Cultivating a Startup Culture

Changing the game with incubators and the game changers mindset

Although the United States is known as the land of capitalism, I know that if I started a business today, it would undoubtedly fail. This is not due to my lack of business expertise, entrepreneurial experience, or connections, but the lack of infrastructure and resources for those ordinary citizens like myself who have an idea and want to make it a reality. Ideas originating with the common people are called bottom-up initiatives and have the potential to infiltrate the market dominated by larger, top-down corporations. This opens competition within the market, forces other companies to innovate to stay as the top competitor, and encourages smaller companies to pursue their business because they actually stand a chance against larger companies. So, is there a place that exists, where a small startup is given the resources to take on a large established company? Yes! Throughout Europe and larger cities within the United States there are places called incubators holding the resources startup companies need in order to network, create prototypes, collaborate, and basically get the starter pack to getting their company off the ground.

Source: Erin Danford Photography
Here is the Makerversity Workshop at Amsterdam Smart City where entrepreneurs and citizens can access resources such as 3D printers to produce prototypes. Rapid, in-house prototyping reduces production costs and allows for faster product evolution.

On our travels throughout Germany and the Netherlands, we visited many of these startup locations each with their own perks. Werkfabriek, stationed in The Hague, Netherlands, houses an eclectic assortment of businesses ranging from window washing to career advising to technology consulting. Even though the content of each of these companies is quite different, the companies are still able to collaborate, learn from each other’s experiences, and build their social capital. Amsterdam Smart City is a platform connecting citizen led initiatives and startups with resources such as established companies, the government, and workspaces. Unlike other startup incubators, Amsterdam Smart City does not require an established company to work there which helps bring ideas from ordinary citizens to the forefront. With this approach, many of the traditional barriers citizens face when starting a business are avoided which expands the wealth of available ideas and solutions. The High-Tech Campus in Eindhoven, Netherlands is the “smartest square km in Europe” housing over 150 established companies, research institutes, and high-tech startups. The Campus offers easy access to high tech facilities and a global network of partners such as Philips, NXP, IBM, and Intel. The High-Tech Campus hopes to bring the influence, knowledge, and R&D divisions of established companies to fuel the success of smaller startups in the areas of Heath, Energy, and Smart environments. The CleanTech Innovation Center and Business Park in Berlin, Germany work in tandem to first develop cleantech startups and later transition them to the CleanTech Business Park where the established cleantech companies are housed. Small startups in the Innovation Center benefit from the mentoring program, strong networking with global partners, and an exchange program all run in connection to the Business Park. Each of these campuses provide the necessary resources startups need to flourish in their developmental stages. Without these resources, many smaller companies would never accelerate and bring their idea to the market.

Here is an award winning home produced by students at the Delft University of Technology in the Green Village. The Green Village is an innovation site where new sustainable and innovative technologies can be tested in real life environments. Students combine the game changers mindset with their passion for technology, innovation, and the environment to invent the technologies tested here.

While it is vital to have these incubators available, it is often overlooked how important it is to have people who actually want to participate in them. Building an entrepreneurial society begins with its students and the way they are taught. A more interactive teaching style fosters a new “game changers” mindset and is the first step to creating the next generation of entrepreneurs. We experienced this teaching style, some for the first time, at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Here, lecture is much more interactive, focusing much of class time on actually applying the concepts instead of pure lecture (revolutionary!). The “learning by doing” method teaches students that success and failure go hand in hand; by using lessons learned from their failures to produce successes, students learn that failure is all part of the process and should not be viewed in a negative light. Developing intelligent, problem solving minds through this teaching method curates the “game changers” mindset. A game changer combines innovation, technology, and problem solving to produce intelligent solutions to real world problems. Additionally, students with this mindset are more confident in their ideas and actually pursue new and creative initiatives.

So, why does all of this matter? Teaching the game changers mindset, developing more student-run initiatives, and providing more incubator spaces will propel the United States into the future. My generation is the next set of movers and shakers who need the chance and resources to do what the world needs next. Our visit to The Green Village at the Delft University of Technology is a prime example of the game changers mindset and student led initiatives at work. Here we saw many new student-made technologies such as an autonomous shuttle, an award winning renovated house, a hyperloop, and new window technology that can capture sunlight without solar panels. Seeing these technologies and the capabilities of the students first hand was very inspiring. At UNC, I learn about projects other people are doing, but I don’t feel that I have the tools to pursue my own ideas. Beyond simply the inception of an idea, people in Europe then have the proper and necessary resources to curate their idea into a functioning startup. These are the different kinds of incubators as mentioned before that can focus on social, technological, or any other kind of solutions. Each startup space creates a collaborative, helpful, diverse, and useful environment for every company involved. The interaction between companies can be beneficial by providing fresh perspectives to solve problems, advising companies on problems tackled in the past, and using communal spaces to meet new people and make networking connections. These spaces also offer startups a low monthly rent to ensure they can continue developing their company in a productive space without breaking the bank. If we were to bring these kinds of incubators to the United States we would have much greater diversity in ideas and more competition between big and small companies. Combining these different aspects together will plant an entrepreneurial seed in students early on, provide the resources to make ideas into realities, and make the United States one of the top innovators in the world.

-Natalie Schuster