Interview with Janne Vereijken - Rotterdam Business Woman of the Year

They can do business and innovate like no other. With her business she helps - successfully - others to do this better. Powervrouw Janne Vereijken is the brain behind Spring Company and was crowned Rotterdam Business Woman of the Year. And that is not for nothing, because Janne is on a mission: boosting the innovative strength of the Netherlands. And that works.

What have been the most important milestones in your time so far with Spring Company?
I was voted Rotterdam Woman of the Year this year. That is a nice reward for my work. Mayor Aboutaleb quoted from the jury report: "This Rotterdam Businesswoman of the Year is an expert in her field and has a natural enthusiasm of persuasion. The winner convinced the jury with her enormous energy and professionalism as a business woman. Where she has clearly shown how she distinguishes herself in her branch, has developed a scalable business model and has a clear vision of the future. Janne Vereijken is a role model for others, because she is innovative, progressive and dynamic, knows what sustainable entrepreneurship entails and is socially involved in Rotterdam. She easily makes difficult material understandable for everyone. 

Smart strategies, methodologies and techniques are her thing. This way the jury knows what design thinking means. " That is of course great feedback. I am also proud that I have succeeded in doing business in the field of strategy and innovation at a young age. These are challenging topics and they bring difficult issues with them. I never choose the easiest way or beaten paths. But it also brings me a lot. 

What do you see as the most important drivers for innovation?
The first is the right mindset and culture. Are you entrepreneurial as a person or as an organization? Do you see opportunities and dare to take them? Can you fall and stand up again? Do not stop until you reach your goals? Are you curious and wonder how things can be different and better? Are you able to come up with new solutions and approach unconventional? These are very important drivers for innovation.

Secondly, the reason why you innovate is extremely important. Innovation itself is not an end in itself, it is a means. How much fun I think: innovation is not easy. It is the process of trial and error, of trying out, of failures, of going against the flow and resistance of others. That requires perseverance, energy, time and money. This only brings people and organizations, if there is a beckoning perspective. This can be a necessity, for example that we need to become more sustainable. The energy transition will only get underway as we begin to experience the effects of climate change and there is a climate agreement. 

A beckoning perspective can also be an inspiring ambition. Elon Musk talks about the absurd ambition to live and live on Mars. This is what moves people. Then I have not only about beautifully formulated mission statements, but also about real moonshots with SMART objectives. It is therefore important to know why you innovate, what purpose you have in mind. I always start with this when I develop innovation strategies with my clients. 

What do you want to achieve with innovation? Then there is also much better direction and direction to give. This applies to me personally. For me, for example, innovation is not about the gadgets. I do not like that. No, innovation for me means organizations and products more sustainable, more valuable and to make it smarter. Offering real added value for people and our planet. This is my guide in working with my clients.

How do you think Dutch business is about innovation and transformation?

 With regard to innovation, we do well in the lists. We are second on the Global Innovation Index 2018. In other lists, we are also in the top 10. That is good news, but I still see sufficient reasons and opportunities to make a significant contribution. This has not so much to do with positions on lists, but with the content. There are enough challenges, such as sustainability, that require innovation. I see sufficient opportunities for Dutch companies and entrepreneurs. For example, the circular economy. In the Netherlands, let us put that beautiful concept into practice and become the leader in this. 

Or on a different level: applying new technology in a better way than American companies in Silicon Valley have done. Think of negative effects and consequences such as privacy violation, addiction to social media, fake news, exploitation of flex workers, nuisance of tourists. Let us put better alternatives to this. I find swap bike a good example of this. Internationally, many subsystems of (electric) bicycles, scooters and the like have been launched in recent years. Think of LimeBike, Spin, Bird and Uber's Jump Bikes. It seems to be a nice solution for the 'last mile', but residents are inconvenienced by the electric scooters that are parked everywhere and where recklessly and dangerously driven. There have been protests in San Francisco recently. With a different business model (the bike is leased by one person), Swapfiets offers something very beautiful.

Why do many entrepreneurs find it difficult to innovate?

 I see that smaller companies often have difficulty combining innovation with the daily business. To devote sufficient time, attention and resources, while on the other hand they are agile and can switch quickly. Larger companies often have the means to renew products, but not always the speed. They often lack the methodologies to innovate as quickly as a start-up. They struggle with bureaucracy, legacy and they do not have such an enterprising culture. They also have trouble with disruptive innovations that threaten their business model. They find it difficult to respond to this, while they have to do something. I help them with the right strategies.

What is your big tip for an entrepreneur when it comes to innovation? 

Think strategically about innovation. Do not go about it ad hoc or opportunistic. Of course you have to respond to beautiful opportunities when they occur. That is also great for incremental innovation, but more radical innovation is needed. That does not happen 'just'. I often see that organizations do not have a clear vision of innovation. They do initiate projects, but there is no clear direction and focus for all innovation activities. What does your business look like in the future? What is your ambition and positioning? Based on that you build an innovation roadmap for your organization. One that is flexible and deals with all the uncertainties of our time. This gives momentum and acceleration of innovation.

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