From Lab to Launch: Françoise Dekker's Transition with Ready to Start

“I wasn’t expecting the course to be so motivating, given that it’s just for beginners,” Françoise Dekker remarks. She shares her experience with the 4-week evening course Ready to Start, which she attended in January of this year. Through this course, she gained insights into the fundamentals of establishing a company based on her research. Françoise is already progressing further by enrolling in UtrechtInc’s 7-month validation program to delve deeper into this subject. However, she emphasizes that each participant in the Ready to Start course has unique goals, stating, “You can make it as challenging as you want.”

“For us, it all began with the realization that we have something that seems to work; now, we must also make it applicable to society,” Françoise reflects on her journey. As a PhD researcher at the Department of Cellular Protein Chemistry with Professor Stefan Rüdiger, she focuses on understanding the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and how our bodies’ quality control systems can intervene. After years of dedicated research and, as Françoise modestly adds, “a lot of luck,” they made a breakthrough discovery that could identify virtually all neurodegenerative diseases.

In January this year, Françoise enrolled in UtrechtInc’s Ready to Start course, a 4-week online program held on Monday and Wednesday evenings, specifically designed for researchers. This introductory course provides participants with insights into the process of establishing a science-based company. While some join with a specific business concept in mind, others approach it with an open mind, seeking to better understand the translation of research projects into impactful companies. Today, more than 70 researchers have successfully finalised the course.

Throughout the course, participants receive self-study materials for flexible learning, attend presentations, hear stories from fellow researchers establishing science-based companies, and engage in dynamic discussion groups to explore various topics in depth. “Discussing our idea with fellow participants was very motivating, they asked new questions from a different angle, which was really great,”  Françoise reflects on the collaborative learning experience.

Discussing our idea with fellow participants was very motivating.

The upcoming Ready to Start course is scheduled from May 27th to June 24th, with registration open until May 22nd. It welcomes individuals from any of the knowledge institutes at Utrecht Science Park, regardless of prior experience, as long as they possess a curiosity for exploring new avenues to make an impact with their research. For further inquiries, contact Lina from the UtrechtInc team at lina@utrechtinc.nl.

 

Posted March 2024

Empowering Innovation: UtrechtInc Has Supported Nearly 400 Startups

UtrechtInc stands as a leading global university-linked startup incubator, fostering early-stage, scalable technology startups across health, sustainability, education, and artificial intelligence. Our startups are founded by local researchers, medical doctors, students, and entrepreneurs. To guide our startups through the ideation, validation, and acceleration phases, we provide specialized programs tailored to their stage and field. Additionally, our network of over 100 mentors and experts stands ready to guide the founders through every new challenge on their entrepreneurial journey. Currently, we’re home to over 35 startups utilizing our office and co-working spaces.

Our Impact

Since we are working together with our community towards a better future, we think it is important to celebrate their success, and they are achieving a lot! Did you know that we’ve supported nearly 400 startups? That close to 250 individuals have graduated from our programs? And that our startups have created more than 6000 new jobs?

Let’s break down the numbers:

  • 396 startups supported
  • 242 graduates
  • A remarkable 61% survival rate
  • Secured €5.4 billion in funding
  • Generated €1.7 billion in revenue in 2023
  • Supported 101 startups through the Rabo Pre-seed Fund (totalling €4.1 million)
  • Created 6,100 jobs

Check out all the results below.

Posted March 2024

Revolutionizing the sharing economy: Anja's journey with Buurbak

BuurBak stands out as a distinctive player in the world of creative businesses, revolutionizing how consumers view and use neighborhood trailers. Anja Wolters, a vibrant personality and one of BuurBak’s founders, revealed the interesting tale behind the enterprise.

Anja, a graduate in Communication and Multimedia Design, found herself investing a great deal of time and energy into BuurBak during her time at university. Reflecting on her journey, she exclaims, “I’ve put a lot of work into it. It’s been quite a ride.” It all started with a classmate, Michiel van den Hazel, who owned a trailer and wished for a simpler way to rent it out. Anja’s eyes light up as she recalls, “We wanted to go beyond just one person’s trailer. We spoke to over 200 people and discovered there are over 1 million trailers in the Netherlands, mostly idle over 99% of the time.”

Let’s make trailers a community asset.

Bridging the gap between building and implementing algorithms in clinical settings

Trailblazing the peer-to-peer path with a pricing purpose

While gas stations may offer trailer rentals, BuurBak stands apart by concentrating on the community. “We want people with their own trailers to share them,” Anja says enthusiastically. “It’s peer-to-peer, and there’s no need to develop new trailers. It’s all about making use of what’s already there.” She emphasizes the environmental and social elements, imagining trailers as a way for neighbors to interact. “It’s not just about renting a trailer; it’s about fostering community bonds,” she explains, drawing a comparison to impersonal petrol station transactions.

We investigate BuurBak’s economics since we’re curious about their pricing strategy. “Renters set their own prices, but we guide them based on the market,” Anja explains. Given their direct customer-to-customer business, they aspire to be 21% less expensive than the average. She adds that the purpose is not only altruistic.

We do want to grow, and in the future, a small service fee will help us expand and improve our platform.

Overcoming startup hurdles

Anja speaks openly about the difficulties they’ve encountered, particularly the lack of external finance. “Right now, it’s our time and effort. If the pilot is successful, we will seek funds to begin our expansion.” She discusses working with ICT students to create the platform and hints to future recruiting requirements. “We can’t pay freelancers right now, but an IT specialist may become important to our team in the future,” she adds, underscoring the company’s resource limits.

Facing fears and stepping out of the comfort zone

Discussing the personal side of entrepreneurship, Anja opens up about facing fears. “In every situation, fear is present, but you have to face it. It’s like speaking English; it’s uncomfortable at first, but it broadens your horizons.” She encourages aspiring founders, saying, “If you want to start, don’t hesitate. Face your fears because that’s where growth happens.”

