The Ocean of Opportunity: Entrepreneurship in Amsterdam

By Katelyn Richards and Raluca Blujdea

VU:Sci was approached by the Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE) because they are seeking Masters students with bright ideas that they may want to develop into a business. Here, we share the story of VU alumnus, Maarten de Reij’s journey to build his company, Cargoplot, through utilizing resources such as the D-lab at the VU and the ACE programs to gain entrepreneurial skills. Interested in how you can also take the plunge? Find out here!

As early scientists we often hear of research projects such as a patented novel assays turning into an exciting biotechnological or pharmaceutical start-up… but what does it mean to become an entrepreneur if your background is in academic research? Entrepreneurship encompasses building start-ups from ideas and these can grow into small businesses. Therefore, you have to take a risk. So yes, a little gambling, but at least here the house doesn’t always win. Just how can you gain entrepreneurial skills to turn a great idea into a growing business? This gap in knowledge is where university support and initiatives can come in, such as Demonstrator Laboratory (D-lab) and Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE).

Maarten de Reij’s Dive 

VU: Sci spoke with VU Amsterdam and ACE incubator alumni Maarten de Reij about his story for developing his company, Cargoplot. Maarten’s inspiration for Cargoplot began when he wanted to travel with friends to South America with their motorcycles from the Netherlands, but with the sheer amount of paperwork, slow responses from freight forwarders and crazy port costs, they found they could not fulfil their dream.

Maarten De Reij (left) and Daniel Schreij (right)

From there, Maarten wrote his business plan during his travels in South America and the start-up journey began at the D-lab at the VU, where he also met his co-founder, Daniel Schreij. Once he was more established with his business plan, he discovered ACE’s Incubator program. As Maarten puts it, “the program introduces you to the start-up ecosystem where you can make valuable connections and learn from others and their experiences”. 

Demonstrator Lab: Getting your Feet Wet

Since 2017, the Demonstrator Lab (D-lab) at the Vrije Universiteit is a haven for young minds with bright ideas to congregate and work on their projects. Here, lab facilities, lab space, office space, access to mechanical and electric workshops, seed or flagship grants are some of the many benefits offered. There are quite a number of impressive ongoing projects and nascent start-ups

Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE): The Boat

ACE is a university business incubator that collaborates with knowledge institutions (VU, UvA, HvA, Amsterdam UMC and NWO institutes) to help people gain business acumen and the skills necessary to turn a business idea into a full-fledged company or grow an existing one. ACE offers two programs to get your feet wet and dive. The Explore Program is a three-day program that focuses on giving people some business background (details below and here). The Incubator Program on the other hand is a nine-week program that focuses on expanding existing ideas through workshops with industry and entrepreneurial experts, as well as working with other like-minded individuals (deadlin April 11th and starts on May 3, 2021 and ends on July 12, 2021, more details below and here). Best of all, these programs are free for students because they are sponsored by the universities (the Incubator program does require a success-based fee if your company benefits from the program).

Turning an Idea Into a Business

Becoming an entrepreneur requires not only the idea, but also the support from your family, peers, your network and in this case, the university. Maarten and Daniel were two like-minded people that were both working passionately on their own projects when they met at the VU D-Lab and eventually formed Cargoplot. Then, Maarten joined ACE to further establish the company, even during a global pandemic.

“the [Incubator] program introduces you to the start-up ecosystem where you can make valuable connections and learn from others and their experiences”

Maarten de Reij

The world needed a matchmaking platform in the forwarding industry and Maarten delivered it with Cargoplot. Today more than ever, technology and innovation can help service the world. As research scientists, we are always finding creative solutions for problems within our fields. The skills we gain in our academic careers give us the foundation to develop ideas that have a real-life impact. The services provided by companies such as ACE and the D-lab can provide the building blocks to create a successful business, such as Maarten and Daniel have accomplished.

Are you curious about entrepreneurship and the Explore Program: Apply here to the Explore Entrepreneurship of 3-days (there are multiple programs on the website, here)

If you already have an idea for a business: Apply here to start your journey with the ACE Incubation Program (that starts on May 3, 2021 and ends on July 12, 2021) **Deadline for applications is April 11th, 2021

Do you want to take the plunge?

ACE Explore Program3 days of interactive workshops and talks given by entrepreneurial experts to learn business acumen and how to expand your idea into a start-up
ACE Incubator Program9 weeks of workshops, access to mentors, corporate and service provider networks and individual mentoring sessions with seasoned entrepreneurs and business experts to take your start-up further
VU Demonstrator (D-) labA workspace for people with entrepreneurial ideas to get advice, network and space to work on their projects 
Scale-up ACE Programs: 1, 2Programs to scale-up your start-up, with group programs and one-on-one support.


Katelyn is a first year VU Biomolecular Sciences Master’s student from the United States. She is interested in disease-related research in the fields of immunology, oncology and genetics.

Raluca is a second year VU Master of Neurosciences student who is particularly interested in neurological development, neurodegenerative disorders and science communication.

Image Credits: Cover photo by Nathalie Hurova and boat photo by Gautam Krishnan on Unsplash

One thought on “The Ocean of Opportunity: Entrepreneurship in Amsterdam

  1. Very interesting article! Nice to know where we students can find more resources for entrepreneurship, something many of us I think are interested in.