SensUs Interview: Bert-Jan Woertman

Bert-Jan Woertman is a social innovator and Dutch Startup Changemaker. We had the chance to speak with him about the role of students in innovation, the value of the SensUs competition and open innovation, and the current startup scene that the SensUs teams will enter into.


My name is Bert-Jan Woertman. I am an innovation ecosystem builder, a venture humanist, and an occasional speaker and moderator. After graduating in Eindhoven, I started my journey at Philips NatLab. NatLab was the place of birth of many brilliant new Philips products, which is why I enjoyed my time there. NatLab also formed the basis of what we now know as High Tech Campus Eindhoven. After various HR Management roles, I joined High Tech Campus Eindhoven Site Management Team. I was responsible for developing The Strip, the beating heart of the Campus, a 400-metre-long building designed to connect people and stimulate sharing of knowledge and cooperation.  During the eleven years I worked for the Campus, I was able to develop myself in the field of marketing, communication and business development. I love startups and have been actively involved as co-founder in building the world's best accelerator for high-tech start- and scale-ups, HightechXL & HighTechXL Plaza. After my time at the High Tech Campus, I worked as commercial director of the campus of Eindhoven University Technology, the homeplace of SensUs, and kickstarted the Brainport Industry Campus as director.

Now, I work for myself within my company ‘Social Machines’ where I am able to pursue my passion, which is bringing people together. With ‘Social Machines’, I build ecosystems that really work. Currently, I am working at Innovation Space at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), which is a community and facility that supports interdisciplinary hands-on education, engineering design and entrepreneurship. In an ecosystem the people make the difference, how these people are connected to each other and the environment, and how the environment again is connected to a bigger region, like Innovation Space in the Brainport region. One can read all books in the world or build a specific object, but that will not make the difference, it is always the dynamics between people that makes the difference, people that work together. In an ecosystem that works, people undertake the right actions together and make it happen.

 “People always make the difference”

The ingredients needed for innovation to happen, and thus economic growth, are talent and technology. Talent and technology are found at a university. Here at the TU/e, we have a huge network of companies connected to the university. We´re the world number one in cooperation with innovative companies. These companies provide the students routes through the world of innovation. The students work together and stand on the shoulders of giants like Philips, ASML and NXP. In today’s world, innovation is a team effort.

What is so nice about working with students, is that no one, not even the most experienced Philips VP or serial entrepreneur, really knows how everything works. Therefore, students look at problems in their own unique manner and do not really care about how problems were solved in the past. We have huge problems in the world which we can technically solve, but this does not happen. Students I work with at the TU/e take action and get to work. They understand that the future depends on what you do today.

“Students show it is possible.”

What I find so interesting about SensUs is that SensUs has a different approach on innovating healthcare than current companies in the medical industry. When it comes to innovation, companies are very protective of their own investments and research and development. Even though we are talking about diseases of which people suffer daily together with their families around them. SensUs shows it can be done differently. The competition addresses a new disease each year with teams working on it in an open atmosphere, sharing knowledge. Biomarker by biomarker, SensUs tries to make the dream of personalized medicine come true and bring it closer to reality. SensUs is only in its fourth edition and already some teams are setting up startup companies. SensUs sets an example and shows that it is possible to work differently in the medical field..

“SensUs brings 14 teams to Eindhoven, that work together in an open atmosphere, share all knowledge. 150 excellent student working together. This already provides serious solutions.”

“Biomarker by biomarker, SensUs tries to make the dream of personalized medicine come true and bring it closer to reality. SensUs sets an example and shows that it is possible to do work differently in the medical field”

I love the startup scene, as you are constantly in control of your own learning experience. I also have a lot of respect for it as it takes a lot of courage to become a startup company. The teams trying to become a startup company will encounter problems and challenges which need to be solved with limited resources, long hours and no one knows what will happen. You start, you undertake action, make lots of mistakes and keep going. The point is that the idea, the technology and the prototype are simple. That does not make the difference. Here again, you come back to the person, the people, the team that needs to make the startup work together. The difference between success and failure will be the team that works together, and trust within the team. You need to make it work together over and over again.

“It is really nice to be part of a startup as your are constantly in charge of your own learning process.”

My advice to the teams that want to become a startup company would be to start working and talk to people with the right expertise. Of course, you have to be careful with what you say, because you need to  apply for patents, but you cannot reach your goals alone. Five people will say five different things, so develop your own view on their opinions and act on this view. Never immediately say yes, give yourself the chance to gather further input and maybe say no. Use the knowledge and expertise of others to your advantage.

If you want to learn more about the startup community in Eindhoven, Bert-Jan organizes Demo’s & Drinks every first Wednesday of the month, you can search for the High Tech Campus startup community, TU/e Innovation Space or TU/e Innovation Lab or the Eindhoven Startup Alliance or directly contact Bert-Jan: bertjanwoertman@gmail.com.