"I began my academic career studying medical biology in Amsterdam. I then proceeded to study cell biology for my doctoral research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. While studying for my doctorate I took up a new hobby of computer programming. It was around this time that I had an idea for a business programme targeted at scientists carrying out doctoral research.
"The hiatus between my doctorate and post doctoral research presented an opportunity to put my business idea into practice. Besides two other ventures – in partnership with partners in America and Cambridge – my main start up is called Mekentosj and we started as an independent software vendor three years ago. I employ four people including me, so I have to get used to making the tea as well as running the business! The software is basically a kind of iTunes for scientists’ research papers and articles. As papers and articles are added, the programme creates a library of information.
"I decided to set up this business after initially trialling it during my final year as a doctoral researcher. It was essentially a decision between carrying on with postdoctoral research in a new scientific area or starting my own business. I had come across numerous examples of what was needed, or ‘gaps’ while studying for my doctorate, and the development of the program was informed by this and my knowledge of cell biology. I started selling the product soon after the first day of my postdoctoral study, and continued more seriously when I realised I could be doing it full time.
"I have found running my own business quite challenging, but in a fun way – there have been many long weeks and nights! The satisfaction of running my own business makes this worthwhile though, especially the satisfaction you get from thousands of people using your software worldwide, and giving positive feedback. I have drawn quite significantly on my experiences as a doctoral researcher – applying the software to scientists from my field of study, but also skills such as presentation, communication and writing skills have doubtlessly been built on from my doctoral researcher days. My years as a doctoral researcher taught me to think critically and academically – highly useful for those embarking on their own business.
"Many friends of mine are scientists who were extremely helpful to me during the setting up of my business. They often helped with testing of software, while my father (an ex-accountant) assisted with book keeping. My supervisor was helpful in the sense that he let me do what I wanted, although he was generally only ever focused on his own work.
"My advice to doctoral researchers considering starting their own business would be to do it, and not to hesitate. I would say that the biggest stage is the first jump, don’t worry if it takes a while to get started! It does take a while to get mentally prepared."