Navigating legal waters

According to Anja, navigating the vast web of legal complexities offers an overwhelming task for BuurBak. Recognising the complexities, she shares, “We received assistance from the Utrecht Law Clinic, recognising the need for comprehensive legal documentation such as terms of service and privacy statements.” Though dealing with these legal complexities without specialized expertise is difficult, it is a learning experience for any startup.

Expanding beyond legal considerations, Anja goes into safety concerns within the BuurBak platform. In an ideal scenario, the company aims to assist with disputes, yet Anja admits, “Currently, we find ourselves in a complex realm where providing such assistance is challenging.” She envisions a proactive approach, describing a future platform where users confidently share photos depicting their trailer’s condition. However, she clarifies that the detailed verification process supporting this vision is still in the developmental stages.

We aspire to establish transparency by encouraging users to document their trailer’s condition. However, the creation of a comprehensive verification process is still in progress.

Beyond trailers: The future vision

Anja reveals the larger concept for BuurBak as the conversation progresses. “We want to expand throughout the Netherlands, then into Germany and Belgium, and eventually into other countries. We don’t simply want trailers; we want to offer varied items like horse trailers to build a sustainable sharing economy.”

Lessons from UtrechtInc and future endeavors

Anja recalls the essential coaching sessions during their stay at UtrechtInc throughout the Student Validation Programme. “Stefan’s advice and network were invaluable. It was made clear what we needed to do to become a great startup.” She believes the programme is critical for prospective entrepreneurs: “If you want to validate your startup idea and figure out if you’re cut out for this, go for it.”

Crafting a unique partnership

BuurBak’s strength stems from the interactions between Anja and Michiel, two founders with contrasting personalities. “Being different is an advantage; you learn from each other. It adds depth to what we offer.” She emphasizes the significance of team development, admitting that their collaboration may have improved further if they had spent more time together during the programme.

Charting a course for sustainable growth

BuurBak is undoubtedly on a path to long-term growth, emerging from startup obstacles to forge lifelong community relationships. As the dialogue comes to a close, Anja muses on BuurBak’s journey. “We have no regrets, but perhaps automating the platform sooner could have accelerated our progress. We’re more than a business; we’re a community-driven movement, and we want to make it easier for people to share resources.”

Anja’s passion for sustainability and community is evident in every word. As BuurBak looks ahead, envisioning a future where neighborhoods share more than just trailers, Anja Wolters stands at the forefront of this transformative movement. The journey may have begun with trailers, but the destination holds the promise of a connected, sharing society fostered by the spirit of BuurBak.

 

Posted December 2023

Sport & Beweeg Validatielab

Validatieprogramma startups sport, bewegen & vitaliteit

UtrechtInc en de Multi-Sportcampus Traiectum (FC Utrecht, SV Kampong, Hellas Utrecht, VV Utrecht en UZSC) creëren in Utrecht-Oost de ultieme test- en ontwikkelplek voor startups in Sport, Bewegen & Vitaliteit. We zijn op zoek naar early-stage start-ups met innovatieve en schaalbare ideeën. Dus ben jij een gedreven en ambitieuze ondernemer? En wil je jouw idee op het gebied van Sport, Bewegen & Vitaliteit omzetten naar een succesvolle startup? Schrijf je dan in en maak kans op één van de 12 plekken in ons unieke 16-weekse validatieprogramma.

Voor dit validatieprogramma richten we ons specifiek op early-stage startups, waarbij de validatie van het concept / product (problem-solution-fit) centraal staat. Ondernemers in de eerste ontwikkelings-fase, vóór de schaalvergroting en de realisatie van significante inkomsten. Concreet zoeken we naar:

  1. Early-stage / pre-funding startups
  2. Innovatieve en schaalbare ideeën
  3. Uitgewerkte concepten / eerste prototypes / MVP’s
  4. Toegewijde en dedicated teams

Meer weten?

Charting the future with Stijn, a startup scout on a voyage from UMC Utrecht to MIT

In the fast-paced world of startups and innovation, prospective entrepreneurs frequently go into unknown territory in search of the elusive junction of passion and purpose. Stijn, a committed student startup scout at UtrechtInc, takes one such trip, weaving a riveting tale of crossing the domains of academics, life sciences, and business.

An interesting chapter awaits Stijn as his trip progresses. He will begin a six-month educational adventure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston in February. Because MIT is known for its cutting-edge research, innovation, and entrepreneurial ecosystem, this opportunity promises to be life-changing.

Stijn’s path to entrepreneurship with a background in biomedical sciences

An educational odyssey: Discovering the spark of inspiration

Every business journey starts with a spark of imagination. Stijn’s insight came after weathering a time of uncertainty in his academic journey. As he recounts, “Until four years ago, I didn’t really know what I wanted except for something in the life sciences.” Yet, the cloud of uncertainty dissipated as he embarked on his master’s program, illuminating a clear path forward.

The fascination of combining research and innovation originated from his realization that typical career paths given by large life science firms no longer spoke to him. This break from the appeal of corporate gigantic corporations highlights a fundamental truth: as people develop, they are typically driven to smaller, agile companies or the desire to create their own.

Big biotech and pharma companies didn’t attract me well, partly because of their corporate image. That’s why I like working at UtrechtInc while researching cells on the side.

Pre-determined fate and a personal choice

Stijn’s academic journey through the bio sciences demonstrates the crucial significance of early educational decisions. He goes on to say, “During high school in the Netherlands, you need to choose your educational profile.” Stijn chose a science-focused profile because of an inherent interest in the biological sciences, which prompted him to investigate areas such as biology and physics. Throughout his bachelor’s programme, his persistent devotion to this path created the groundwork for his future studies.

