Ernst Hoestra – CEO of Erasmus Enterprise, veteran entrepreneur and former EUR Law student – occasionally ended up there on business trips: the MIT campus in Boston. “A wonderful concept. Over the years, the community of start-ups and scale-ups that has formed around the university is almost a village in its own right. It’s a great place for home-grown entrepreneurs to start developing their plans.”
We need something like that here too, is probably what former rector (and driving force behind Rotterdam’s own initiative) Rutger Engels thought. Three years ago, this ambition led to the establishment of Erasmus Enterprise and, three months ago, to Ernst Hoestra joining the team – to keep everything on course. The launch of Erasmus Enterprise is part of the university’s strategic vision. In its start-up phase, it will also be financed from the associated budget, but since it is a separate holding, its scope can extend a lot further than a publicly funded university.
Bar, restaurant, sports centre
Indeed, Erasmus Enterprise’s core task will be to give entrepreneurs access to knowledge, trainings and housing at Woudestein. Why is this all being concentrated on campus? “It’s an attractive location for businesses in their start-up phase, with facilities like the sports centre, a bar, a restaurant, eateries and a pool of highly knowledgeable researchers.” At the same time, it allows EUR to communicate to prospective students: if you want to set up a business after graduating, we can offer you the necessary facilities. While established firms are sent yet another message: you can find fresh talent at Erasmus University. And investors: this is where you can find new investment opportunities.
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Its 10am on the 11th floor, and already a number of groups are gathered around tables in…
Erasmus Enterprise could also be a good place for scientists to develop the commercial potential of discoveries that they make in the course of their research. “For example, in his or her research, a PhD candidate may develop an algorithm that could be interesting for specific commercial applications. As a scientist, he or she cannot market these applications, but through Erasmus Contract Research and our Business Support team, we can offer the infrastructure required to arrange this. These are the kinds of things we’ll be handling,” explains Hoestra.
Two weeks ago, the news came that various well-known and lesser-known alumni of EUR and Delft University of Technology, people like Michiel Muller of Picnic and Philips CEO Frans van Houten, have jointly established a three-million-euro fund called Graduate Entrepreneur. This fund will be offering financial support to 20 start-ups per year. The fund, which was established at the initiative of the alumni, will also be housed in the building of Erasmus Enterprise. Hoestra confirms that he and his investment manager will be supporting the Graduate Entrepreneur fund.
The brand-new holding Erasmus Enterprise also comprises existing initiatives like the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE), ERBS, which we wrote about before, and YES!Delft. Last year, EUR became a shareholder in the latter programmes. You’d think enterprise was hardly underserved as it is. “It’s true a lot is already going on in this area, but these activities lacked a common strategy. That’s what we hope to contribute,” says Hoestra. These organisations will be offered room at Erasmus Enterprise’s offices in the N and Q buildings.
The university already offers one home base for young entrepreneurs: the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship. Its headquarters are at the Science Tower in the Merwe-Vierhavens district – an area that the Municipality and the Port Authority plan to develop further over the next few years. The only drawback is its location: “Students who plan to establish a new business are deterred by the travel times. We want to lower this threshold and house ECE student activities on campus as far as possible. New events, trainings and research will also be accommodated at Woudestein.” Does this mean ECE will be moving out of the Marconi Tower? “Not for the time being. We still don’t have enough room to accommodate everyone on campus right now, and their lease is still running.”
The dream is to gradually grow and develop Erasmus Enterprise into that MIT-like ‘village’ with ‘EUR as the heart of an innovative ecosystem’. “Who knows: we may keep expanding – with more and more entrepreneurs joining us in and around campus.”