Archive for ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’
Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network; is our current entrepreneur in residence. This week she shares the story of the European Startup Manifesto and the ongoing developments in the world of policy affecting Europe’s entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs provide the oxygen in our economy, creating new businesses and new jobs, new ways to look at the world and to interact with everyone around us. They invent and they build, they wreck and replace. In doing so, they often come up against the boundaries of legislation and regulation that have yet to adapt. Although creative ways can often be found to overcome such obstacles, this can slow them down considerably, allowing companies from more forward-looking regions in the world to snatch the market from right under their noses. Sometimes they chose to flee the country or even the continent, moving to places where experiments are welcomed and policy adapts more agilely to changing circumstances.
You may think that entrepreneurs have formed a powerful lobby to counteract all this, but they are already slaving away 24/7 to safeguard and build their businesses and teams, putting out today’s fires. Fighting for a better policy framework for entrepreneurs is often the last thing on their minds. They are scattered across smaller businesses, across regions, and have little structured organisation, meaning little changed for a very long time.
In 2013, Neelie Kroes as Commissioner for Digital Agenda called upon the Startup Europe Leaders Club to craft a European Startup Manifesto, a set of high-impact recommendations to create a better entrepreneurial climate in Europe. Yet many of the recommendations touched upon areas in which European Commission has little or no impact. It was up to the Members States to implement the change. The startup community rose to the challenge and got organised. An entire Startup Manifesto Movement emerged – with entrepreneurs across countries voicing their solutions and suggestions!
Now three years later, almost every European startup community has created their very own Startup Manifesto – often crowdsourced – and many have had considerable impact on local policy makers, as demonstrated by the Startup Manifesto Policy Tracker. Tax shelters were introduced, legislation on e-commerce was modernised, crowdfunding was eased, governments and corporations started buying from startups, the procurement legislation was adapted, a startup test is under development to stress test all new legislation for impact on startups, and much more!
The European Commission continued with its support, developing a Startup Europe program to connect startup hubs across Europe and allow more business to start and grow in the EU – and “startup managers” have emerged at all levels of policy making, from city to international. Some of the collaborations that grew out of these efforts grew into long-term sustainable platforms and networks. The European Startup Network unifies over 20 national startup associations to create a common voice and provide data analysis, facilitate an international go-to-market and build strong national ecosystems. Allied for Startups acts on behalf of startups worldwide. Entrepreneurs have also stepped up to the challenge individually and started sharing their stories of success, but also on (how to learn from) failure. Understanding that challenges were shifting from starting business to fast-growing companies scaling across Europe, a European ScaleUp Manifesto was once more crowdsourced from all those different communities, with clear action points for all involved at any level.
It is clear that the entrepreneurial voice is here to stay. Hopefully this voice will help construct a more inclusive and tolerant world, one in which change and diversity can be embraced rather than feared. We’re on the barricades for all those who wish to develop their passion into their profession – their dreams into reality. If you’re a dreamer, make sure no one holds you back, for there is always a way to change whatever is in your way! So what you can do? Sign the ScaleUp Manifesto and join the movement!
Our current entrepreneur in residence Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network; has returned with a second blog post. This time she gives us her views on the current European education system and whether it really prepares the youth of today for the challenges they will face.
We’re always talking about the fast moving societal changes and how digitalisation is changing every aspect of our private and professional lives and will continue to do so. This is absolutely true – digital technologies have connected and empowered nearly every citizen on earth. After the industrial revolution, this trend could very well be the paving the way for different societal and economical models, which in their turn could lead to severe power shifts from the happy few, to the well-connected within the next decade.
Some very striking images have been circulating social media recently, showing the differences between what we called a ‘telephone’ a century ago and today, and the huge difference between what we called a ‘vehicle’ (i.e. horse & carriage) and modern cars and transport. There was also a comparison between what a classroom looked like 150 years ago – and its modern equivalent, it is unchanged!
We are preparing today’s youngsters for their future in very much the same way we have been preparing labourers to go into the factories for the past decades. We are training them to be silent, listen carefully and not question orders but rather execute them in the efficient, large-scale way we have grown accustomed to. We are training them to think hierarchically and obey – day after day and year after year. The reason being this is the way our society was structured for many years and how our economies thrived in the mass production age.