While this trip eventually led him to a specialization in cells and research, it was during this time that Stijn became more conscious of the value of multidisciplinary teamwork. He developed “Denktank Gezondverstand” (Think Tank Common Sense), a platform that brought 20 multidisciplinary students together to address real-world difficulties confronting health and life science organizations. This endeavor highlighted the transforming impact of multiple viewpoints in tackling complicated issues, a lesson that would be essential in his job as a startup scout.

Empowering future entrepreneurs: The role of a Student Startup Scout

Stijn’s role as a student startup scout extends beyond spotting promising candidates. It entails spreading information about UtrechtInc, encouraging fellow students to pursue entrepreneurship, and collaborating with a diverse range of student organizations and educators to promote UtrechtInc’s programmes.

He has gained significant insights while pursuing this cause. Notably, he recognised the importance of tailoring his presentations to various audiences, especially when dealing with online classes. He says, “For example, I learned that I need to prepare questions for a group before I start talking to them, especially when the classes are online.” This realization emphasizes the fundamental need of adaptation in communication, which is essential for any business and a critical trait for any entrepreneur.

A catalyst for change: Leading the way

Stijn’s journey as a startup scout transcends the mere selection of startups for UtrechtInc’s validation program. It has a profound impact on his personal and professional growth. He acknowledges that his role has already polished his interpersonal and communication skills, underscoring the significance of understanding the audience and refining presentation skills.

The communication between UtrechtInc’s team members, what their personalities are like, how much enthusiasm they have, their thinking towards tackling problems. I can learn a lot from them and use the skills I’m developing for my future career.

Stijn feels that this experience will leave an everlasting effect on his profession in the future. Whether he becomes an entrepreneur or pursues other opportunities, his ability to build and lead a team, develop passion, and identify the appropriate personnel will be crucial. His story represents the spirit of pursuing entrepreneurial endeavours early and accepting new difficulties, and it serves as a beacon for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to combine their hobbies with the world of entrepreneurship.

Six months at MIT: An educational adventure awaits

Stijn will be able to immerse himself in a lively community of researchers and entrepreneurs while at MIT, studying from the finest and brightest in the area. This experience will surely improve his business ability, and his MIT insights and contacts will be beneficial for the firms he analyzes in the future.

Stijn embarks on this educational trip at MIT, one of the world’s leading institutes for technology and innovation, expecting to return with a treasure mine of information and experience to accelerate his path as an aspiring entrepreneur. Stijn shares a quote that describes his ambitions to capture the spirit of his upcoming experience,

My time at MIT is going to be a whole new experience for me. I’ll meet many researchers there who I’ll be able to learn from. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring something valuable back.

Scouting for tomorrow: Looking to the future

Finally, Stijn’s story demonstrates the importance of self-discovery, the value of early academic decisions, and the revolutionary potential of combining science and business. As he continues to encourage and hunt for the next generation of startups, his path acts as an inspiration for people who aspire to combine their interests with the world of entrepreneurship.

Contact as many people as you can within the first days and then you will pitch the hell out of the presentations.

 

Posted November 2023

Entrepreneurial visionary combines ethics, innovation, and science in startup scouting mission

Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in her fourth year, Juliet focuses on science and innovation management, specifically in the area of medical advances. Her academic path was influenced by her attraction to the moral dimensions of innovation. When Juliet realized how closely her studies linked to the university’s thriving medical business sector, her curiosity grew even further. “For me, it’s all about the ethical side of innovation,” Juliet explains. 

I’ve always been very interested in that. I started diving into that type of thing deeper, and it came up a lot in my lectures because, obviously, the university closely invests in many medical startups.

Scouting the future in the trenches of innovation

How did your family influence your entrepreneurial journey?

Juliet comes from a line of entrepreneurial people, especially her father, who has always been a creative thinker. Therefore it’s not a surprise that Juliet’s interest in businesses and innovation was sparked by her family, but her passion grew independently. She was able to learn more about innovation management and science by selecting these subjects for her study.

“I think I did get some of it from home, but not all of it. It’s mostly just a personal interest,” Juliet shares. Her quest for knowledge fueled her curiosity and allowed her to hone her interests.

How does your role fit into your long-term aspirations on a professional and personal level?

Juliet holds with great gratitude that her career aspirations and her academic goals align nicely as a student startup scout at UtrechtInc. In the future, she sees herself launching a business, but she stresses the need of having a solid, thoroughly thought-out concept first.

“I’m very interested in starting a company myself one day, but I’m not the type of person to just readily find an idea and just go for it. So I need a strong idea first,” Juliet affirms. Her strategy emphasizes how crucial it is to do extensive study and get ready before starting a business.

Juliet anticipates herself remaining in the innovative area and pursuing her entrepreneurial enthusiasm as she mulls over her career and plans for the future. She wants to have a good influence, whether she does it by founding her own business or working for an organization with a clear mission.

“I do want to stay in the innovative field,” Juliet asserts. Her time at UtrechtInc is not only helping her to define her professional path, but it also rekindled her passion for entrepreneurship and startups.

How do you contribute to promoting the student validation program at UtrechtInc?

Juliet’s role as a student startup scout primarily revolves around promoting the student validation program both online and offline. She, along with her team, presents lectures and organizes workshops at social events and career days to engage students and introduce them to the opportunities within the program.

Although Juliet acknowledges that the latest edition of the student validation program has just started, she recognizes the impact they’ve made so far. The program’s growth on social media platforms is a testament to the team’s efforts. The network they’re building is contributing to the development of student startups, cultivating an entrepreneurial attitude among the student community.

“I think that proves that we have grown. At least we’ve gained four hundred followers after two months,” Juliet notes. The team’s dedication is evident in their efforts to increase visibility and promote the program.

