Co-creation is the future
Han de Groot invests in young companies that have progressed beyond the ‘eureka’ phase. Having studied Business Economy has prepared him for his own entrepreneurial career.
TEXT: Malou van Hintem
PHOTO’S: © Antim Photography
‘Without Erasmus University, without its people and its knowledge base, I wouldn’t be where I am – not as an entrepreneur and not as a man. That’s why I want to give back. In America is very common for alumni to donate to their alma mater. That should be the case in the Netherlands as well.’
Investor Han de Groot (46) leans back against a wooden table in the space he calls the ‘flea market’: the Amsterdam B. Building Business, the home base of about 350 startups and numerous freelancers looking for a flexible workspace. De Groot donates to the endowment fund, and the board runs opportunities past De Groot: ‘The fund gives me offers that I can green-light. I look for initiatives that encourage academic entrepreneurship.’
De Groot studied Business Economy in Rotterdam between 1993 and 1997. ‘The absolute best preparation for entrepreneurship. That’s where I’ve developed all the skills I needed as an entrepreneur: analytical skills, economical knowledge, marketing, law, organisational and statistical skills.’
There’s no specific people from his time at the university that he’d call his ‘role model’ or ‘inspiring example.’ But: ‘Most of my immediate and most important colleagues during my start-up years – end 90s – were old peers from Erasmus. They helped build this company, grew together with it.’
‘This company’ is the Rotterdam online market-research company MetrixLab, founded by De Groot in 1999. It was one of the first Dutch companies that built a browser plugin in order to sell information on consumers’ online behavior to big companies. Metrix Lab grew fast and became a global contender. In 2012 De Groot moved to the United States were he took over MarketTools, one of America’s biggest online survey makers from Silicon Valley. Two years later MetrixLab fused together with its big competitor Macromill. Last year, that company entered the stock market in Tokyo.
Eighteen years after founding MetrixLab, De Groot sold his shares to MetrixLab (business journal Quote estimates his capital at around a 100 million). ‘It took a while to get used to not being an entrepreneur anymore.’ He got a new position: that of an investor. Together with several others (three of the four partners are old peers) he started VOC Capital Partners. It’s a fund that invests in early-stage technology companies: young companies that have passed the eureka phase and that focus on some kind of internet technology. They also have to make a minimum of fifty-thousand a month.
De Groot says that the vent (‘guy’, who – he adds – can also be a woman) is at least as important as the tent (‘place’). ‘I always start out asking: what’s your dream, your ambition, your motor? But also, what did you study? What elementary school did you go to?’ If the answers are good, the whole thing can happen really fast. MiniBrew, a company that developed beer-brewing machines for home use, had a signature and a quartermillion euro within an hour.
Beyond that, De Groot founded the property developer ‘Stadswaarde’ together with former a.s.r director Jeroen Messemaeckers van de Graaff. ‘We develop buildings that contribute to a sustainable, healthy, and livable city.’
Being an entrepreneur these days means being able to shift gears quickly, being able to adjust to changing needs and innovating technologies that develop at high speed, says De Groot. ‘Universities need to educate students to go along in a fast-changing world, otherwise they’ll lag behind. I can see in our interns that not much has changed in the time since I was a student. And that’s twenty years ago!’ That needs to improve, he says. De Groot visited the biggest startup campus in the world in France, and returned inspired.
‘We need a Dutch version of STATION F. It’s a place in Paris where around a thousand entrepreneurs are working for twenty-six international startup programmes. Wouldn’t something like that fit right in at Erasmus?’
‘Let students translate scientific research into something that be implemented on a social level. Co-creation is the future,’ he says excitedly. ‘The university, its staffmembers and students should all be a part of an ecosystem that involves different collaborative partners. No one can achieve anything on their own. We live in a world where everything is connected, where everything is about interactions. But the connections between the university and the world around it seem to be as minimal as they were twenty years ago.’
No, he doesn’t want to reduce the university to a mere instrument for businesses. ‘The university’s scientific freedom and independence need to be well guarded. I can imagine that there’s someone on the Board of Executives that’s in charge of that. The university must keep its role as a research institute, but it would be good if the university – as a source of knowledge – participated more fully in co-creation, and would be there physically as well. If the endowment fund could aid in that, that would be amazing.’
Who: Han de Groot
Study: Business Economy at Erasmus University
‘Let students translate scientific research into something that be implemented on a social level.’