You're not an expert. That's what you need a network for
Jan Cassalette, originally from Germany, is working hard to optimise the capacity of lorries. His startup aims to make transport more sustainable and efficient and bring about change in a rigid, inflexible logistics system – first in Germany and, hopefully, on an international scale further down the line. Thanks to the help of his mentors from the Startup Ems-Dollart-Region Project network, Jan has been able to navigate his way through the complexity of the logistics sector – and that of startups.
An international network of experts
Jan started ParceIP less than a year ago. Like many other startups, he was looking for guidance. According to Jan, ‘The universities of Utrecht and Delft weren’t an option, as my project is not technical enough. Coming across the Startup Ems-Dollart-Region Project was the perfect outcome. I ended up in a valuable network of mentors and contacts. The guidance I received was crucial when I was setting up my business.’
Jan: ‘Sometimes, all you need is to hear that you have a good idea.’
Mentoring primarily manifests itself in conversations with experts. Jan, whose startup is based in Bremen, was put in touch with two Dutchmen: Paul Buijs, assistant professor of Sustainable Logistics at the University of Groningen, and Bob Voorneveld, who once had a startup in the logistics sector himself. Jan: ‘I’m not an expert myself. I’m not a logistics expert. I’m not a financial expert. That’s what I need a network for. I gained different insights as a result of the conversations I had with Paul and Bob.’
Perhaps more critical than Jan gaining substantive knowledge during these meetings is validating that his idea can work. Bob explains, ‘Startups – young entrepreneurs – are creative. And optimistic. They find a solution to any problem and see opportunities everywhere. But not all theories can be put into practice. In fact, many startups are unsuccessful, which is why you need people to ask you the right questions and validate your ideas.’ Jan adds, ‘As a startup, you need that validation. The fact that someone is interested and says that you have a good idea is often enough. It gives you the confidence to move forward.’
Paul: ‘By engaging with startups, i keep up to date on the latest developments in the logistics sector. I’m right in the middle of all o it.’
The benefits of the Startup Ems-Dollart-Region Project ecosystem go beyond merely exchanging advice. For Paul, as a logistics expert, working with startups and hearing about the most recent developments in the industry is very beneficial. ‘I keep up to date with the latest developments in the logistics sector. Thanks to my role as a mentor, I’m in the thick of it. I’m aware of what developments are happening and am involved from an early stage.’
Bob: ‘As a mentor, I can contribute to realising the dreams of yound professionals.’
For Bob, similarly, the mentoring role is a positive experience: ‘I am in a unique position. It doesn’t demand a lot of my time, and it’s nice to be able to help. It’s a great feeling to be able to contribute to realising the dreams of these young professionals – even if I’m not actually doing that much.’
Thanks to the international character of the Startup Ems-Dollart-Region Project, Jan sees many opportunities to scale up his project in the future. ‘Sending a parcel from Groningen to Bremen is more expensive than from Bremen to Munich, despite the distance between Bremen and Munich being four times greater. Surely that can be changed,’ Jan expects. Also, thanks to the international network, Jan can easily get in touch with other players on the market.
‘I’ve been in touch with other startups in the logistics sector. In both cases, we were unable to collaborate; however, I’m sure that will change in future. Otherwise, I’d like to share my knowledge and experience with other startups. Because the most important thing I’ve learned is that you always need advice and feedback.’