How have you facilitated cross-cultural communication?

Working closely with international students has exposed Juliet to diverse cultural perspectives. This experience has enriched her understanding of how different cultures perceive startups and entrepreneurship. She finds it fascinating to observe the variations in attitudes toward startups and how cultures influence the approach to entrepreneurship.

“I think that through talking with all these (international students), I discovered that there are more people interested in the entrepreneurial sector than I thought,” Juliet notes. She also identifies a growing demand among students for internships and jobs within startup companies, emphasizing the need for more opportunities within this field.

What unexpected aspects of UtrechtInc’s work culture surprised you?

UtrechtInc’s unconventional and open-minded work culture pleasantly surprised Juliet, who initially expected a more rigid corporate environment. The emphasis on encouraging innovation and allowing individuals to learn from their mistakes has been a remarkable aspect of her experience.

“Everybody just does a bit of everything. Each of us has specific jobs to carry out but it’s nice to be able to count on the UtrechtInc team and the other scouts for support, no matter what,” Juliet says. The dynamic and collaborative atmosphere at UtrechtInc has reshaped her perception of work environments, promoting personal and professional growth.

One experience that Juliet finds particularly memorable in her role as a student startup scout was going to the Meet UtrechtInc event. This encounter exemplified the supportive and close-knit community at the heart of UtrechtInc’s culture. The occasion demonstrated the value of networking and teamwork in a vibrant and welcoming setting.

I think that really illustrated the character of Meet UtrechtInc. It’s just very casual talking together with all these different people which is a nice break from formal day-to-day conversations.

What guidance would you offer to those considering the role of a student startup scout?

Juliet advises aspiring student startup scouts to embrace UtrechtInc’s open and flexible attitude and develop a well-structured plan. In order to have a thorough awareness of the programme and its community, she stresses the need of attending meetings, workshops, and presentations. It’s crucial to immerse oneself in the UtrechtInc community to truly grasp the essence of the organization.

Just do it, make a plan, and try to start off with a structure or make a bit of planning for the coming months.

 

Posted November 2023

A scout's personal journey from science enthusiast to startup mentor among Utrecht’s student community

Jelmer van der Velde, a startup scout starting fresh in the field of entrepreneurship, is on a mission to guide aspiring entrepreneurs. His motivation began in molecular life sciences, but after having completed elective courses in entrepreneurship and finance, he found a new passion.

In his role as a student startup scout at UtrechtInc, Jelmer actively promotes the Student Validation Program and networks at relevant events to discover and support the next generation of student entrepreneurs and talent within the Utrecht Science Park. Through a series of reflections and candid insights, Jelmer shares his own growth and the profound impact of connecting with diverse communities, all while emphasizing his commitment to fostering entrepreneurship beyond personal success.

Supporting a culture where students are inspired to think big and dream large

What motivated you to join the student startup scout team and how does it align with your personal interests and career goals?

Jelmer’s academic journey began with a keen interest in the chemistry of life and the physical laws that govern it, a discipline he’s adopted after having graduated from a bachelor’s of four years. Today, he is discovering the boundless potential of the startup ecosystem.

Reflecting on this transformative journey, Jelmer shares, “I don’t really like the whole big corporation thing, already deciding my career, and working up the ladder.” It was clear that he didn’t want to pursue the ‘one size fits all’ mentality in the corporate world, but rather, contribute to a genuine cause on a smaller scale, “I thought it would be way cooler to join a small team and work from there and not really follow a path that has been laid out but figuring it out on my own.”

Can you describe your role and responsibilities as a student startup scout?

While he initially joined the Student Validation Program, his enthusiasm for a more significant role became evident. He embraced the position of a student startup scout with pride, finding purpose and commitment in this transformative journey, “Students we’ve met through the workshops we’ve hosted had to think of their lives and think about a problem they wanted to solve. And it was really cool to see that they all came up with all kinds of business ideas, all catered towards tackling problems in their own life.” Jelmer has motivated many students to step beyond their usual boundaries and develop their problem-solving abilities through workshops. He encourages them to adopt this solution-oriented approach and envision using it in their own future businesses.

I try to give a lot of examples out of my personal life and why I think that as an entrepreneur you can make this big difference in society and shape the world a little bit towards a more ideal path.

In what ways do you believe your contributions have made an impact on the growth and success of student startups?

In his role as a scout, Jelmer plays a crucial role by connecting students to valuable knowledge and skills. Through interactive sessions, he encourages them to think creatively. His passion for the subject is evident, and his enthusiasm motivates students to explore their entrepreneurial potential. He says, “I provide my personal phone number and offer personal help. It’s a friendly way to introduce them to UtrechtInc. Instead of diving into a big organization with 40 companies, they have someone they know and can ask questions.”

Despite the fact that the students he engages with don’t necessarily have an interest in entrepreneurship, they consistently leave with a positive outlook on the opportunities in this field. Jelmer’s key takeaway is the rich diversity among these budding entrepreneurs, coming from various backgrounds like arts, law, and programming, which, in his view, underscores that entrepreneurship is inclusive and transcends traditional boundaries.

I think in the future, to make a more lasting impact, we would like to not only host these one-time events but maybe integrate UtrechtInc in some university courses.

How did your role as a student startup scout help you improve your personal skills, especially when it comes to engaging with diverse audiences and building connections with people?

Jelmer’s journey as a scout, much like self-discovery, has its challenges. He’s had to find the courage to speak to large audiences and broaden his personal growth. These experiences have not only enhanced his professional skills but have also boosted his confidence. Jelmer reflects on these valuable experiences, saying, “It’s hard to put into words, but I’ve gained insights into how entrepreneurs think and what an entrepreneurial ecosystem is like. This knowledge will undoubtedly help me in the future, whether I want to join a club, a startup, or connect with new people; it will make approaching them easier.”

