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Meet the Mentor: Toon Branbergen


Words by Kristina Foster

Illustrations by Edith Carron

This month in our Mentor Monday series, Let it Grow Lab mentor Toon Branbergen shares with us his professional insights as an entrepreneur in business development and tells us about his passion for building up young companies.

Tell us about your background and your role as a mentor in the Incubation Programme.

I’m a business developer/entrepreneur with a marketing background. When I was 27, I started my career as a marketing manager in the advertising industry. I was also mentor at Startupbootcamp and I am now the lead mentor at Startup in Residence, an innovation programme run by the municipality of Amsterdam. My basic role as a mentor is helping teams with business strategy and development. I’m responsible for building up teams around a new project or company. I also introduce them to my network. I’ve always been interested in training people and coaching new companies on how to move forward, so mentorship really brings these things together for me.

Having worked with so many young companies, what do you identify as some of the biggest challenges for a startup?

With the companies I worked with in the past, some were successful and some were not. I always say that there’s no ‘top-ten’ list for success. You just need to be aware that you will have to get down to some hard work, and, in fact, not focus on success at all but on your product and your team. There is not a list of ingredients that you need to develop a successful business but luck is a big factor. Often it’s about being on the right time and in the right place. But you can help luck along through hard work.

Can accelerator programmes such as Let it Grow Incubation Programme then be ‘lucky breaks’ for small startups?

I think so, there are a lot of positives about accelerators in that there is a set time frame in which there is a lot of attention focused on your product or business and you have access to wealth of knowledge, advice and expertise. But I feel that the accelerator market as a whole is quite a young one and still in its early stages. The main issue with them in their current state is that after an intensive five-month period, those companies don’t have that attention any more. So while the support given during the programme is good, the downside is that often they don’t prepare businesses to function by themselves afterwards. In general I think the industry of accelerator programmes needs to learn how it can help startups even in their second phase. I try and do this when I work with the teams in Class 1. It’s something that I’m also learning about this along the way as I continue to discuss this issue with other professionals and people in my network.

And what do you view as the answer?

The answer is not easy. It costs money and time to help these companies, but ultimately I think that this is a good investment for the industry that the accelerator is linked to, in Let it Grow’s case, to floriculture. I think that the Incubation Programme is a very good starting point for Royal FloraHolland and I hope that it can become a broader part of the company’s overall structure. These large companies need innovation and a way of moving forward in the industry. It’s not often easy because innovation is about change, about doing things in a different way that you did before, and you need to ways to make money out it and make it work businesswise. But I’m very positive about the programme and what I’ve seen so far. It’s at the critical point where it needs to think about how it’s going to evolve and hopefully become part of the long-term strategy of Royal FloraHolland.