But now we are facing different challenges. Mass production is suffering in the western economies. Hierarchical icons are being disrupted by flexible, agile businesses. Collaboration, creativity and the ability to change are becoming ever more dominant in the new business paradigms, and it’s clear that there is no way back. Millennials are already exhibiting signs of not caring too much about steady careers, future-proof choices or life-long guarantees. They think very differently about ownership, citizenship, sharing, learning and professional careers. They are self-organising, always connected and pay it forward much more than previous generations.
There is no way that the education that we are currently providing Generation Z youngsters is preparing them properly for what is ahead, and there is growing consensus that future generations might not put up with the inertia of the current system, eroding it from the inside out. The information overload is growing, and we need to urgently transition into a system that educates youngsters to deal with that, to find their way in an ever-connected and saturated network of information sources, opinions and potential expertise. Self-learning and life-long learning are gaining in importance. Additional skills are often acquired outside of the school system at present, through volunteer programs and alternative schooling. Learning how to learn is therefore growing inherently more important than any kind of knowledge transfer.
I would not argue for a total disruption of our school system, though. Europe has been on the frontlines of (free) quality education, equal opportunities for all and innovation for a long time. Let’s now make sure Europe initiates a power shift in traditional education, slowly steering the heavy tanker towards a coaching environment, with expert inputs from all societal angles, project and applied learning and a wide range of soft skills on top of purely academic knowledge transfer. That way I am sure we will keep nurturing generations of renowned business and academic leaders, as well as a flexible and future-proof workforce.
Read Karen’s last blog post: Failing is not contagious, but success is
Daan De Wever co-founded Belgian Network Solutions in 2001 and is currently Managing Director of the communications company Destiny, which he co-founded with his brother Samuel. In this post, Daan talks about his experience in setting up his company and provides advice for budding entrepreneurs.
When I was starting up my business, I’d look into the mirror and I’d say: “I’m 28 years old, we have a fantastic idea, but do I have the skills to build a cloud-telco myself?” The answer was “No” but, two months later, we hired an experienced CEO and put him in place above myself and my brother, who I co-founded the company with.
That was the best decision of our lives. We needed finance. By the end of 2008, we’d searched for seed money; the round closed at the end of 2009. After a period of birth, survival, and fast growth, we closed a further round with private equity in May 2016. We decided to internationalise our business because everything boils down to the maxim, “Don’t miss your opportunity.”
Yes, we could be a nice “lifestyle” company in Belgium, but we believe we would miss out on opportunities in a market where mid-sized companies are massively underserved by incumbents. Today, we are active in eight European countries and our next aim is to achieve strong organic growth so that we can acquire other companies.
Having done it myself, my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to follow your dream and do the things that make you happy!
For more info:
Karen Boers is co-founder and Managing Director of Startups.be, which brings hundreds of startups together with incubators, accelerators, investors and public actors in a local startup ecosystem. She also runs the European Startup Network, which aims to help create a truly pan-European bottom-up startup ecosystem. In this blog post, Karen talks about the challenges she has encountered, how she manages to achieve a good work-life balance, and her plans for the future.
As the co-founder and CEO of both the Belgian startup network Startups.be and the European Startup Network, I have always been passionate about creating opportunities for other people – especially entrepreneurs – to thrive. Connecting the dots, helping to create the right environment and bringing people and organisations together in meaningful relationships, that’s what I love to do.
It’s been challenging these last few years, as I never considered myself to be a (social) entrepreneur in the first place. Learning to close a deal, to master financial flows, pitch my project, make myself vulnerable and conquer the never-ending cash flow challenges are just a couple of the skills I have had to develop along the way.
It’s been great, though, to go after my dreams and show our kids that you can reach for the stars and nobody should tell you it’s impossible. My boyfriend and I have five of them jointly, so we really care about what the future holds for them. Being an entrepreneur allows me to work really hard, while still being available for them – picking them up at the school gate and helping them with their homework, their small fears and challenges. It’s helped me to show them that a healthy work-life balance can also mean being passionate about what you do, that work can be fun at least part of the time and that you can blend it together in a way that makes sense to you and your family.
