The city of Rotterdam has gained the title of being the Boston of the Netherlands. And not necessarily because you hear so much English while wandering between the skyscraper buildings of the second largest Dutch city (the city hosts 170 nationalities). Benefiting from an important European educational center, Erasmus University , many of the graduates (international and Dutch) are following the slogan of the city "make it happen" and dive into entrepreneurship. Apart from that, the city has increased its innovation activities and the startup scene has been booming in the past years.
A home for exceptional entrepreneurs, CIC opened its Rotterdam location two years ago. The headquarter of CIC is in Boston, its full name being Cambridge Innovation Center. While in the US hosts more than 1200 companies, in two years in Rotterdam, CIC is now hosting over 200 startups and entrepreneurs. Somehow, they manage to do everything they can to support the entrepreneurs by connecting them to each other, to investors and experts in their industry, and to other corporates and other helpful resources in the community.
Thus, we wanted to talk with Melissa Ablett, the General Manager of CIC Rotterdam. We followed her around CIC hallways and tapped into her experience.
1. What are the key traits a community needs?
In my opinion, to have a successful innovation community you need an organisation that is actively working day-in and day-out to connect different people throughout. And this is what we do. You also need a diverse population, representation from everyone from the earliest stage (student, entrepreneur) all the way to someone who has had many successful exits. Additionally, you need investors and corporates who are willing to put in time, money, and energy to help those startups to succeed
2. What has been the biggest challenge since you launched CIC in Rotterdam?
The biggest challenge here has been that Rotterdam and the area didn’t really think of itself as a startup economy or a startup community. We really had to show people the things that were happening here. There was a lot of great activity already started, but helping really highlight that on an international level gave people the confidence that Rotterdam is and will continue to be a really great city for innovation.
3. What is the most useful soft skill an entrepreneur should have?
I think the most useful soft skill an entrepreneur can have is the hiring. Whether you define this as soft I don’t know, but the ability to interview someone, to set up a good hiring process, and be able to tell if someone will be a fit for your company is essential. When you are a small startup, the talent you hire is the most important thing. Maybe that and fundraising, and so the ability to really connect with people and know if they will be good employees is really important.
4. Is CIC helping entrepreneurs with their recruitment process?
We do try to help entrepreneurs with this. Just recently, our sister public organisation, the Venture Café Foundation, launched The Talent Portal where all of our companies can post their jobs, but everyone in the innovation community can find jobs. It is specifically dedicated for these types of companies to find people who are really interested in the roles they have to offer.
5. What do startup founders need the most from CIC? Besides the physical space?
The thing that I see people needing the most is the other people. When you’re starting a company, you want to meet every single person possible and you only have so many hours in the day. To already be in a space with people around you that are also working on exciting things, and have similar experiences, and that probably already made mistakes so they can help you avoid those mistakes, is saving you so much time. We provide the ability to connect daily with those other people, learn those lessons, and also have those contacts lead to more growth for you and your company. I see that as the biggest thing entrepreneurs need, besides the physical environment.
6. What has been your favorite event organized at CIC so far?
One of them that we host, that I love course, which we do not directly organise is the Venture Café Weekly Gathering. It's free, it's open to the public, always on a Thursday, and we have about 300 people every single Thursday from all different areas and types of innovation. The second is the Dutch Open Hackathon, which we had the pleasure of hosting. It was so cool to have 200 entrepreneurs here at CIC, sleeping in offices, working with data from the Police department and from NS. It was a really cool experience and really inspirational to see what they built in just 72 hours.
If you are looking for a great start-up location in Rotterdam, CIC is the place to be. Check the discount on Startup Corner when renting your office within CIC!