Are you ready to start?

Are you ready to start?

In October, 30 young scientists got started on the Explore programme offered by ACE. Three half-day sessions were dedicated to entrepreneurship, and seasoned entrepreneurs shared their inspiring stories. Many were success stories, but there were also stories where things didn’t go so well. It was an informal setting where the focus was on the business model canvas, the principles of lean entrepreneurship and the importance of the test phase when you want to get a product or an idea to market. After completing the Explore programme, the participants can immediately get to work as a startup with the help of the biannual Incubator programme. The Explore programme usually runs twice a year and is an initiative of Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA) and is executed by the Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE). ACE is a university incubator in Amsterdam, in which VU Amsterdam is now a participant. The other participants are the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) and Amsterdam UMC. Through various programmes, ACE supports students, researchers and academics in transforming their tech or science-based business idea into a viable startup. Check the website for all programmes. This Explore programme also showed that researchers are quicker to consider selling their idea than starting a business based on that idea. In other words, ownership, which allows you to maintain control of the original idea and the knowledge and to develop it further. Of course, entrepreneurship has to suit you and it isn’t always the best option for everyone. In addition to the plenary session, the participants worked in smaller groups in break-out rooms. This practical approach and the stories of the trainers and founders were inspiring. The experience left the participants wanting more.

"Using VR could be more appealing to a target group that doesn’t want to go to a clinic when struggling with an alcohol problem, due to the shame and stigmatization attached.”

Insan Firdaus PhD candidate at the Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Department of Clinical, Neuro- and Developmental Psychology, conducts research into addictive behaviour.

Insan is from Indonesia and is pursuing his PhD. He worked in his native country as a therapist with addicts and is now researching the possibilities of using Virtual Reality in therapy programmes. Insan's main target group are people with an alcohol problem who still function normally, either as a student or in a job. Insan: “I’m extremely motivated to develop my idea further. The fact that I can actually build a startup and everything that involves is all new to me. I had practical questions, such as whether registering with the Chamber of Commerce is really necessary, or whether that is possible at a later date, also how I could find investors. During the training, I learned that I can start building a prototype and that I will have to test that with my target group. Before the training, I hadn’t thought about this option.” "The addiction problem in the Netherlands is different from Indonesia, where the biggest addiction problem is not alcohol but methamphetamine, or crystal meth. You have to work in the field in order to understand the problem.” "I have already had a few conversations with someone who specializes in VR and can now actually move forward on the basis of the business model canvas. The combination of academic knowledge with the added value of being in the field is gold.”

“During the training, I was on the edge of my seat. I was able to ask all my questions and I feel a lot more confident now.”

Evangelia Thanou PhD candidate at the Faculty of Science, Department of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology (CNCR Institute), conducts research on Alzheimer's disease.

Evangelia: “I’ve been pursuing my PhD at VU Amsterdam since January 2019. I’m originally from Greece. I have several ideas that I would like to turn into startups but at the same time I feel insecure. Every time, I would wonder if they were relevant or viable enough and then kept the ideas to myself and rarely shared them with others.” “The idea that I want to further develop as a startup is a platform that people affected by Alzheimer's, as well as their families, can access. I'm thinking of a combination of scientific knowledge and tools that can help to train your brain. I like photography, so a place where images and memories can be shared could also become a part of the platform.” “I've benefitted a lot from learning about the business model canvas. Its clear steps help me with structuring my plan. It was comforting to know that not all ideas need to be perfect or successful right away, and that it doesn’t matter if things fail. I liked the open atmosphere and the sincerity of the trainers. I feel a lot more confident now.”

“Using the Lean method, you can bring about a change step by step. This approach has got me thinking.”

Christine de Veij Mestdagh PhD candidate at the Faculty of Science, Department of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology (CNCR institute) and the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacology at UMC Groningen, is doing research into hibernation-derived mechanisms against Alzheimer's disease.

Christine: “I found it interesting to experience how different a pitch can be. I learned that what you say has everything to do with your target group and what exactly you want to solve. Finding the right words in a pitch is important. I’m fortunate that I’m strongly encouraged by the people in my department, especially to continue my research and to turn my ideas into a startup, for example. Immediately after the training, I received an email and this week I will talk to the Head of Incubation at ACE to explore the possibilities.” “Using the Lean method, you can bring about a change step by step. This approach has got me thinking. Lean is about reducing wastefulness and being more effective. This suits me very well and I think this is also very important in startups as well as in the academic world.” "Out-of-the-box thinking is essential if you want to come up with a new solution for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. For my PhD research, I work with different organizations and people, giving me the opportunity to develop new ideas as part of a team. That’s how we can take research a step further. I can’t reveal too much about the content of my research and the exact scope of my ideas for a startup, in the interest of intellectual property management, among other reasons. What I can say is that it’s a unique combination of looking at Alzheimer's disease with the integration of data from studying hibernation.” "It's a pity if a thesis ends up in a desk drawer. By further developing the knowledge you acquired during your PhD, you can really make a difference. I don’t know if my research will be the answer, but I do know that we need to look at treating Alzheimer's in a different way in order to find solutions. Current therapies don’t work, or they don’t work well enough. When I talk about my research with people, almost everyone seems to know someone who has Alzheimer's, so there is a lot of social interest.”