Then get to know Arjan Goudsblom (who will be also giving his master class on November 18-20 at GEW Belarus in Minsk)

By Anastasiya Markvarde for

In my preparation for the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Belarus I had a pleasure of interviewing one of our speakers joining the conference in Minsk. He is coming from the Netherlands but has a superdiverse experience in working, speaking and holding his master classes all over the world, from Australia to Bahrain. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Arjan Goudsblom from ACE Incubator (Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship).

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Arjan Goudsbloum


ACE Incubator is a university incubator that helps researchers and students of all Amsterdam-based knowledge institutes to start a company. In 2018 it was named #1 Incubator in the Netherlands. However, it seems that Arjan has a good eye on picking up the places to work because it is not the only top incubator in his CV: Arjan also worked at the Australian incubator named the world’s best one …but I guess it’s time to let Arjan speak for himself.

– Tell me a bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial experience. What was your way to what you became now (in particular, being a startup ecosystem development expert)? 

For the majority of my career I’ve worked in corporate innovation (you could call that being an intrapreneur). For the past 4 years I’ve worked in the startup ecosystem at a couple of incubators of both Australia and the Netherlands, connecting startups with corporates, mentors and investors. In addition, I provide training for startup ecosystem leaders who have the ambition to take their ecosystem to the next level.

To provide you with more examples, at Cicada Innovations incubator in Australia I worked with a variety of Deep Tech startups that were using AI, IoT and robotics. Some examples would be Law of the Jungle (winner of the 2017 Spotlight Award Best RegTech Compliance Solution Globally) and Springday (wellbeing platform to boost employee health and productivity).

What concerns ACE Incubator in Amsterdam, it is an award-winning entrepreneurship center and front runner in the Netherlands when it comes to entrepreneurship education and student startup programs. ACE is connected to international networks like the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), University Business Incubator Global (UBI) and the World Business Angels Forum (WBAF). ACE is deeply involved in growing startup ecosystems all over the world: co-founding the Orange Grove incubator Greece and building a new startup accelerator in Bahrain.

– I heard that during your work at Holland Casino you witnessed the first technology boom in gaming industry during the 90s. Could you comment on that?

Yes, it was very early at my career and it was fascinating to see how disruptive technologies really changed the business model of an organization. There was a lot of fear that online gambling would really take over the physical casinos. Turned out not to be the case that much but it was a really good case for me to learn about disruptive technologies.

I worked in marketing department so we had to respond to the changes and for that an entrepreneurial mindset was required. What did we do? We responded by creating a so-called ‘Tiger team’ focused solely on exploring what an online casino would look like in a regulated environment (most online casinos at the time were ‘pirates’, unregulated, operating from the Caribbean).

We came to the conclusion that the concept of an online casino would include a secure, stable IT environment, with the games you’d find in a normal casino and the same odds as offline and with measures to prevent gambling addiction. Fascinating challenge! In the end it took almost 20 years for the government to sign off legislation to allow digital channels for gambling in the Netherlands.

– You worked as Head of Global Growth and Mentoring at Cicada Innovations, which was nominated the best incubator in the world twice in 5 years. How did that become possible? What is special about this incubator? 

I am glad to tell you more about Cicada Innovations and why this was such a good place to work, globally recognized as well. I give you two examples of what I thought they did really well. First thing, they focused on deep technologies, so they had a very clear focus on both AgTech and MedTech. That provided them with a really solid pipeline of high quality startups. That was one thing. The other thing they had a culture of paying it forward so a lot of companies were engaged in advising and helping other companies. This fact helped to create a really strong community of successful startups.

Actually, there are more reasons of the success of Cicada Innovations but I think I will keep them till my workshop at the GEW Belarus!

– What is Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Canvas? How have you come across it and how does it work? What unexpected insights can you get working with this tool?

This is the tool we have developed in team based on the global expertise we have available from all the members: my experience in Australia (from a top incubator in the Asia–Pacific region) combined with the knowledge base of Ace Incubator (which is one of the global hubs for innovation) and the help of external experts from the US, from Berkley and MIT, bringing in American best practice. In general, it is a worldly overview on how to build a proper ecosystem.

Working with the canvas allows you to map out the activities and programs from all ecosystem stakeholders towards start-ups at the various levels of maturity. By doing that you’ll get a view not only of what works and what doesn’t work, but also where the so-called blank spots are: where activities or programs still need to be developed. It’s surprisingly refreshing to create this view in this way as it really visualizes what areas need to be worked on. The second part of the work is to determine the strategy and direction and to develop the framework to take the ecosystem to the next level.

