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VentureLab North helps researchers to develop succesful startups

18 March 2024

It has happened to many researchers. While working, you suddenly ask yourself: would this not be incredibly useful for people outside of my own research discipline? There are many ways to share the results of your research. For example, think of a popular science article, a TV interview, or your own podcast. If you are looking for something more long-term, you can also start a business. But how do you approach something like that? You can find the answer to this question at VentureLab North.

Text: Britt Corporaal, UG

Ignacio Faustino
Ignacio Faustino

Even though VentureLab North is already ten years old, interim manager Ignacio Faustino feels that the project is more dynamic than ever before: ‘Ideas are like small seeds. Each seed has its own personality. They will grow in whatever way they want. We want to support this plant so that it grows in the right direction.’ VentureLab helps inspired people –UG students as well as people from other backgrounds – to turn their ideas into a business model. In this process, VentureLab attends to the wants and needs of the participants in a personalized way. They do so by connecting each participant to a mentor, who guides them through the process from idea to business strategy. Ignacio states: ’We help startups from the beginning. Not by sitting on the other side of the table, but by actually sitting next to the entrepreneur. We look at their business plans, their strategies, their business models, and we try to help them with connections.’

The role of the UG

Ignacio explains that the aim is to support innovative companies in the region: ‘One of the main challenges that we have here in the North is that people leave at some point, especially students.’ VentureLab North enables the University to create opportunities to help people in the North develop themselves. This way, the University is interacting with and supporting the startup business ecosystem in Groningen and its surroundings. As a result, the value of the knowledge generated at the UG is enhanced, which benefits the region. By stimulating entrepreneurship, this knowledge finds a direct way into society.


Setareh Rezaee is currently participating in VentureLab’s Business Development Program. She is part of the ShineTech team, which is building a bioinformatics model to analyze images to help in the diagnosis of cancer. She describes her experiences as comparable to playing a video game: ’If I go to the next level, I learn something new, such as how to interact with my network, and if it’s game over, I will attempt it a second time.’ Currently, Setareh is searching for the best application for ShineTech’s technology: ‘At first, I doubted if I wanted to start a business, but now I am sure. I have gained many things: knowledge, networking, experience. Before, I was just listening to podcasts, reading books, but now I have all of these things in one place and I like that it is connected to the University.’ Next to the Business Development Program, Setareh has also attended VentureClasses and was the winner of the VentureLab Weekend of November 2023. She encourages anyone who is interested in working for a startup to attend the VentureLab Weekend: ’If you have an idea, just test it yourself like this. I had an idea and some people liked it and now we have become such a good team. I think connections are really important for a business and I see VentureLab as a house of connections.’

Maarten Berkhout
Maarten Berkhout


Maarten Berkhout is a cofounder of SeaQurrent. As an econometrist, he has a lot of knowledge about the energy sector: ‘Of course, sun and wind are incredible energy sources, but the wind doesn’t blow every day and the sun doesn’t shine at all times. A constant, sustainable energy source, that is something we need more of. That is how I became interested in tidal energy.’ SeaQurrent is developing an underwater kite, the Tidalkite, with which they want to generate energy from the tides of the Wadden Sea and the Eems-Dollard, among others. The kite uses the water current to generate traction which, is turned into electricity. This has to be sustainable in several ways. Not only do the CO2 emissions have to be as low as possible, but the materials of the Tidalkite also have to be recyclable and the Tidalkite has to have a minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

To realize this, SeaQurrent works with the UG in several ways. They took part in VentureLab´s first Business Development Program, where the idea for the company was formulated and where they got their first investors. Moreover, SeaQurrent often works with researcher Eize Stamhuis to acquire the knowledge needed for the production of the Tidalkite. Stamhuis has researched the energy balance of the Tidalkite: ‘How much energy do you generate? How much energy does that cost?’ Stamhuis also helped to design the wing profile of the Tidalkite: ‘Which form of wings is able to generate the most traction while expending the least amount of energy for flight?’ For this process, SeaQurrent was able to use one of Stamhuis’ testing facilities.

underwater kite
The underwater kite designed by SeaQurrent with which they intend to generate energy from the tidal currents of the Wadden Sea and the Eems-Dollard, among others.

The startups which take part in VentureLab North, including SeaQurrent, are connected to the UG in several ways. They are not just being supported in the development of a business model, but they also use academic networks to generate more knowledge. Maarten emphasizes that a specific mindset is needed: ‘We are optimistic. We are hoping to produce underwater kites for the next hundred years. I want people to say: I want sustainable energy, so I will consider sun, wind, or tidal energy.’

Linda Dijkshoorn
Linda Dijkshoorn

EV Biotech

Linda Dijkshoorn also participated in one of the first Business Development Programs. She is the cofounder and head of commerce of EV Biotech. Currently, she focuses on communicating with current and prospective clients. These clients are companies that work behind the scenes: ‘There are a lot of ingredients on the back of your shampoo bottle. Each weird name is the result of a production process carried out at a factory. Many of these substances are currently being generated from petrochemical sources. Well, we have to get rid of those.’ EV Biotech is researching how microorganisms can be reprogrammed to produce those microorganisms on shampoo bottles using sustainable manufacturing methods. To this end, the company has developed a method in which laboratory tests are combined with computer models. This enables them to save a lot of time and energy. At first, Linda had the idea to develop microorganisms which could eat methane gas at farms to produce food for cows. However, during her first VentureLab Weekend, she received a question about her method: the combination of laboratory research and computer models turned out to be very innovative.

This is how Linda describes her experiences at VentureLab North: ‘You have to be in an inspiring but also critical environment to be challenged to think of a better business model. Everything starts there, and that is something you forget as a researcher.’ But Linda has also learned a lot after her time at VentureLab: ‘What VentureLab North currently does is preparing you to contact investors, but running a company is very different from writing a business plan. I think that that would be a good addition. What comes after? That can be learnt from others’ experiences.’

The future of VentureLab

From all these different perspectives, it becomes clear that the UG has a very dynamic role in the interaction of VentureLab with startups. The UG is a partner in knowledge production, an investor and, through VentureLab North, the University also helps build sustainable businesses. This dynamic nature also shows in the way VentureLab North keeps constantly renewing itself. Linda missed some information on the steps that come after securing investments, and Ignacio agrees: ‘We would definitely love to connect again with the people who have gone through this process, not only through VentureLab but also through other programmes, so that they can share the challenges they are facing in that new phase. For example, creating or expanding a team. This is something that comes up later and that is a good thing because it means that these startups are becoming successful and they are able to grow.’ Therefore, there is definitely potential to take these experiences into account in the future.

Last modified:18 March 2024 12.29 p.m.
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