Taking on the challenge of better connecting and streamlining the startup ecosystem across Europe comes with new challenges – and more time away from the family. But I really hope we can build an environment in which digital skills, a creative and entrepreneurial mind-set and the opportunities to put your talents to good use are within the reach of every individual, wherever they come from.
If I had to do it all over again, I would probably not change that much. I might be a little less naive to start out with, a little less cautious about empty promises and a little more aware of the time lapse between an agreement and actual money in your bank account. But, all-in-all, every single mistake I’ve made has brought me one step closer to where I stand today – and that’s exactly where I’m happy to be.
Those mistakes did teach me that it can be a very lonely ride as an entrepreneur, though. That’s why we are inviting role models from different industries to share their stories and lessons learned at our annual “Failing Forward” conference, proving that we all learn by falling down and stepping up again – and a helping hand can make a world of difference. Since, in the end, failing is not contagious, but success is…
Once you’re bitten by the bug, there is no way back. As I am very frustrated by the inability of our traditional educational system – notwithstanding the tremendous efforts some teachers and school staff are putting in – I guess that will be my next battlefield. Starting with the launch of a coding school for the underprivileged in Brussels city centre in early 2017, I am hoping to tear down yet another barrier to opportunities for all.
For more info:
Cécile Real is the president and founder of Endodiag, a company she set up in 2011 to develop new diagnostic tools for endometriosis, a disease that affects approximately 10% of all women of childbearing age. In her first post on the Promoting Enterprise blog, she told us about her experience in setting up her business. In this post, she tells us more about what her company does and what are the keys to its success.
At Endodiag, we are working on endometriosis, a major health issue that is not yet well known among the general population. Our objective is to change the paradigm of this disease and bring new solutions for patients. We are working with different groups of partners to build awareness about the disease, and change the lives of 180 million women who suffer a lot and who are generally overlooked.
What do we do?
Since we started the company in 2011, we have been developing a diagnostic test, EndoDtect®, to detect the disease from a simple blood sample. This does away with the need for surgery, which costs EUR 10,000 on average and can, like any other type of surgery, be dangerous. Moreover, this will prevent the progression of the disease as well as potentially safeguard the fertility of patients.
To develop this test, we need to collaborate with different kinds of partners and we have tried to involve them as early as possible in our project.
Our employees and co-founders:
Something essential for our company to be successful is team work. We need talented people to find cures for this tricky disease but, even more important than their talent, we need to mix people with different mind-sets and backgrounds and make sure that we all work well together. This is probably how the most creative ideas and solutions have been achieved in our project.
Like a recipe, each member of the team contributes his/her ideas, know-how and energy
- The surgeons, gynecologists and scientists:
We work hand by hand with surgeons and scientists to understand the disease mechanism and the needs of healthcare professionals for their patients. Our job could be defined as acting as a translator between science, medicine and engineering to transform ideas into products.
- The patients:
The patients are at the heart of our work, but it is not common in our industry to work with them during early stage development of new ideas, new solutions or new products. We have been lucky to meet many of them just after starting the company and this has been both very helpful and very inspiring. Very helpful because, by discussing with them we understood more rapidly certain symptoms/reactions and could correlate them with some of our research findings. This has helped speed up our R&D. And very inspiring, because listening to their suffering and struggles really makes you very motivated to solve the problem.
Despite these collaborations, we rapidly understood that developing technological solutions was necessary to change the paradigm of this disease, but that if we did not also raise awareness about endometriosis, we would only be solving half of the problem. If the population, the doctors and public institutions are not aware of endometriosis, its symptoms and consequences, it will be very difficult to detect the disease early and manage the patients well.
In order to raise awareness, in 2013 we launched OZ2020 in collaboration with patient associations, gynecologists, scientists and BePatient (a start-up specialised in the development of eHealth solutions). OZ2020 is a web community on endometriosis. The platform contributes to raising awareness but also provides patients with qualified and validated scientific and medical information on endometriosis and helps support endometriosis research projects.