While he’s been a student startup scout for just a few months, he’s more confident than ever in trying new things. Stepping into unfamiliar territory has taught him the art of embracing new challenges. “For me, the most significant improvement has been in public speaking. I recently had to present in front of about 130 people, something I’d never done before,” Jelmer shares, emphasizing his personal growth. He stresses the importance of persistence in generating and maintaining leads, ultimately encouraging others to take initiative without fear.

A message to future startup scouts from Jelmer himself

What advice would you give to future student startup scouts who are considering joining the UtrechtInc team?

For those considering the path of a student startup scout, Jelmer offers practical advice. He emphasizes the significance of perseverance and building deep connections with people of all backgrounds. “You might need to step out of your comfort zone a bit and take action even when you’re not entirely comfortable with it. It’s a bit like a ‘fake it till you make it’ mindset,” he suggests, acknowledging the enduring impact of sustained enthusiasm and unwavering commitment.

Within the UtrechtInc community, Jelmer’s contributions act as a bridge, fostering the growth of student startups and a sense of togetherness. His strong commitment to helping and guiding individuals in their entrepreneurial journey creates genuine connections that extend beyond the professional sphere. These qualities and experiences enable him to apply his professional skills to other areas of his life.

“Reach out to many people, send numerous emails, and you’ll encounter many rejections, but that’s okay, as long as you keep reaching out,” Jelmer advises future scouts, highlighting the importance of perseverance and outreach in the journey of mentorship and personal growth.

Come inside! Let’s have a chat.

 

Posted October 2023

The PhD researcher who wants to explore all career paths: research, clinic and entrepreneurship

Rutger van de Leur and René van Es want to build a marketplace to facilitate the implementation of algorithms in electrocardiograms – a solution sought after all over the world. Rutger believes that taking the steps to execute the findings of your research is crucial to be able to make a change, and that is why he has set up a startup around his PhD research topic.

Rutger started studying medicine at Utrecht University in 2012, and his interest in research and coding led him to continue with a degree in epidemiology in Utrecht and Amsterdam. Once graduated he started his PhD research on AI for electrocardiograms (ECGs) at the UMC Utrecht together with his co-promotor and technical physician René.

Bridging the gap between building and implementing algorithms in clinical settings

Can you describe your idea?

“We saw this gap between making and studying an algorithm in a research setting and then applying it in practice. The idea for the startup is that we are going to provide a kind of marketplace platform to bridge that gap – to make it possible to easily deploy your algorithm in clinical practice,” Rutger explains. The first step would be to start with a few of their own algorithms, he says, go through the whole process of regulatory approval and finally get the algorithms into their platform. “Once we have all the documentation ready to do this, other researchers or companies can also get their algorithms approved through our platform,” he adds.

Rutger continues by laughing and saying “It’s a complex procedure, but that’s at least the big end goal. The start is easier. For now, we are just going to make this platform that plugs into the ECG system and make sure that it has a good interface for the physician and that it can work with our algorithms. Then the marketplace where others can also get their algorithms approved, that’s the end goal. But that’s gonna take a while.”

How did you come up with this idea?

“The idea was born during the research process,” Rutger shares. “We didn’t really know if it was gonna work or not, because when we started this research, there was only one publication saying that you could do deep learning on ECGs and that it works nicely.” While they were researching this topic the field exploded, Rutger explains. “Now I think there are hundreds of papers every month on the subject.”

He says that the interest in the field is massive all around the world, but everyone comes across the same issues as René and he when approaching the final step – applying the algorithms in practice. “At that point, there is this big wall of regulatory steps,” Rutger explains. “We’re building all of these cool things but we can’t use them, it’s really annoying because that’s in the end what you want to do with it. So, that’s why we thought that we need to do this,” Rutger concludes.

He continues by explaining that “I think that the marketplace aspect of the solution makes it innovative and special, as you can have all of these algorithms from around the world in one place.” He says that there are many research groups with their own data sets building and training algorithms. Today it is difficult to get an algorithm approved, which limits its reach and impact. “So that’s the nice thing I think,” Rutget continues, “if we can help them as well to get their things approved. To help each other a bit, and to have a very nice platform with all the algorithms.”

Why did you decide to make a startup out of your research?

“It’s something that I really wanted to explore – the three pillars: research, clinical and entrepreneurial,” Rutger says. He continues, “and see if I liked entrepreneurship more than the other two, or together. And then I can maybe make a combination later on.” He explains that you see that many physicians, next to their medical career, spend one or two days a week either on their own company, on research or as advisors at another company. “And I think that’s also a very nice option,” he adds.

It’s something that I really wanted to explore – the three pillars: research, clinical and entrepreneurial.

What does your team look like?

“René and I are the ones for now in the company,” Rutger explains. But the interest in what they are doing is big, he says, as many doctors see the need for a solution to this problem. Rutger continues by sharing, “We had a talk from a professor from the US recently, who is also doing research on AI for the ECG. At the end of the meeting, one of his first questions was ‘So how are we going to get this? How are we going to use this?’ So, that’s the thing, many people in the field want a solution, they are really enthusiastic, but then there is nothing there yet, so that’s something we have to solve.”

The first steps in the entrepreneurial world

Since February 2022 you have been participating in UtrechtInc’s Validation Programme for science startups, how is that?

“I think it’s been super cool,” Rutger states. “It’s really nice to get this reflection all the time on your idea. I think that the most important thing about the programme is the whole validation part. All the talking with different people, explaining our idea over and over again, getting different questions and adjusting it all the time –  I think that that’s really nice and the most important part of the programme. The workshops and the knowledge you need to have to have a startup are also important.”

