Business Planet travels to Zwolle in the Netherlands to see how one award-winning business incubator has become a seedbed for start-ups.
Promoting design and technology hubs is paramount if Europe is to both compete in the global economy and meet its environmental goals. Zwolle in the Netherlands is one such sci-tech hotspot. Formed by two Dutch universities, GreenPAC iLab is a seedbed of innovation, bringing science and business under one roof.
The goal of the project is to foster the next generation of plastics, supporting entrepreneurs guided by circular and sustainable values. To date, the project has helped dozens of start-ups.
"The special thing about this incubator is that we are a community. A community of coaches and entrepreneurs who help each other providing knowledge to develop their company. At this moment we have 20 active start-ups, which have 60 jobs. What we are really proud of is getting them to the market and being financed," said Bastian Coes, GreenPAC iLab's Business Developer.
Grounds for change
Olaf Vermeulen is one of iLab’s success stories. Still at university and only 23, with iLab's support, he was able to set up his own company, OV designs. The firm develops a range of bio-based and bio-degradable plastics from used coffee grounds.
Using coffee grounds not only removes the need for oil in the production of the plastic, but it also has the extra benefit of potentially cutting down on the huge amounts of waste generated by the retail coffee sector each year.
Olaf said the help he received to start and scale up the business has been critical.
"The support I got was very important, helping out and starting the business, growing the business, developing the materials and going from a start-up with 10 tonnes of production capacity to 100 tonnes of production capacity next year."
Since 2006, more than 4,260 projects have taken part in the prestigious prize helping to create thousands of new companies and jobs.
Speaking about his hopes and plans for the future, Bastian Coes said: "We’ve already coached 45 companies in the sustainable polymer industry, and we really want to continue doing that, so we can deliver new entrepreneurs to the market who have a positive effect on both the economy and the environment."
Bastian Coes is GreenPAC iLab's Business Developer. Business Planet spoke to him about the business incubator and how it is seeking to help young entrepreneurs and start-ups.
What is GreenPAC iLab exactly?
"GreenPAC iLab is a start-up community and a start-up incubator which helps companies from the very first idea to a scalable company. We help them by coaching and by adding knowledge and adding knowledge about entrepreneurship, or technical knowledge, so they can speed up progress, speed up their development and so they will get a real company in the end. And we do this all in sustainable polymer products, or industries next to it - so it’s a very interesting place for start-ups to start.”
What do you offer that wasn’t offered a few years ago?
"A lot of entrepreneurs started on their own and there is a big knowledge gap for example when you are making a polymer product, or your moulds, or whatsoever - you need knowledge of it. We really emphasise on the technical part, and the feasibility of the idea from the company, so we have coaches here with specific knowledge, for example about moulding, or design, materials, so that’s what we really add. That’s very interesting for start-ups which want to make a product from plastics.”
If I’m a budding entrepreneur, do I need to be based in the Netherlands to join your incubator?
“You can be from anywhere in Europe, or the world.....if you have this great entrepreneurial idea, for example, a sustainable polymer product that you want to make, you can come here, we’ll have a talk, we’ll have conversation and we’re really happy to help you and you can join our community."
The European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA) reward organisations or projects in Europe that promote entrepreneurship and small business at the national, regional and local level.
Since 2006, over 4260 projects have entered the awards and together they have supported the creation of thousands of new companies.
Many small companies in the EU struggle to access new markets. Only 25% of EU-based SMEs export at all and an even smaller portion export beyond the EU.
The EEPA’s categories target key areas for SMEs development, including investing in entrepreneurial skills, supporting the internationalisation of business and supporting the development of green markets and resource efficiency.