We remain convinced that, thanks to all our common efforts with patient associations, industry, doctors and public authorities, the time to say “women don’t need to suffer anymore” will soon be here.
Cécile Real is the president and founder of Endodiag, a company she set up in 2011 to develop new diagnostic tools for endometriosis, a disease that affects approximately 10% of all women of childbearing age. In a series of blog posts over the next few weeks, Cécile will tell us about her experience in setting up her business.
I was lucky to start my first company at the age of 25. I use the word ‘lucky’ because, despite the fact that it is very challenging, being an entrepreneur is a very exciting and fulfilling occupation or, should I say, way of life. You think about it 24/7, but it gives you the opportunity to meet incredible people along the way and achieve things you never imagined you would.
When I told my father that I wanted to start my own company, he had an unexpected reaction, saying: “fine, fine, but don’t stop looking for a real job”. Hopefully when I called him back few weeks later to tell him that I had decided to launch my first company, he realised I was serious about doing it and he became my N°1 supporter. Without knowing it, that was probably the first key lesson I learnt.
Trust your instinct! You have to have the confidence to go ahead and do it! There is more than one way to be successful and you have to make your own way. Just because some people do things differently to you, it doesn’t mean that they are right and you are wrong. I do feel that sometimes women have a lack of confidence in themselves. Some people will agree with you and some won’t, but that’s not a good enough reason for you not to do it. Be smart, listen to others, and then make your own decision and strategy.
As a biomedical engineer I have always wanted to work on projects that address health issues. So my first company was developing new biomaterials for patients suffering from arthritis. After eight years of successful development, we were bought by a large orthopaedics company. I learnt a lot but I wanted to see other ideas, projects, and organisations, so I decided to help others to start or develop their companies. However, after two years of this, I was definitively missing being an entrepreneur and I wanted to find a new project that could have a strong social impact. That opportunity presented itself when I learnt about endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a chronic and disabling gynaecological disease affecting 180 million women worldwide, as many as suffer from diabetes. It involves tissue that normally grows inside the uterus growing outside it and invading other organs (ovary, bladder, colon…). It is associated with a variety of symptoms, particularly severe and unbearable pelvic pain and infertility (50%).
The only reliable diagnosis of endometriosis is through invasive surgery. On average, this surgery is performed nine years after the onset of the disease. Nine years of not knowing the cause of your pain and the associated emotional distress has a tremendous impact on a person’s social, personal and professional life. Even after surgical intervention the recurrence rate is very high (approximately 50% after two years) and endometriosis patients will have an average of five surgeries during their lifetime. A lot of people think pain during menstruation is normal… but endometriosis actually affects one in ten women.
Driven by a desire to provide healthcare professionals and patients with a better understanding of the illness and better diagnosis tools, we set up Endodiag in 2011…
Cécile REAL and Helene BENY, 1st employee of the company @Endodiag Lab
In his previous posts, Gerhard Dust talked about what motivated him to set up his business and discussed the personal challenges he has encountered and the issues his company has had to deal with as his business developed. In this, his final blog post, Gerhard talks about the human desire to leave a lasting legacy, and gives us his six golden rules of entrepreneurship.
This is my last blog for the time being and, frankly, I would have liked to talk more about PolyCare. How environmentally friendly our invention is; how we are able to finish houses in a few days; how it can be made using only desert sand; and how inexpensive this solution is. Of course you can still find all of this information on our website or on YouTube.
But today I want to talk about entrepreneurship and what an entrepreneur actually is. You see, I have often been asked a very direct question that goes something like this….
“Gerhard, at your age and time of life, why did you start this business?”
Some might find this quite rude, but actually it lies at the heart of what inventors and entrepreneurs are about. The simple answer is that every person dreams of doing and creating something that will stand the test of time – something great that will outlast them and benefit mankind.
Doesn’t every person with even a gram of compassion carry a dual responsibility: on the one hand towards his fellow human beings and, on the other, towards the generations to come? My partners and I founded PolyCare because we recognised that affordable housing world-wide is no longer achievable for more than a billion people through the use of traditional building technologies. We might be of retirement age, but that doesn’t mean we have lost the ability to dream and to wish for a better world. A world where an ordinary person can build their own home; where the money needed to do this doesn’t leak away into the coffers of the multinationals; and where a home is more than a shabby tent made of plastic.
