Food for Thought

“We have to try a million different things.” Wouter Veer on Circular Economy


Last month, BlueCity investor Wouter Veer (the guy on the left, in his favourite outfit) was interviewed by Andreja Basle, for Circular Change. In this long form interview, Wouter explains what is driving him personally and business wise, and how BlueCity is fitting into his vision.

In this article you’ll find an excerpt of the original interview.
Read full interview with Wouter Veer ‘We have to try a million different things’ here.

So, what is BlueCity?

We started with a simple idea, but now it is growing into a concept, which is to take an iconic building in the city centre that has lost its original function, and transform it into a hub for Circular Economy entrepreneurs. In our case, we took a former tropical swimming pool and the dance club next to it – all together 12 000m2. We acquired it a year ago, and now we are in the middle of the renovation and at the same time also starting some partnerships, building a laboratory and so on.

What kind of entrepreneurs will you try to attract or select for the BlueCity hub?

We are really doing this to build concepts around the Blue Economy and the Circular Economy, and each new entrepreneur will also have to have value for the other entrepreneurs. (…) We will have a maximum of 10% of the space for companies which offer services, and our requirement for them will be that they are focused on sustainability, or working for sustainable or social enterprises. Other startups will be Circular Economy companies.

Do big companies already see the Circular Economy as their future?

I’m a bit skeptical about big corporations. Most of them benefit the most by keeping everything as it is and just making it more efficient, producing a little bit more and in that way growing the economy a little bit more and more. (…) But of course, we still need them now, and when you change a big corporation by even 1% you make a big impact. We have to fight the battle in two ways. At BlueCity we try to be a platform for them – to educate them and to allow them to help us build the concept. We are also showing the development in innovations. In this way startups can learn from the corporates and the other way around.

Is the scaling of a Circular Economy startup different from the usual startups?

RotterZwam-oprichters Siemen Cox en Mark Slegers in de koepel van voormalig Tropicana, het verlaten tropisch zwemparadijs in Rotterdam.

The scaling we are all hunting is a unicorn type of scaling. But in the type of entrepreneurship we are looking for in the Circular Economy, it is not only that kind of scaling we want, but also scaling by sharing; for instance by sharing the idea, so that others can copy it and do the same – that is also a way to scale.
One example is rotterzwam, our guys who are growing oyster mushrooms on coffee waste. They refuse to collect coffee from other cities or to grow mushrooms elsewhere. Instead they say: ‘There is enough coffee waste there, so you can grow your own oyster mushrooms there. Come and visit us, we can teach you how.’ And they are earning money by teaching others. That is another way to scale.

Can you share some advice on how ‘accelarators’ can become unique, different from the others?

We don’t want to become one more of those places. We want to focus on a single theme – the Circular or Blue Economy. Our concept is that BlueCity is not just co-working space. We also have laboratories and production space.
In the Circular Economy the whole ecosystem is important. All the companies in CE have to find a new business model and they can and should be interconnected. They don’t have to have all the functions any more, but they must rely on each other. The waste streams or outputs of one company can be the input for another. In this way, we are building a network of companies.

Will the startup industry also change and become more circular?

I’m an entrepreneur. When I have an idea, I got most of them under the shower. I was convinced at that moment they were true. I went after them like a maniac. When I look back now, many were rubbish. But you have to go after an idea – that is what startups do.
What I think we have to do is to validate these ideas as soon as we can. Then as soon as we see this particular one isn’t going to work, we have to kill it, because if we don’t, then startups can become a waste. But we have to try millions of new things and give them a chance, not kill them off too soon.

Want to read more?

You should! Wouter shared a lot of his experience and insights, and the full interview is very interesting. A must read, really, for everyone interested in Blue Economy, Circular Economy and Impact Investment.

Read full interview with Wouter Veer ‘We have to try a million different things’ here.