Student - October 9, 2014

A creative breeding ground

Alexandra Branderhorst

For a couple of weeks now student entrepreneurs have had their own ‘incubator’ on the campus. StartHub Wageningen offers office and lab space to student start-ups, some of which are benefitting from a microcredit.

V.l.n.r. Iris de Winter, Loet Rammelsberg, Javier Garcia de Lomas Durante en Nico Hopman

Entrepreneurship has been the magic word in recent decades. Increasingly, researchers are expected to market their knowledge and inventions. ‘A great deal of applied research is done in Wageningen. So for a long time it was thought that our knowledge tends naturally to find its own market,’ explains Jan Meiling, deputy director of StartLife, which supports new entrepreneurs in the green and agrofood sector. He believes that, in contrast to this, in recent years Wageningen UR has placed much stronger emphasis on actively supporting entrepreneurship within the organization. For example, at the end of 2015 the campus will gain a high-tech incubator, a place that will give new knowledge companies a helping hand. Recently students got their own breeding ground for entrepreneurial activity. At the end of September the StartHub became operational, an incubator for students, PhD candidates and graduates that is located in the former Triton building. ‘We’ll be bringing together people and ideas,’ explains Meiling. In the StartHub students can rent office space for 100 euros per month per work station. They can use all the facilities, including a laboratory where prototypes can be produced. What’s more, they may apply for a microcredit of a couple of thousand euros. Students who don’t yet have their own company but are toying with the idea can join the StartHub, the official opening of which is scheduled for 20 November. ‘Then they can receive advice, make


‘I would never have imagined that this initiative could get off the ground so quickly,’ says Simone Ritzer, Master’s student of Management, Economics and Consumer Studies. When she joined Wageningen’s Student Council in 2013, representing the student party VeSte, she had a vision of a future incubator for entrepreneurial students. Now, with practical and financial support provided by StartLife, Wageningen UR and Climate-KIC, a European research organization, that day has come. ‘As a student it’s pretty scary to take financial risks and set up a company alongside your degree programme. StartHub Wageningen can point out the possibilities to students and stimulate them to take that step,’ says Ritzer.

She is still involved in planning the future of the student incubator. ‘We want to work with some kind of student management team to set up activities that will get crossfertilization underway, so that people aren’t working in isolation.’ As entrepreneurship doesn’t yet have a positive image among all students, an information programme will be introduced. ‘In Wageningen, running a business is still often regarded as an opportunistic, profit-driven activity. But some people are doing it not only for profit. I often speak to students who want to take the initiative to change things, for example, to tackle pollution in a developing country,’ says Jan Meiling. These students don’t yet know that they are social entrepreneurs. ‘When I explain that you can have an impact only if your solutions are economically feasible, I often hear the penny drop with a loud thud.’

So far it’s been glorified voluntary work
What? Organizing student trips in Southern Africa

Who? Iris de Winter, PhD student with the Resource Ecology group, organizes trips to Africa.

‘During my Master’s I was keen to go to South Africa, but that’s not a safe option for a woman on her own. My poster in Forum drew responses from 22 enthusiastic nature-lovers, so we went as one big group. Since then I’ve been organizing three low-budget student trips every year, also to Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. My boyfriend does the bookkeeping and handles the financial side. During our trips, students can find out about nature conservation work. This earns them credits, 3 ECTS. Initially, the target group was students of Biology, Plant and Animal Sciences, but now it’s wider. I enjoy swapping experiences with other entrepreneurs in the student incubator and I’d like to learn more about administrative matters and fundraising. So far it’s been glorified voluntary work, but now we’ve got 50 students travelling with us every year. With some promotional work, we can double that figure.’

With simple technology you can increase harvests

What? Low-tech measuring equipment for greenhouses
Who? Javier Garcia de Lomas Durante, Master’s student of Biosystems Engineering, and Nico Hopman, student of International Horticulture & Management at VHL, founders of Sigrow

Javier: ‘Our head office is in the StartHub. The people there have a lot of contacts and will help you set up your company, so that you can grasp all the available opportunities. We also have a microcredit from StartLife.’ Nico: ‘We have developed low-tech equipment to measure the temperature, light, ventilation, water consumption and CO2 level in greenhouses. Most greenhouses in developing countries are low tech. With simple technology you can increase the harvest and thus food security.’ Javier: ‘Our system is modular and can either rely on a rechargeable battery or be wireless. We are currently in the final test phase. Farmers in China and Spain are doing the testing and we ourselves are going to do tests in Triton’s tropical greenhouse. We are looking for more testers and software developers to work alongside the two software developers and business developers we now have.’

We’re growing rapidly now

What? Making job vacancy films for companies
Who? Loet Rammelsberg, graduated in 2012 in Tropical Agriculture at VHL, cofounder of Vicancy

‘Job advertisements are often full of catch-all phrases and don’t create a good impression of the work involved. That’s why Pieter Moorman and I founded Vicancy. Within 24 hours, Vicancy turns a job vacancy description into a short animated film that illustrates the career opportunities within the company. It’s all based on our programming. A vicancy has the power of film, without the high production costs. Our product is unique and we want to create an international company that can grow quickly. A year ago we quit our Master’s programmes. Since we won a major innovation award, last February, we’ve been growing rapidly. We have seven people working for us full time. Pieter and a couple of programmers work from Bali; everyone else is in the StartHub. As a start-up, we still have to find out about a lot of stuff and we need a lot of creativity around us. It’s really valuable to be able to toss ideas around with other entrepreneurs.’

photo; Guy Ackermans