Sometimes we joke and say that we are like the elderly people in the blockbuster RED. Our definition of RED is slightly different: Retired, Experienced and Dedicated. I admit that we are proud that our solution has been described as one of the most important inventions of recent times and that it could provide millions of people with quick and inexpensive housing worth living in. So far, for us this has meant endless work, many sleepless nights and often-severe worries about money, technical solutions and bureaucratic hurdles.
But we do not regret any of it. Many believe that we have transformed a good idea into reality and we have gained many supporters and friends in the process. So we are proud of what we have achieved so far, but there is still much to do.
You see, being an entrepreneur can often be its own reward and this is especially true when it is also economically successful. But an entrepreneur does not have to become rich to be happy. If we provide the means to make the world just a little bit better, then that will be reward enough. These old REDs will be able to approach the ultimate finishing line knowing that they have made a difference. What could be more motivational than that?
The last six years with PolyCare has certainly taught me some golden rules. These are my golden rules for entrepreneurship:
- Fairness – always treat employees and business partners how you would like to be treated. Friends are more valuable than enemies.
- Dreams – everyone has the right to change the world. Be brave and set yourself goals that are as big as your confidence will allow, but make sure that you are practical about what is achievable.
- Planning – don’t leave things to chance. Plan your steps carefully, review them constantly and always have a plan B.
- Develop the team and yourself – look beyond your horizons and learn from others. Invest time in networking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and lean on the best people you can find.
- Commercialise – the best invention is useless unless you can sell it. Everything revolves around the benefits to your customers. Make sure it provides benefits for them.
- Team – if you need staff, get the best people, share your vision with them and continually motivate them.
I wish you all success on your entrepreneurial path. Follow your dreams with courage and confidence and don´t be put off by small setbacks.
And finally…..believe in yourself.
I am grateful that you have read my blog and I am grateful for the interest that you have shown in our solution. Now this technology must reach the people in need. I ask you with all my heart for your support… please spread the word about this invention to the world. Tell your friends via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail. Let UNHCR and others know that there is a cheaper more practical and ethical alternative to the use of containers in the desert for refugees and for worldwide affordable housing.
Your words might just fall on the ears of the right person at the right time, and that could change the lives of millions.
Best of luck to you all.
To read more about Polycare :
In his previous posts  , Gerhard Dust outlined the events that led him to his current career path and described some of the challenges he has encountered as his new business develops. In this third blog post, Gerhard deals with some of the main questions that his new technology has raised and explains some of the concepts involved.
In my previous blogs I have tried to convey the huge advantages that the PolyCare system offers when building structures of up to three or four stories. However, some of the responses I have received recently have led me to understand that some of you are still struggling to accept that much of this is actually possible. How can you have a building with no real foundations, and how is it possible to build with blocks that are not cemented together? What’s more, doesn’t capillary attraction mean you still get rising damp, and can completely unskilled people really do all the building work?
These and many more questions have been continually raised and, if you think about it, with good reason. For over 2000 years there has been a standard way of building and we all understand it fairly well. The problem is that when something totally new arrives our immediate reaction is to compare it to what we know and the standards we are familiar with. Unfortunately this doesn’t always give us a clear picture.
Below I explain the building process with pictures taken on-site when my colleague Ramon Gray constructed a small Quality Control building for TATA in New Delhi, India.
The start of a PolyCare build requires a flat, level base of wet sand. This is usually accomplished by making a small 150-200mm channel in the ground, filling it with sand and then levelling it carefully. In this first picture (left) this wasn’t possible as the construction was being carried out on an uneven concrete base. However, the building system is simple and it can be adapted to practically any situation. Here, instead of making a channel, our team used some waste materials (the granite strip on the left and the steel box section on the right) to form a flat and level frame for the wet sand base.
The picture on the right shows the start of the build itself. On the right you can see that base lates have been simply laid on the sand base and bolted together with small steel plates. These continue around the building and form the base level.