How does it work to combine this programme with your research?

“So the nice thing about research is that it is usually flexible,” Rutger says. “You have a few things to do and a lot of meetings during the week, but you can always do it at different times and arrange everything. So it works okay to combine the two things, it works out.”

What are the differences and similarities between being a researcher and an entrepreneur?

“I think what is really similar is that you are also testing hypotheses as a researcher. It’s the same idea actually,” Rutger begins. “You have an idea or a hypothesis and you are validating it with tests to see if it is true or not – and that is actually the same thing we are doing here. But now it is a business plan or case and in research, you are validating a more fundamental idea, but the idea of thinking is quite similar. That is the biggest similarity.” He continues by stating that “What is also similar is that as a researcher you really need to sell your science. You go to a big conference and sell your study or your idea and that is similar to being an entrepreneur.” But there are differences as well Rutger explains. “As researchers, we are taught to think about everything, to see all pluses and downsides. And as an entrepreneur, you have to make it simpler for a lot of people who don’t get what is going on. In the research field, you are selling your research to people who know the same amount as you. So that is really different, to make it simple.”

What is really similar [between research and entrepreneurship] is that you are testing hypotheses.

What have you so far learned about being an entrepreneur?

“I think you have to be really convinced and work really hard. You have to be at it every day. It is a complicated decision. Do you want to combine your startup with research or get on with it full-time? It is probably going to work better to do it full-time but it is also a huge risk,” Rutger states.

Is it possible to combine research and having a startup?

“Yes, I think so,” Rutger says. “But in our case, we need someone to work full-time. We are looking for a new team member right now. I think we really need a CEO who is focused on this so that we can take more of an advisor role. Because I think we are really good at having the idea and doing that, but we don’t have a sales background, are not entrepreneurs ourselves and have no experience in that. It would work much better if we had more experienced entrepreneurs in the team, but they are hard to find,” he laughs.

Do you think you will continue your startup after the programme at UtrechtInc is done?

“Yes for sure,” Rutger says confidently. “We are doing a lot of interviews now and validating, and we just adjusted the business plan. Right now we are also talking to Utrecht Holdings [the knowledge transfer office of Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht], he says. “We want to continue, but we need that third person and we need to figure out how we are going to combine it all.”

What is the most challenging part of setting up a startup?

“The most challenging part is everything that has to do with arranging things with the hospitals,” Rutger begins. “If you want to do a spinoff from the hospital it is such a lengthy process, but we are getting there now. We have a business developer helping us so it is going quicker.” Rutger explains that they started actively working on this idea in October last year, but so far no formal steps have been taken.

He continues, “We really need spin-offs. Because, research is very good for the first steps, to investigate everything and try things, and somewhat easy because there are not a lot of rules and you can just try. But when you find something, it needs to get into the clinic and that’s the complicated part. Then the project needs to get serious and you need a lot of money which you’re never going to get from the hospital or from the funding agency. So, then setting up a startup is the only way.”

We really need spin-offs.

What is the most fun part of setting up a startup?

“Many things!” Ruger says with a smile. “Thinking about the idea, changing it all the time, discussing it. The social events are super nice,” he adds, mentioning the recent funding event as an example. “And just talking with everyone here. The good thing is that you can finetune the idea all the time, that is the fun part.”

What would you recommend to other researchers who are considering setting up a startup?

“I think you should just try it, it is always worth trying,” Rutger says. “You just have to validate your idea way more thoroughly than you think at the beginning. As a doctor or researcher, you are not always a good entrepreneur. Our ideas are usually way too complicated. If you have an idea, try to validate it with a lot of people, as fast as possible and then if you have a feeling it’s good enough – then you should really try it! This is the real change you can make. Research is a part of it, but the implementation of your research is the real change of course. So only on paper, it is not going to change a lot. That is why you should do it,” Rutger concludes.

Research is a part of it, but the implementation of your research is the real change.

 

Posted September 2022

Personal trainer becomes PhD researcher and startup founder

Pim van Dorst thrives on challenges and has always had a great interest in health. After finishing two masters, working as a personal trainer and having a successful career at a multinational healthcare company, he is now doing a part-time PhD and running a healthtech startup. 

Pim follows a part-time PhD at UMC Groningen, but has chosen to locate his company in Zeist, and therefore decided to join the science-based validation programme at UtrechtInc. Together with Cornelis Boersma, Pim is the founder of the healthtech startup SensUR Health. The long-term goal of the startup is to lower the bar for people who want to proactively monitor their health. SensUR Health will do this by facilitating preventive blood and urine testing at pharmacies, to ultimately decrease the risk of serious illness further down the line. “But, that is the future,” Pim explains and continues, “We are not ready for that as a society. Therefore we choose to initially focus on people that do have a disease, more specifically people with cardiometabolic diseases, so then we are talking about cardiovascular disease, chronic diseases, and diabetes.”

How was the idea of SensUR Health born?

“It started with my girlfriend having Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) quite often. So I thought, maybe we can prevent her from getting a UTI in the first place, by just checking some markers in her urine – and that got the ball rolling,” Pim shares. As the health and economic impact of UTIs is not very high, except for the cases where the infection further develops into pyelonephritis, Pim and Cornelis decided to target chronic diseases instead, where they could make a substantial impact. “If you have chronic diseases it can progress to kidney failure or dialysis, which can cost € 100,000 per year for these patients. In addition, it has a severe impact on these patients’ quality of life, as they have to be connected to a dialysis machine three times a week. So, there is a huge potential impact there.”

How did you know that setting up a startup would be your thing?

