Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
22 July 2024

Campus
& Culture

‘Even without a brilliant idea, the Demonstrator Lab is a great place to start’ 

Meet Berno Bucker, the brand-new interim director at VU Demonstrator Lab. ‘A good entrepreneur can make a good researcher and vice versa.’ 

You are both a scientist and an entrepreneur, aren’t they opposites?
“People tend to have set ideas about a typical scientist and a typical entrepreneur: a scientist is supposed to be lost in thought and absorbed in their research, while an entrepreneur is a risk-taker who is eager to get things done. But there is a lot of common ground. As an entrepreneur, you are constantly experimenting and validating, and as a scientist, you also have to find ways to promote yourself. A good entrepreneur can make a good researcher and vice versa.”
 

Did you grow up surrounded by entrepreneurs?
“Yes, I come from an entrepreneurial family. Research shows that both upbringing and genetic factors play a role when it comes to being an entrepreneur. Looking back on my childhood, I was into football and basketball – a team player, in other words. In the scientific world, I sometimes missed that team spirit. But teamwork is a major part of my start-ups and the approach at VU Demonstrator Lab.”
  

What woke up the entrepreneur in you?
“I have a background in neuroscience and when I was doing my PhD, I came across eye-tracking. That led me to found a research and consulting firm together with my supervisor, aimed at utilising eye-tracking for government bodies and commercial parties. That work ranges from research on traffic signs to product visibility on supermarket shelves. Alongside that, I worked for a face recognition start-up at the University of Twente, which only fuelled my entrepreneurial side.”

No stranger

Berno Bucker succeeds Linda van de Burgwal, director of the VU Demonstrator Lab for the past two years. He is no stranger to the Lab, having launched his own start-up here six years ago. He then progressed to coaching for a number of years. “It’s the action and the collaboration I love most. That’s what fires me up. All these entrepreneurs working to achieve their dreams.”

What kind of company can join the Demonstrator Lab?
“At least one of the team members has to be a student or work at VU Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences or Amsterdam UMC. Their plan has to be ethical and not be in the realms of science fiction, by which we mean: it can’t go against the scientific evidence. Sometimes that can be a bit of a grey area. We challenge projects to think carefully about these issues and build a sustainable business.”  

Who is the Demonstrator Lab designed for?
“It’s a learning-by-doing environment for academic entrepreneurs, both students and members of staff. A place where people mainly benefit from peer-to-peer learning. We have intake sessions, where individuals or teams can pitch their project. The key there is to be well-prepared and do at least some online research first. Typically, we have around 20 to 30 active projects at the Demonstrator Lab at any time, with around 60 people working on them. Along with the entrepreneurs from VU StartHub, we form a larger community of more than 100 people.”
  

Do I need a brilliant idea to participate?
“No, and that’s exactly the hurdle that so many scientists and budding entrepreneurs encounter: they overthink things and go round in circles instead of validating their ideas with others and forming a ‘real-world’ connection. That’s where the Demonstrator Lab comes in: it’s an environment that lets you share inspiration with other people. Even when projects fail, there’s an element of success. You learn that this wasn’t the right project and that can feed into something new.”
 

What’s your advice for budding entrepreneurs?
“Step out of your comfort zone and embrace the experience. Don’t just spend hours reading at your computer, come and give it a try. Is entrepreneurship really my thing? Whatever the result, it’s sure to do a lot for your personal development.”
  

As the new director, what do you plan to do differently?
At VU Amsterdam there are so many entrepreneurship initiatives and in Amsterdam we like to think we’re a big deal, when in fact we are a relatively small global player. We are already strong on collaboration – students from the University of Amsterdam come here to pitch sometimes, for example – but it’s worth doing more to join forces and seek out shared initiatives.”

'Even when projects fail, there’s an element of success'

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