Steel connecting rods are then screwed into the bases and these run right through the blocks, once they are laid on top, and connect to a similar set of plates at the top of the building. Once the connecting rods are in place work can start on laying the blocks.
The laying of the blocks continues with the blocks being placed over the rods and with the rods themselves being extended using simple screw thread connectors. Gaps are left for windows, doors etc. When the blocks reach the top of the building the top plates are added and the rods are bolted to them, giving the whole structure immense strength.
There is no sticking, gluing or anything else involved; the blocks are simply laid on top of each other. This is why our system has often been called “big boys’ LEGO” – for obvious reasons. But I’m not sure that this is an accurate description… the LEGO most ten year olds do is much more complicated!
So let me explain some of the concepts.
In this system no foundation is generally used (see note) as the structure itself is many times stronger and more resistant to bending forces than a brick or cement concrete wall. This is due to a combination of the huge strength of the polymer concrete as well as the way that the blocks lock together. This strength is further enhanced by the tie bar system that produces a very strong box-like structure. But there are further considerations. This structure is completely resistant to water, so foundation frost and capillary attraction occurs without any consequence. The wet sand technique is a copy of the system the Egyptians used to build the pyramids. While it may seem somewhat crude and primitive, no one can say that it hasn’t stood the test of time.
So, lastly, let me provide some assurances for anyone looking at this system for the first time. The Bauhaus University is one of the most respected institutions worldwide for architecture, design and materials testing. They have been working with PolyCare now for over four years, testing and officially certifying practically every aspect of what we do. They are so confident in our system of building that one of their professors recently assisted PolyCare in presenting and discussing its merits at an international exhibition. The efficacy of the system is therefore not in doubt and it is currently undergoing full building type approval in Germany.
[Note: PolyCare fully understands that, in some circumstances, extremely weak or unstable soils will need some level of foundation, whether strip or corner piles, etc. Site testing will determine where this is necessary.]
Learn more about Polycare
Previous EEPA blog post on Polycare:
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this is particularly true when seeking investment to grow your business. In this guest post, venture capitalist, Dr David Demetrius, sets out how to write a plan that will grab the attention, and the investment, of a potential backer.
Why do so many promising ventures never get the capital they need? In the vast majority of cases, it is due to the business plan not having made a good enough case for investment. So what does a good business plan entail? Here is what I would be looking for.
It should start with an executive summary, preferably of a single page, but certainly not more than two. This summary needs to grab the potential investor’s attention in the first five lines. Don’t start with background waffle. Make it immediately clear what the products or services of the business are, or are planned to be. Make the executive summary exactly that: a summary of the whole document including highlights of the market opportunity and the team and ending with a clear statement of what you are looking for and what you are offering in return. For example, “We are seeking an investment of 100.000 Euros in return for a 30% share of the company”.
After the executive summary, you can go into more detail on the venture. Excluding appendices, this should run to about 15 to 20 pages. You need to describe the products or services in some detail, but try not to get bogged down in technical jargon which at best will bore the investor and at worst will totally put him off. Of more importance is to show clearly what the market opportunity is and what competition exists or could appear in the near future.
You also need to give profiles of the team, their skills and their experience, and indicate what finances they are themselves investing in the venture. Be honest and point out what gaps there are in the team’s background and skills. Hopefully the investor will be able to help fill these gaps.
What investors will be very interested in is what they are likely to see as a return on their investment. For that you need to have detailed financial projections. However, there is no point in burying 30 pages of financial spreadsheets into the main body of the document. By all means have lots of detailed tables as an appendix, but in the main body simply have a page or two showing the key performance indicators (KPIs), such as graphs of projected cashflow, profitability and revenue growth. Then make it easy for the investors to find the detailed backup to this information, If they so wish, by guiding them to the relevant pages in the appendix.
It is also important that the summary pages on financials includes some “What if?” analysis (preferably displayed graphically). For example, it can be very reassuring to investors if they can see that, even if actual revenues achieved are only 80% of your projections, the company will nevertheless not run out of cash. This should not be achieved by simply asking for an overly high injection of funds, but rather by indicating savings in expenditure such as administration costs that would be made in the event of lower sales. Similarly show the optimistic growth figures for the venture if revenues significantly exceed your projections.