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Example of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Canvas from Arjan’s master class during the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Bahrain in 2019

– What stakeholders are crucial components in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

In the canvas we use 8 different stakeholder groups. They are the government (public sector), universities and knowledge institutes (educational sector), accelerators/ incubators, investors, established companies and service providers, as well as, of course, the entrepreneurs that are central to the ecosystem.

– Could you give an example of what surprises you while comparing Entrepreneurship Ecosystems Canvas in different countries?

In general, the canvas has been used by almost 90 GEN (Global Entrepreneurship Network) affiliate states across Asia, Africa and the Middle East with current projects running in Bahrain and projects scheduled in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Albania.

What surprises me most sometimes is that some countries focus on creating a fantastic infrastructure to support entrepreneurs but focus very little on the creating entrepreneurs. It seems obvious that entrepreneurs are at the center of the ecosystem, but this is not always the case. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur, it’s hard to create entrepreneurs. You need to encourage the appetite for risk, there are so many cultural, practical aspects to entrepreneurship and we pay a lot of attention to that in our workshops.

– Which changes are occurring to the ecosystems of developed countries because of automation of business processes? How the role of the regions is changing? 

This is a very important point: every ecosystem is unique. All the regions we work with have their own blueprint, their own characteristic. Yes, the ecosystems might have the same components, but the roots can be very different depending on your geographical location / challenges, which existing industries are dominant and culture. Sometimes the emphasis is on agriculture, sometimes on tourism, sometimes on technology sector.

Again, the individual approach is very important. You got to build on the strength of the infrastructure that is already there, the industries that are important in a certain country. But you also have to rely on the culture of the people and how they want to work so this is a very individual experience.

We notice that entrepreneurship ecosystems are not only build on a national level, but that – at a smaller scale – cities are creating their own mini-ecosystem. On the other hand, you see regional partnerships appear, for example the Gulf States are bundling forces to build synergies.

What concerns particular examples like comparing Dutch and Australian ecosystems, there are some curious things: both countries have different industries are dominating (mining in Australia, connectivity services in The Netherlands), but there’s also an overlap with both having a focus at agriculture although in a very different way. Then the culture is different – it makes for an interesting comparison which I’ll touch during the workshop at GEW Belarus.

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An image from one of the Arjan’s workshops

– Application of innovation is a problem which is super relevant to a lot of countries. Small post-soviet countries have more trouble than any others. On the one hand, they need innovation but most of the times they have no understanding and tradition of working with startups. And there is a common fear to leave millions of people without their job. On the other hand, startups in such countries often don’t have any interest in the local market because it is small and they have global ambitions. What can you advise in such a situation?

First of all, it is important to recognize that it takes a very long time to develop a startup ecosystem. Sometime it takes 10 or 20 years to really let the ecosystem flourish and enable strong connections among the stakeholders. IT takes a lot of painstaking work and a lot of commitment to make it work. It requires grit and determination of leaders in both the private and public sector. The other thing is, like I said, each country needs a very individual approach. You need to have the building blocks available that are specific to a certain region.

My advice is to ask yourself the question: what kind of ecosystem do you want to be? What are your standouts that you can use as a basis for building the ecosystem?

– How do you picture Belarusian / Minsk ecosystem and who are you interested in meeting with at GEW Belarus?

As I have read, this is a very interesting young vibrant ecosystem with a lot of tech-savvy people. I’m very interested in meeting some of the AI startups in Minsk (I know there is an AI Batch being launched at TechMinsk accelerator). I’d also love to meet representatives from the universities (like Belarusian State University, the Belarusian Informatics and Radioelectronics and so on) and High Tech Park. And as well I would love to meet people from partner network of Imaguru. So reach out to me, I will be very happy to chat!

Well, we are saying goodbye to the hero of our story but not for a long time. In Minsk Arjan will be giving a workshop on Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Canvas which will appear soon in the GEW program on our website The idea of the workshop is to offer a powerful tool to map out stakeholders and their current and future activities and programs, all related to the different stages where companies are in (concept, startup, scale up, mature).

The Canvas tool brings structure and insights, resulting in an overview of essential steps for launching and growing an enduring entrepreneurial ecosystem. It also explains how to establish processes for running a startup/ entrepreneurship ecosystem and how to plan and ensure there is stable growth.

The workshop will be useful for government officials, corporate innovators and other organizations and people who want to launch a startup incubator or center for entrepreneurship and build a local startup/entrepreneurship ecosystem. That’s why I hope that assisting the workshop and meeting Arjan will be another great reason to join GEW Belarus on November 18-21!


The interview will be published in Russian on web portal.