berlin for Zalando, one of the fastest growing start-ups in Europe. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) in 2012, and after 18 months in Berlin, he decided to follow an academic career and return to Maastricht for a Master’s degree in International Business, after which he hopes to pursue an academic career in the field of disruptive technologies. Still keeping abreast with all things entrepreneurial, Jonas writes and tweets frequently on the subject. You can follow him at Twitter.