How far ahead should you forecast? In most cases, I would recommend three years with monthly figures, but in some industries a five-year forecast can be realistic. (In the oil industry, even 25 year plans are common). Basically you should only project revenue and costs as far forward as you can reasonably see. Don’t simply take ‘month 1’ and add x% per month to it for 36 months ahead. Any potential investor will realise that you have no real idea what is going to happen. Think it through carefully. For example, will there be months of the year when revenue will be lower due to holiday periods?
I am not saying that following my advice in this post will definitely get you the investment you seek, but I am fairly confident that ignoring these pointers will not improve your chances!
David Demetrius is the founder and President of Emadin and specialises in working with companies to achieve strategic growth. He has over 25 years experience in management of and consultancy to companies (from SMEs to large multinationals) throughout Europe, the United States, Middle East, Australia and Asia. With a colleague, he founded a group of companies specialising in management support and consultancy services for complex or large programmes and projects, building it to annual sales of over $ 100 million with approximately 500 professional staff by the time he sold his shareholding in the group.
In his previous blog post, Gerhard Dust described how an international humanitarian crisis caused him to re-evaluate his retirement plans and led him down a completely new career path. In this second post, Gerhard tells us about some of the issues his company encounters as his business develops.
You will have seen from my previous blog the huge advantages that our construction system can bring, and these were naturally of significant interest to our visitors from China. The Chinese delegation was keen to see if it would be possible to use waste residue from a gold mine as the main filler constituent in our polymer concrete and if the end product conformed to Chinese building standards. We demonstrated that not only could we use this waste material but that the resultant PolyCare polymer concrete was anything from 6 to 10 times stronger than required by their standard. This advantage was further enhanced when they discovered that just 1m3 of this material actually makes 3 to 4m3 of walling. Consequently, we have made significant progress with this important Chinese company and their delegation left acknowledging that our process could make a major contribution to meeting Chinese housing needs.
Working on the world stage with a breakthrough technology like ours doesn’t always attract such commercially aware and serious-minded approaches as that of the Chinese delegation. It can be frustrating at times, and sometimes quite amusing. Practically every week we are approached by individuals who claim to be close to, or related to, or a friend of, a king or queen, the president, the minister, etc. etc. In circumstances like these, naivety soon gives way to experience and the realisation that often these people only know someone who operates the lift in a building where someone else who works for the government lives. The bottom line is always that either they want something for nothing, or a payment in order to “oil the wheels.” On occasions, of course, our contacts are genuine, but there are also frustrations in what we do. This is almost an intrinsic part of the process. When you have something new, and especially when it is a disruptive technology, files seem to get left gathering dust on desks far too often.
For us, though, the world has so many bright imaginative people who are able to look to the future and can see what is needed. In July, I was invited to the Biennale Architettura 2016 in Venice. This is a biennial meeting of architects from across the world. In his keynote speech, the Director of the Biennale Alejandro Aravena described the current world situation in terms of the Urban Age. This term is used because the current generation will build more cities than all previous generations combined. By 2050, 70% of the entire world’s population will live in cities and globally there is a desperate need for housing. Alejandro quoted some startling figures from the US government, estimating that the world needs to build 1,000,000 houses a week at a cost of less than $10,000 (EUR 8,900) each and this needs to be achieved to prevent a further global security threat. In this regard Alejandro’s opinion was insightful, and possibly goes to the core of what it is that PolyCare is trying to achieve. He said that this rate of building could only be achieved by adopting new technologies that use new materials and new building methods.
This, of course, is where we at PolyCare started six years ago. At that time we were only looking at disaster reconstruction, but the same analysis was true for that situation as it is for global housing. We needed a new technology for slum development and to build low-cost refugee housing, which is precisely why we developed the PolyCare system.
We continue to work to improve the lives of the millions of people who are currently either homeless or living in wretched conditions and continue to work towards achieving the ambitious targets outlined by the US government and described by Alejandro Aravena.
To see more about PolyCare and our revolutionary building technique go to: https://www.dropbox.com/s/hg3qujz7jj9ss1h/VTS_04_1.VOB?dl=0