The best is yet to come
Taco Zimmerman is a mentor of the start-up Bamboi and a member of the Advisory Board of the StartHub. An inspired entrepreneur and VU alumnus, he evolved from student, to alumnus, to mentor and finally to a donor. Taco spent years at the helm of the successful television production company Tuvalu Media Amsterdam and knows the highs and lows of entrepreneurship extremely well. High time for an interview with this born entrepreneur with a big heart for VU Amsterdam.
"As members of the Advisory Board of the StartHub, we meet four times a year and advise Hans Drenth and Erik Boer. They are at the helm, and we watch them. I see a lot of enthusiasm among the students in the StartHub, they are truly committed to solving current problems on earth. I am a mentor and investor of one of the wonderful start-ups based there. Bamboi is a great company. Everyone really gets to use the sustainable toilet paper they produce from bamboo. The great thing is that I haven't worked in retail before, but now I’m in the middle of it all, very fascinating. I really enjoy advising and helping students, and passing on my lessons learned to this generation. Sometimes I wish I had had a mentor when I started my businesses. I have and keep a soft spot for the university; I really have a bond with my 'Alma Mater'. Entrepreneurship can be instilled and learned, it is not something you have to have naturally ingrained to be or become successful necessarily. Nor do you need to have a good and unique idea to become successful. What matters is that you are original and dare to plant that seed. We do need to be more enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, otherwise we might lose talent. Not all ideas go well and sky high from day one. And research shows that it is precisely academics in their entrepreneurship that create more jobs. That's great, we should cherish and encourage this. Making things manifest makes things grow. Having your own business gives a great kick when it is successful and when you can make people around you happy with the opportunities and possibilities of your business. That's gold. Above all, as an entrepreneur, you have to have guts, you have to dare to start, and experience what that is like. By taking it on, you notice a change in yourself and you experience how things go. Just planning won't get you there; you have to experience it, feel it, be in the middle of it. That’s what is so great about this place, the StartHub. Of course, you can't plan it all, you have to dare to jump into the deep and find your way through dead ends, fall flat on your face and get up again."
"I see a lot of enthusiasm among the students in the StartHub, they are truly committed to solving current problems on earth”
"VU Amsterdam is a philosophical institution; we had compulsory philosophy for the first two years, whichever programme you followed. That was good, it taught us to look at a topic from different angles and question even more aspects. Let's make the world a better place, that's what it's all about. Entrepreneurship can play a very big part in that. The founding of VU Amsterdam already contained that motto. Free from church and state, welcome to be who you are. Open to all, so even though the words inclusion and diversity may not have existed yet, it was in there from the start."
I deliberately chose VU Amsterdam
It was a conscious decision to study at VU Amsterdam many years ago. Although his father and sister chose Leiden, Taco Zimmerman really wanted to go to big, exciting Amsterdam. His first choice was Medicine, but after he didn’t draw a place, travelled and returned, Political Science was the study that finally suited him best. When he visited the Vondelpark building by chance years later, he thought, "I know this. This is my old faculty", and old memories of those days resurfaced....
Entrepreneurship was in Taco's blood from a young age. He founded his own party and managed to get them a seat in the university council. They had campaigned in a targeted way, calling on everyone to vote for them. With success! The students' interests came first and they were able to participate in deciding the university's policy. A wonderful and intense time, which also helped lay the foundation for the rest of his career. During his student years, he already had two businesses, and even earlier as a child, he saw opportunities in earning a little extra by mowing the neighbour's lawn.
"Let's make the world a better place. Entrepreneurship can play a very big role in that."
Taco: "I paid a lot of learning money by jumping into the deep as an entrepreneur, without first learning the art of entrepreneurship and business from bigger companies. You know, I was 15 when I wrote a letter to Club Veronica, was selected and got a training week at Veronica in 1985 along with nine other young people. Exactly at that time, Veronica got A-status and there was a lot of work that we were immediately assigned to. That time laid the foundation for my interest and passion for television. I was in Hilversum every weekend and learned the TV profession in the workplace. By producing, directing and learning everything that came with it in practice. The fact that at a fairly young age I was already making videos and drawing attention to certain themes and issues at VU Amsterdam was of course a very nice coincidence. Media fascinated me tremendously, and I have always been able to combine entrepreneurship with the craft of television. I have always wanted to contribute to society through media and my programmes. To encourage people to look at themselves and each other. Make people aware of possible behavioural changes. To make boring and difficult topics interesting and appealing to a wide audience. Contribute to diversity and inclusion. This is VU Amsterdam's DNA and why I am happy to stay connected as a mentor, investor and as a member of the StartHub Advisory Board. I have built a wonderful company (Tuvalu Media) and brought together a great team with energy and passion. It was a privilege to conceive and create such great programmes together. The fun and drive we had to make beautiful things together still makes me feel grateful."
"The best is yet to come"
"Sometime after your 50th, you start learning to live with a shortened future; there are more yesterdays than tomorrows. I know I don’t need to go back to anything, and that illusions have been shattered. I count my blessings and I know what I never want to experience again. A lot has worked out and I am at a new point in my life. Of course, I want to keep making programmes, that's just in me. Ideally, I would like to work for a major media organisation at home or abroad, to make an impact on the world through programmes."
"Regarding VU Amsterdam, the following is also fun to mention. In my student years, I was also a member of the VU Corps (L.A.N.X.), where I was the first president in '91 - '92 on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. A wonderful time, but the best memory was the lustrum theatre and that we played Midsummer Night's Dream in a sold-out Kleine Komedie. My co-star was Eline. She studied psychology at VU Amsterdam, and I later married her. Our daughters came into this world in the VU hospital. VU Amsterdam has brought me a lot in many ways."
Joseph Nickisch and Leroy Ranglek are the entrepreneurs behind Bamboi. They met Taco Zimmerman at the VU Amsterdam's Amsterdam Startup Launch where budding entrepreneurs followed an intense and inspiring course where a successful entrepreneur came to tell their story after each meeting. Joseph: "The first entrepreneur was Taco. We immediately clicked with him and after several meetings we signed a contract that he would become an investor of Bamboi in addition to being a mentor. Taco supports us and has a fantastic network. The great thing is that he keeps saying, 'It's your boyhood dream, do what you believe in.' He encourages us to live that dream and hold on to it."