Entrepreneurs-in-Residence are experienced entrepreneurs who voluntarily help starting founders. When we look at Entrepeneurs-in-Residence in the Netherlands, we’re glad to have one of the best ones at YES!Delft: Duke Urbanik. Duke describes himself as a startup in the making. Or at least he was one back in the 1980s. As a founder, investor and currently Entrepreneur-in-Residence at YES!Delft, he is surrounded by some of the brightest ideas of our time and a ton of motivated young entrepreneurs.
Duke’s entrepreneurial journey started back in 1984 when he founded his own company, developing software solutions for the rubber and plastics industry. The business grew internationally, and with several offices abroad, it was eventually sold to a U.S. company in 1999. Since then, Duke has started a couple of new ventures, invested in others, and passed on his knowledge to more entrepreneurs than he can remember.
GETTING YOU OUTSIDE THE BOX
“I’m a generalist, not a specialist. You are the specialist. My job is not to tell you what to do, but to provoke you to think about your business in a new way, so you come up with innovative ideas.”
Duke is one to always wear a smile on his face. “I’m a positive guy,” he says. A pep-talk kind of coach, others add. As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at YES!Delft, Duke is there to guide entrepreneurs along the way to success.
Think of him as a sparring partner. Every once a week, he’s at YES!Delft, making himself available to anyone who needs his advice. “My goal is get entrepreneurs to think outside the box,” Duke says. “I’m here to ask questions… to poke you and get you to look at your business from a different point of view.”
His coaching is in high demand. In fact, Duke rarely has a spare minute on a day at YES!Delft.
THROUGH WORDS OF ADVICE – AND A BIT OF TOUGH LOVE
“Over the past years, I’ve seen about 1,000 companies,” he says. Whether from the YES!Delft’s ValidationLab (former LaunchLab) or Incubation Program, whether brand new or somewhat grown, founders have all – at one point or another – had their quality face time with the coach.
“It’s the best position in the world,” Duke adds. “I get to talk to interesting young people with ambition and good ideas, and I get to help them with my own creativity and experience.”
In a way, he’s like a catalyst for new ideas. What’s more, because he has spoken to so many entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds, Duke is able to match many of their needs to the right resources and people – whether it’s potential new partners, customers or investors.
Yet, while Duke is always ready to help, he also finds it important to give startups a reality check whenever necessary. “If you approach things with a positive attitude, your brain will be quicker to come up with a solution to the problem,” Duke says. [However], if your product is not good or the market is not there, I’d rather keep it real and advise you to pivot. Or simply try something else.”
TOWARDS A STRONGER ECOSYSTEM
At the end of the day, it is the exceptional ideas – executed by exceptional teams – that make it in the long run. And YES!Delft has been the place to cultivate those for years now.
“In YES!Delft, the quality is very high,” Duke says. “The startups [in the incubator] were good to begin with and they continue to be consistently strong.”
Yet, outside of those YES!Delft circles, things look different. Being a startup has become somewhat of a fashion in the past years, and a lot of money is being pumped into ideas that do not necessarily have market potential, Duke says. “This needs to change. Creating a startup is a means to growing into a successful enterprise, not a goal by itself.”
The only way for the ecosystem to grow is if only the really good make it forward – and this is exactly what Duke wishes for the future of the startup scene in Delft and beyond. Bigger scale-ups, bigger investments, bigger impact. He might well help you get there.
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