“It was quite spontaneous, I like to pave my own road,” Pim says. That he likes to follow his own path is easy to see when looking at his track record. After a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Human Movement Sciences, he chose to do another master’s degree in Management and Entrepreneurship in Health and Life Sciences. As health has always been a great interest to Pim, he ran an online coaching platform for people doing sports and he worked as a personal trainer in a gym, during his studies. This, he confesses, is more of an exception than the standard way of going through university, adding “I just want to be challenged all the time.”

Once graduated, Pim worked for three years at IQVIA, which in the beginning was a challenging and inspiring environment, though after a while the excitement faded away. Therefore, during the last year, when Pim came into contact with Cornelis they established SensUR Health. “It’s not necessarily that I wanted a startup,” Pim adds, clarifying that if the environment at IQVIA had encouraged the employees to implement their own visions to a greater extent, he might have stayed there, but instead Pim’s search for new challenges brought him on another journey. “And then, after 1.5 years, I got the unique opportunity to do a part-time PhD in health economics with a focus on diagnostics. So that is where I am currently at, working part-time for my PhD and part-time for SensUR Health.”

It’s not necessarily that I wanted a startup.

What are the differences and similarities between being a researcher and driving a business?

“There are differences with respect to what you are doing,” Pim begins. He continues “For the business, I am talking with a lot of different people. You do the financial part, and you create your business model – I see that more as the people part. The scientific part is more research, not talking to people but reading articles, writing articles and doing analysis. But the nice thing is that the focus of my PhD is on the health economics of diagnostics and SensUR Health is developing diagnostics and implementing diagnostics in society. So, from that perspective, there is a great overlap between my research and running a startup.”

What have you learned so far from SensUR Health about being an entrepreneur?

Pim starts laughing straight away, saying “That it goes slow. I was thinking, ‘let’s establish a company and within two years we will be in the market’. But, it is going so slow, slower than expected.”

I always believe in the long-term vision, I don’t believe in the quick fix.

Is that intimidating you?

“Not necessarily. It is sometimes frustrating, but I always believe in the long-term vision, I do not believe in the quick fix. So with that respect, if you keep doing what you are doing, you give 100% of your energy and time, and you invest in it – in the end, if you have a great vision, it will go, it will fly! Although it needs a long runway.”

Especially in the beginning, you set up a startup for the greater good, you do not get an initial reward with respect to money or anything else.

Finally, would you recommend other researchers who are considering setting up a startup to do it?

“I think it is difficult,” Pim begins. He believes that if you are more of a technology-focused person, for example, and not so interested in the business perspective or validating an idea by talking to people, it might be wise to search for a more “business-savvy” co-founder or partner. “Especially in the beginning, you set up a startup for the greater good, you do not get an initial reward with respect to money or anything else,” he adds. He further explained that the startup phase is always longer than expected, and if you do something that you do not like for such a long time, even for the greater good, you will not be happy. “So in that case, it is probably better to look for someone that can help you on that business part, so that you can focus on the technology development.

 

Posted July 2022

The vet who wants to bring all veterinarians into the digital era

Once Jorien Walraven started to work as a veterinarian, she was surprised by how many inefficient systems were still in practice. She always wanted to set up her smart and digital practice but realised that she could make a bigger difference and help more people if she could create a digital solution that could be used by all veterinarians and animal owners. Now Jorien is part of our validation programme and thrives in the entrepreneurial community.

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University is the only institution in the Netherlands training students to become veterinarians. This is where Jorien finished her veterinary degree in 2019 and has since then been working at a veterinarian practice. Jorien grew up in an entrepreneurial family and during her studies, she took the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship a bit further. “In veterinary medicine, there were some courses that you could choose that were made for entrepreneurs or people who wanted to be veterinarian entrepreneurs. I chose them all because I’ve always known that I’m interested in being an entrepreneur and in entrepreneurship,” Jorien explains.

Getting veterinarians into the digital era

Can you describe your startup?

“I am working on electronic patient files for animals, so that we can connect all veterinarians and owners with the medical data of their pets. This way we can bring veterinary health to the digital era,” Jorien says proudly. She explains that this type of solution will make it easier for owners to keep track of their animals’ health which in turn will make it easier to keep the animals healthy. She adds that “At the moment there is a shortage of vets as well as problems and complaints from animal owners that they cannot afford animal healthcare anymore. I think we can help them by making the system more efficient and therefore more affordable through a digital solution. Being able to share the health data of animals will also result in faster and better healthcare, whenever and wherever it’s needed.”

How did you come up with this idea?

Jorien explains that when she started working as a vet she felt as if she were going back to ancient times and she saw a lot of issues. Firstly, everything is being written down on paper and importing it into the computer system is a highly inefficient process. Secondly, a lot of information is getting lost when making notes by hand. And finally, it is often very emotional for animal owners to come to the vet and therefore they tend to forget most of the things that are being said, which leaves them with a lot of worries and questions after their appointment. “I felt that we need to make this system smarter and better. And then I started brainstorming with my brother, ‘how can we fix this problem?’,” Jorien continues.

When did you come up with this idea?

“Well, I have always been very interested in entrepreneurship, I think because of the freedom you have to go for it, and that no one is holding you back. And I really like that when you work really hard you feel the rewards the most, but you also feel the responsibility and sometimes the pain that comes with it,” Jorien shares. “So, when I started as a vet I first thought about setting up my own practice. I was talking with my brother about it, and said that if I did set up my one place I would like it to be a smart and digital practice,” she continues. “A few weeks later we spoke again and said ‘Doesn’t every practice need this solution?’. And then we changed our idea a bit. We thought this was way more fun, and I felt that I wanted to solve this problem not only for myself but for everyone else.” It was about one year ago that they had this conversation, and half a year later they decided to act upon it.

Doesn’t every practice need this solution?

So now it is you and your brother working on this together?

