Let’s start with getting to know you a little better; what’s your story so far?
I have been an entrepreneur for over 2 decades in agri&food technologies. Based in the Netherlands, I spent the 1st-decade building an engineering company for food packaging factories. I was 26 years old and had a lot of fun building that business while travelling around the world. It was successful and this allowed us to start and invest in other companies. Some of those were startups like TincT where we developed the first industrial digital printer for promo products. Unfortunately, despite its superb technology, it failed to survive because we focused on the solution instead of the customer problems. I was also a founding partner for companies in Israel (biodegradable agriculture foil) and Ethiopia (1st food packaging production in the country).
Our success came with many mistakes made on the way there. Some of those mistakes came with a very high price tag. When the 2007-2008 crisis hit, we barely survived. The company scaled down to a small team, and I felt it was time to move on.
In 2009 I moved to NYC. As a child of immigrants myself I could relate to the culture many New Yorkers have. Friends and family considered me crazy for leaving The Netherlands with my young family (3 kids) and moving to the most competitive jungle of the world without any backup from a big corporation that comes with a comfortable expat package. But I had a simple rationale. The global economy was in bad shape, so it could only go up. So I considered it the right time to immigrate and started the second part of my career as an entrepreneur.
Once in New York, I founded several startups such as Nyox Print, where we integrated digital printing technologies into wine labelling for wineries. Unfortunately, none of these startups took off in a promising way till I met Ruud Hendriks and Patrick de Zeeuw. We had an instant click with each other, and those conversations led to a partnership to launch Innoleaps USA.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Although I genuinely believe entrepreneurship can be learned (like any other profession), growing up in an immigrant family where the pursuit of a better life is a daily kitchen table talk set the foundation for becoming an entrepreneur. Of course, these conversations shaped me as a child. During my college years, I changed my ambitions from becoming a history teacher to a career in business. I got a job offer at my graduation to become an international sales manager at a machinery manufacturer. And although I enjoyed this first job working for a large corporation, the financial compensation, company car or any other benefit could not satisfy my need to build something on my own. It was a big step to quit my job after two years and step into uncertainty. In retrospect, I did that many times and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable did become my second nature. Everybody can learn this, and it is simply a matter of practising.
A core value we hold close to our hearts at Innoleaps is Entrepreneurial spirit. What does this mean to you personally?
When I started my first company, we didn’t have Lean Startup and the many alternative books that showcase a fast way to build businesses. Those playbooks are a tremendous advantage for the new generation of entrepreneurs.
But taking my experiences as an entrepreneur and data from CB Insights show that the main reasons why startups and corporate ventures fail are mindset related. Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs go through many transitions. Being able to shift requires learning agility and being able to act on new learnings fast. This mindset and being able to act on it represents the entrepreneurial spirit to me.
This also means, you do not have to make a career as an entrepreneur to have this spirit. It’s a lifestyle that can benefit you in any phase of life no matter what you do or where you live. Especially now that the world is coming out of the pandemic and most of us need to reinvent ourselves.
What really gets you out of bed in the morning?
We live in a world where almost a billion people go to bed hungry. This number will only get more significant in the next few decades due to increasing demographics, a changing climate and huge food waste. The United Nations made Zero Hunger (#2) a sustainable development goal. I believe that this challenge can be addressed with science and technology. I’m passionate about empowering startups and corporate ventures that work on these solutions. Of course, it helps to live in Brooklyn, which is the inspiring food laboratory of the world.
If you had to pick one quote that best describes you, it would be…
“I don't divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don't. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.” Benjamin Barber quoted my view very well!
You talk a lot about the power of your mindset. What do you mean by this?
Whatever outcomes we currently have in our professional or personal lives are a result of our behaviour. Most of us are not aware of what drives our behaviour. We are shaped mentally by our experiences and choices that cause these. This also means that if we desire other or better outcomes, we need to change our behaviour, requiring a shift in mindsets. This is true for both individuals as well as for teams.
The belief that one can learn any skill or capability and become very good in it is the Growth Mindset. The Growth Mindset is like a muscle. The more you practice, the stronger you get.
What advice would you give anyone who is thinking of developing a Growth Mindset? Words of wisdom..
All of us have many growth- and fixed mindset attributes. Understanding which mindsets hold you back and which ones help you to achieve your mission is essential. But it doesn’t stop there. Practising a new set of behaviours daily that are aligned with your chosen growth mindsets will help you accomplish your goals faster. In addition, it makes you more resilient and your life much more fun. Starting with reading Prof. Carol Dweck’s book is an excellent first step and of course you can always connect with me.