VU PHD’s dive into the world of entrepreneurship

March 18, 2021

The first VU Explore PhD Program was successfully completed on Friday February 26, 2021.

Over the course of this 3-day program, initiated by Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) and executed by Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE), 26 highly motivated PhDs at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam got the opportunity to learn about the basics of venture creation and to brainstorm on potential business ideas in the fields of science and technology.

The program was the first edition that formed a part of the VU Graduate School curriculum. The collaboration was built upon the success of the past explore programs that were organized by IXA, VU and ACE.

“VU Amsterdam encourages PhD candidates to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and to make full use of their expertise, competences and personal skills. By offering to train their enterprising attitude, we hope to challenge them to be creative and courageous. By developing the entrepreneurial spirit, we expect PhDs to be more open to opportunities and make a valuable contribution to society.”
Finette Lips (Senior Policy Advisor at VU Amsterdam).

From research to a business idea

During the program, the participants learned to explore ways to transform their innovative research into an actual business idea. A fundamental topic that ties in perfectly with the joint mission of IXA, VU and ACE to support valorization of academic knowledge. Over the course of 3 days (February 17, 19 and 26) the eager participants went through all fundamentals of starting a business in high velocity. During the program, the PhDs were challenged to form teams, to (further) develop one of their business ideas and to pitch this business idea in front of their peers.

Winner pitch contest

The program ended on a festive note with a pitch contest: PhDs Tanya van Aswegen and Giulia Frascaria convinced the jury, consisting of Arjen Brussaard (Director at Amsterdam Neuroscience), Ties van Rappard (Business Developer at IXA) and Elena Köstler (Founder at Niluk), with their idea AfriCAN: a startup idea that dehydrates vegetables, targeting food wastage and hunger in African countries.

Developing ideas

Tanya van Aswegen, lead of the winning team, played with the idea to tackle the problem of food wastage in (South) Africa before entering the program. However, it wasn’t until she was challenged to conceptualize and visualize the idea within the program that she developed the first building blocks for the (future) venture.

“I’ve played around with idea before, but the program really challenged me to develop the idea further. Being a researcher and scientist you’re often so stuck in what you know, that it’s key to learn about this different way of thinking when starting a business. The pitch training was one of the best parts of the program: as researchers we’re so used to present our research to fellow PhDs, colleagues or professors, whereas a pitch is completely different. It was so valuable to learn how to convey your message in a completely different way.”

The importance of valorization

The diverse group consisted of 26 enthusiastic PhDs and was characterized by their problem-solving mindset.

Jury member Ties van Rappard stated that “it was exciting to see the quality of the pitches that were presented during the pitch contest. Both in terms of ideas and the way it was pitched. To me it shows the importance of educating our PhDs about valorization of their innovative research into actual business ideas. Even better if this becomes a standard part of the VU Graduate School curriculum.”

Future programs

With the program, the collaboration between IXA, VU and ACE was lifted to the next level and more is yet to come. Stay updated on all future programs here.