“Yeah, and we have actually split the tasks pretty well. He is the technical guy and I am doing all of the business management – so we have our own territories that we respect. Still, we of course think a lot about everything together, which helps me a lot. When I have an issue or I am thinking about strategies I can always ask him and we think about it together,” Jorien explains. “And I need to say that working together with your brother, maybe people fear that, but for me being used to working in this family business, it feels really nice to have someone that I can trust, who is also taking this important part of the startup on his shoulders.”

I feel really at home in a startup environment.

How do you see yourself in the future? Would you like to work full-time on the startup? Or also have your own practice?

“Now I have been working as a vet for three years and I still have this big passion for animal health. But, I feel really at home in a startup environment and my plan is to put more time in my own company and ‘raise that puppy’,” Jorien says with a smile on her face. “But I think I will always keep one toe in veterinary medicine. I like to see what happens there, and I like the feeling of being a vet.” She continues by adding that ”Having my own veterinary practice is not my only dream anymore, because I want to be more innovative and solve this problem for the community. Therefore, I now also have the dream to solve the problem of getting veterinarians into the digital era. And who knows, one day, I might combine my two dreams, starting an innovative digital-based veterinary clinic using the software we are now creating.”

 

I have the dream to solve the problem of getting veterinarians into the digital era.

 

Joining the validation programme at UtrechtInc

Since February 2022 you’ve been participating in UtrechtInc’s Science Validation Programme, how is that?

“It opened the world, for sure. As I came from an entrepreneurial family, I thought I knew a lot,” Jorien begins. “But of course, I now became aware of the knowledge I was missing as I did not study any business management at all, and I really enjoy the help from UtrechtInc filling those really important blanks.” She continues “Because I feel now, especially after a few months, that if I would not have had your help I would for sure have made all those obvious mistakes that you are helping us to avoid. Also, I do not feel alone. I think that with a startup, it sounds really cool when you start. But after a month or two, you realise that it is you doing your work alone, and you also come across resistance from people and authorities, holding you back or making it hard to keep going. But together with UtrechtInc, you feel really strong, and you feel that you can either tackle those problems or learn from them, instead of getting overwhelmed, hurt or even killed by them.”

I think that with a startup, it sounds really cool when you start. But after a month or two, you realise that it is you doing your work alone, and you also come across resistance from people and authorities, holding you back or making it hard to keep going.

“When I started the programme I didn’t even know what validation meant… But now I have learned that the programme supports the stage I am in really well and it helps me a lot. The validation part includes talking to people, finding out what the problem that I want to solve actually is, and trying not to make the mistakes that everyone makes,” Jorien continues. “Of course, you do not enjoy doing interviews all the time, but I found out I enjoyed listening to my customers and their problems. And, I think that the only thing I regret until now is that I could not be a bit more often at UtrechtInc, because I enjoy it a lot there. I am always very jealous when I see the teams working there, I think that would be amazing. But on the other side, you first need to make choices and find the time to work during the daytime on your project. But I am really looking forward to maybe being more part of the UtrechtInc experience.”

Of course, you do not enjoy doing interviews all the time, but I found out I enjoyed listening to my customers and their problems.

How many customers have you interviewed so far?

“I think as a vet and horse owner, trainer, seller and buyer, I am in the middle of all my customers every day. And I found out that just telling people what I am doing results in pieces of interviews and that people always want to find out more and help,” Jorien explains. She says that she asks questions like ‘What have you already done to solve this problem? Did you already use a product like this?’. She continues by saying, “I think for me it is super easy. I believe I have had ‘big interviews’ with 10 people already and in the meanwhile, I have spoken to 50 or 100 people asking for parts of the information I need to validate my product.” Jorien adds that she thinks it is rather easy for her also because “I know the customer segment because in many ways I am the customer segment and I try to use that knowledge and those contacts in my validation process. Being your customer segment is worth a lot and I am proud to do this startup as a veterinarian.”

I am proud to do this startup as a veterinarian.

The step into entrepreneurship

Have you always known that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

“I was already a little bit of an entrepreneur since my studies because I had my own business in training and selling horses and I also gave some instructions and medical advice for horse owners,” Jorien explains. “I really liked it, but I did not feel like I was being really innovative, changing the world. And I think that is something that is important to me. When I am working as a vet it is really cool and I help the animals. But, I actually really enjoy moving the world, instead of one single animal at a time.” She adds that from the age of 14 she saw her father being an entrepreneur, “I was raised with all the responsibilities, the good and the hard stuff that comes with it.”

I actually really enjoy moving the world, instead of one single animal at a time.

 

Now when you are a year further from when your startup idea was born, what would you say to someone in that position you were in then?

“I think that one of the important questions that you need to ask yourself is ‘Do I truly want to be an entrepreneur?’,” Jorien says. She says that a good idea in itself is not enough if you are not willing to take on the hard work and the lack of structure. “So you need to be able to do that – or find people around you that can help you with that,” she adds. “You first need to try to find out if you want it, and like it, then go fit it. It will only make you a greater person in many ways and you should not be scared that the idea might fail, because that is part of the process. Even if you fail, it will be a win in many other ways and what you’ve learned you can use for the rest of your life. Pursuing this startup forms me as a person and I feel that together with UtrechtInc you’ll be equipped for this life- and business journey so much better.”

Pursuing this startup forms me as a person and I feel that together with UtrechtInc you’ll be equipped for this life- and business journey so much better.

 

How did you get in contact with UtrechtInc?

“I found out about UtrechtInc when I registered at the KVK and came across information about the programs they offer,” Jorien says. She explains “My boyfriend has his own startup and him being a start-up enthusiast has been a big support for me. At first, I thought ‘They probably won’t be interested in my ideas,’ but he helped me not be scared and just start the application and that way I found my spot at UtrechtInc where I started my own startup journey”.

 

Posted August 2022