Mentor Monday: Bart Doorneweert
Can you tell us how you got to where you are today, as an educator within the Dutch startup scene?
Long story! I first going engaged with entrepreneurship when I had the opportunity to work at a startup in the organic cotton trade in India. The company didn’t really grow, so I went back to my research and started focusing on entrepreneurship and incubation in agriculture. I started developing workshops in the sector, and I designed various kinds of visual tools for data collection. It was the best way to communicate with the farmers who usually, through generations of inheritance, loose their entrepreneurial edge. You have to relearn that if you really want to change your business. That’s how I ended up designing workshops about entrepreneurship, teaching and mentoring. All of this culminated about two years ago at the Source.Institute, which is dedicated to entrepreneurship education. I’m a co-partner there.
You use ‘peer-to-peer’ learning methods at Source.Institute. Do you incorporate this in your role in the Incubation Programme?
My main role at Let it Grow is one-to-one mentoring. I spend time giving additional advice to each of my mentees from topics covered in the Incubation Programme that are specifically relevant to them. The peer-to-peer part pertains to the mentor team itself. We exchange notes amongst ourselves in our monthly lunch meeting, and support each other when we have questions.
Can you recognise a cause for the hierarchy shift in entrepreneurship education today?
I think there is a growing realisation that it is difficult to effectively operate as a guru and stay at the edge of your game. And the way to democratise ‘guru-ship’ is through peer learning mechanisms. Everybody is really good at something, it’s just a matter of facilitating those connections that will deliver value. A lot of people are beginning to realise that. There are accelerator programmes moving away from the traditional structure of having the top teachers in a room, who now promote the exchange of tips and tricks amongst the programme participants.
Do you see similarities amongst the floricultural, horticultural and agricultural sectors?
Yes, for my work at the University of Wageningen I have been in touch with both the horticultural and agricultural sectors. What is unique about Let it Grow, is that it involves people who are outside and pulls them in. That’s not happening enough right now. If you look at companies in agriculture, very few young people are taking over ‘dad’s farm’, or ‘dad’s greenhouse’. The average age of a farmer is 50+ and it’s not getting younger. A much-needed impulse will come from involving people outside the sector. I think the stories that will come out of the Let it Grow Lab can be very useful, if they are distributed in the right way and are received by farmers. It is very much needed to get a sense of what entrepreneurship is all about, and how to do it, because it is something that is lacking in that sector.
If you could give one piece of advice to those starting their own business, what would it be?
You should always look for safety nets. The best safety net you can find is in a community of entrepreneurs who exchange information and knowledge. It’s so helpful to have a fellow entrepreneur sit with you for an hour or two to discuss the problem and help you to get to the next step, rather than spending hours skimming through blog posts on your own. It’s about building close relationships with people in the same field, and sharing wins and sharing challenges.