Edward van de Pol (Program Director Entrepreneurship) talks about social entrepreneurship.


Last week, we had a talk with Edward van de Pol. Edward is Program Director Entrepreneurship at Tilburg University and member of the Tilburg University Challenge.

What few would expect is that Edward has an educational background in technology. However, he always worked in commerce and has been an entrepreneur for several years. In 2010, Edward came in contact with an organization for startups located in Brabant (The Netherlands). This organization deals with all aspects of a starting entrepreneur, which caught Edward’s interest. From a small idea to the development, including the search for the right people for the team, the search for the target market, launching customers, but also the financing of the company. This was the first time Edward’s work was all about entrepreneurship and startups. The following years, this organization grew into a major startup program. 

When Edward became the director of this organization, in 2012, he collaborated a lot with higher education institutions. The vision of bringing higher educational knowledge to society to make it valuable emerged here.

Adding value is important to Edward. Although economic development and building businesses are important, adding value for people and society should not be left out. Fortunately, in current knowledge institutions, much more attention is being paid to entrepreneurship to ensure that the knowledge developed is beneficial to society.

In 2019, Edward was asked to cultivate entrepreneurship at Tilburg University, and he became Program Director Entrepreneurship.

'Although economic development and building businesses are important, adding value for people and society should not be left out.'

Program Director Entrepreneurship

As Program Director Entrepreneurship, Edward and his team help students, researchers, and alumni in overcoming the big hurdles they encounter and offer the needed facilities to support these entrepreneurial journeys. Additionally, knowing the right people to put students in touch with, is important to get access to the market more efficiently. Nevertheless a new business, sometimes just doesn’t work. They either succeed or fail but will definitely learn from both situations. It is important to realize that when a new startup or business fails, it has to be accepted and considered as okay. Moreover, if an idea fails, it is better to know sooner rather than later. Fail fast, succeed faster. 

The Tilburg University Challenge

In Edward’s opinion, the Tilburg University Challenge is perfectly suitable for guiding students in their entrepreneurial journeys. First of all, it all starts at the very beginning, with a small idea; an idea that might have impressive results in the future. If not, if the idea fails, it is likely to provide input for new opportunities. As Edward states: it is better to make 10 ideas happen in a year of which maybe all 10 fail, then to think back in 5 years and regret leaving a great idea on the shelf.  Failing is not bad at all. Just get started if you think your idea is something that needs to be taken to the next step. The perfect opportunity to get started is taking part in the Tilburg University Challenge, where knowledge and workshops are shared. Besides investing time, energy, and sometimes money, it is important that you also enjoy it and gain a lot of energy out of it. 

Sustainability and social entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurial mindsets, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship have been a hot topic in recent years, especially among young entrepreneurs. Where a few years ago, people still had to go through obstacles to draw attention for this subject, it has now become the norm. Edward agrees and states that it is important to act with respect for our society, the planet, and the people around you. Additionally, your business might improve from it. He explains that the term “sustainable” means that something lasts longer without declining future needs. The opposite of sustainability is doing something that has very short or no tenability, or something that causes a lot of damage to people and the environment now and in the future. Since young people have their future ahead of them, sustainability is no longer an alternative but the default. Edward explains that this creates many new possibilities, new businesses, and new techniques that allow you to come up with brilliant ideas. 

Sending young professionals into the world

In sharing knowledge, higher education institutions play an important role. We asked Edward how social and sustainable responsibility is integrated when sending young professionals into the world. He explained that indeed, traditionally, the university focuses on education and research. Nowadays this works slightly differently. The university focuses more on young people’s talents and supports the further development of these talents. Entrepreneurship is one of these talents, and can be developed into a competence. Edward partly agrees with people who say that you can’t learn entrepreneurship. Of course, as a person, you have to have a talent for it. But he also explains that there are many parts of entrepreneurship that you can learn. For inquisitive people with entrepreneurial aspirations, this is very attractive and interesting. It is often a combination of learning and doing things right away. When talking to and sharing knowledge with students about theories and methods in entrepreneurship, you mainly see students who recognize these theories very quickly and apply them almost immediately often with quick results, which makes people very enthusiastic. This is, according to Edward, typically the role of the university: to provide methods and allow the students to discover how they can develop their knowledge, skills, and character.  

When looking at sustainability and social responsibility, extra points of attention are integrated in education, especially in entrepreneurship and economics. Since the traditional view of economics and business is all about continuity and making profit. In social entrepreneurship, you put the impact you make on society above your profit goal. This, however, does not mean it becomes a charity foundation; you are still a profitable company but with a different focus. For social entrepreneurship, it is more challenging to find a good business model. 

When you are testing and validating your ideas and ask questions like: Can I find customers for this? Is there a need? Are people willing to pay for my solutions? Certainly, when there is a social component to it, you often find more sympathy, more cooperation, and often more partners. Even though some might call it difficult or troublesome, Edward sees social entrepreneurship as challenging and, in fact, more interesting.

'Fail fast, succeed faster.'

 Social responsibility in the covid19 crisis

Several beautiful examples have occurred in the covid19 period. An initiative was developed in Tilburg whereby one company did not have enough work for all employees because a service was canceled, while other companies had too much work for their employees, for example, because they made disinfection devices and suddenly had a lot of work.

Because these companies were on the same industrial estate, they could easily exchange employees and help each other out. It sounds very obvious and simple, but in practice, it is very complicated considering other training, knowledge, materials, and diplomas are needed. Yet these companies made an extra effort to come up with solutions to make sure people continued to have work and thus continued to feel part of society. Besides helping each other out, the employees gained new experiences, made contact with other companies and people, and experienced different types of work and different corporate cultures. These companies, in a kind of crisis or at least a situation that is not common, dared to think outside the box.

Adding social value

Are you looking for a sector in which you want to improve society? Basically, it applies to every sector. Edward explains that you have to take a good look around and see what value you can add to people and systems. Whether that is healthcare or logistics; you can name any sector. Since startups make the economy of tomorrow, adding social value is an important role for these new businesses. Even though large existing companies may have large budgets, it is much more difficult for them to make bigger changes then a new versatile startup. Startup entrepreneurs should be honored and motivated to set up a fair and sustainable business. You should always have a social mission as a startup when you enter the market. Edward mentions that it does not matter in which sector you do that as long as you are focused on adding value to society.

Golden tip for the participants

Of course, with all his expertise and experience, we are curious what golden tip Edward has for the participants of the Tilburg University Challenge. He explains that even if you think your idea is extremely good, make it public as soon as possible and test it with a lot of people. Don't be afraid that others will immediately steal your idea. You can also test it without giving up all the details right away. But only if you go out, talk to possible customers about your idea, and have honest conversations, you will have a chance of validating your idea. Additionally, try to look at real problems that people experience, what they want to have solved, whatever they are willing to pay for, and, if possible, what they are willing to pay you for it. You only get to know this if you go to your customers and talk with them. And don’t forget, you don’t have to do all this alone. A lot of help is available!

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