An interview with the brand new director of startup incubator UtrechtInc, Jorg Kop, about his first weeks in, ‘incubation inflation’, bypassing red tape and Utrecht as a startup hub.
2015 has been an eventful year for UtrechtInc. The startup incubator got financed for an entire wing for startups in sustainability and it ranked 6th in the UBI Index for best European incubators. On the other hand, UtrechtInc’s former director Roel Raatgever decided to join a medical imaging startup called MRIguidance.
After weeks of finding a suitable replacement, former co-founder of Snappcar (an UtrechtInc graduate) Jorg Kop got the job. After his time with the car sharing darling of The Netherlands, he spent three years helping big businesses reorganize, among other things. And now, he’s returned to UtrechtInc as director.
What were your first impressions after you returned?
“I’m six weeks in and that’s actually too short to give an opinion. But it’s relatively easy to compare the state of UtrechtInc now to my time here back in 2011. My impression so far: a lot has happened. Back then we didn’t really have acceleration programmes like we do now – it took one and a half year to build your startup, now it is done in four months. Also I’d like to think startups are better supervised and better accompanied with mentors and workshops.”
Why did you choose this job?
“Of course I worked on a startup myself, Snappcar. The last three years however I helped big companies reorganize. It was a job with a lot of negative energy. I worked alone most of the time and every message I had to bring, brought grief for the ones involved.”
“Sure, I learned a lot, but I didn’t get energy out of this work. I started to think about what I would really like to do, and that was working with startups. With this new job, I can give something back to starting entrepreneurs in the form of experience, knowledge and my network.”
A change of management often goes together with a big change in the organization as well. Do you think something should be done different at UtrechtInc?
“Yes. UtrechtInc can be more of a beehive, with people walking in and out, to create more energy.”
During your time with Snappcar here, which things did you learn that you’ll preach now as director?
“Buzzing around and open doors, without causing friction. Startups should use their ‘hug factor’. For Snappcar that helped a lot, and I’ll continue to advise that to startups. It comes down to this: act blind, knock on doors, and blow them away with your dedication and passion. That always helps to get an appointment.”
Is that a challenge?
“UtrechtInc sprouted from research institutions, which here at the Utrecht Science Park are literally very close. But most deals or meetings are reasoned from valorisation processes, so there’s quite some red tape. As an entrepreneur, you don’t like red tape. It’s a matter of finding balance. I like to think the startups here know how to open those doors by now.”
What’s your main challenge?
“The most important thing is that in every minute of my work, I have to think why I run this incubator. It’s for our customers and those customers are the startups. When our team makes a decision, we should take startups into account. What’s the added value for them?”
What does the ultimate UtrechtInc look like?
“On the long term: getting all business activities from the Utrecht Science Park here, to create a really great appearance. The sixth place in the UBI Index is good, but it can always be better. We can put ourselves on the map more by proving what we do has impact on the economy, creates revenue and jobs.”
“Also, the whole Utrecht startup ecosystem, and ideally all stakeholders of UtrechtInc, from investors to mentors to our ‘Friends Of’, should like to come here more often. That will tilt our network to a higher level.”
What do you think of Utrecht as a startup ecosystem then?
“It’s pure magic. There’s a lot going on here, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Utrecht is certainly not inferior to Amsterdam as a hub. Different instances in Utrecht are carrying this message.”
“On the other hand, there are a lot of those parties. Startups are really hot right now, a hype. Soon that will be less. You see, running an incubator isn’t really rocket science. It’s all about facilitating. For instance, I see a lot of incubation activities at banks and even schools. But there needs to be a shifting in the numbers of initiatives. Incubators must join forces someday. Why not cooperate?”
So you think there are too many of these initiatives?
“It’s becoming a lot, yes. You can call it an ‘incubation inflation’. I know this is tricky to say, but we need to take heed of coworking spaces, profiling themselves as an incubator for instance. That’s why we, as an incubator, need to keep distinguish ourselves from ‘just the office and workspace locations’.”
UtrechtInc focuses on health, education and sustainability. Do you think the incubator will be active in other sectors as well?
“I believe in focus and alignment. That means connecting with our partners, UU, UMC and HU. Their priorities should be our priorities. Otherwise, it will wring. With health, education and sustainability we are in sync. You shouldn’t do something if you lack the expertise.”
Ok, so how do you take the existing expertise from all those scientists, and put it into a startup?
“There’s a valorisation chain that capitalizes knowledge from every little corner at the Utrecht Science Park. That’s not an easy task. There are some ‘talent spotters’, mostly business development people, who are always looking for potential ideas.”
There are some scientists active here with a startup, but I can imagine not every scientist wants to start a business. How to get to them?
“Of course, you can wait until they come to you. But I don’t like that approach. Sure, we could be more aggressive when it comes to acquirement.”
Is there a specific startup you like (not from UtrechtInc)?
“I like the team of Superbuddy from Zwolle. Their startup delivers groceries the same day, with the help from people in your neighbourhood. It’s about those last steps in super market logistics. An interesting area of business, because it’s about a lot of money. Of course, it’s a competitor of Picnic, which makes it all the more exciting.”