Global Entrepreneurship Week Maastricht



Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.  In the Netherlands the GEW is organised by the Dutch Centers for Entrepreneurship (DutchCE). The local edition in Maastricht is organised by Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship and consists of a program of four days.

The organisation committee of GEW Maastricht had an interview with Matthijs Aler, co-founder of Ohpen and keynote speaker at the event.  Below a slightly edited version of the interview.

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An impression of Global Entrepreneurship Week Maastricht 2012

Thank you very much for taking some time for this interview. Could you please give a short introduction of yourself for the readers that do not know you?
After graduating Erasmus University I joined BinckBank in 2001. I’ve worked at BinckBank for 11 years, of which three years setting up BinckBank in France. That was my first engagement in entrepreneurship, although in service of ‘a boss’. In 2011 I was asked to join my previous Binck-partners at the venture Ohpen. At Ohpen I reinvented myself and relived the energy and joy of building something from scratch.

How did you end up as an entrepreneur? How does this compare to what you wanted to be when you were younger?
It actually took quite some time (10 years) to gather the conviction to take this important step. As quite a risk averse type, I needed to feel that I have what it takes to be in charge of a company and to be sole responsible for the difference between failure and success.

In your opinion, what are the biggest payoffs and downsides of working for yourself?
The biggest payoff is that satisfaction – when realising your goals – feels differently than doing it for someone else. You have yourself (and the team of course) to thank or blame. One of the most important pitfalls or challenges is that you need to be challenged in your ideas and convictions by a partner. To have a wingman that brings balance is a privilege and necessity.

Would you recommend entrepreneurship to anyone, or just people with certain traits or in certain positions?
I think that entrepreneurship is not ‘suitable’ for anyone. You need to be prepared to make some sacrifices every once in a while. Also I believe that, independent of the sector you’re in, you must be convinced of your product or service and transfer your energy and conviction to others. Therefore entrepreneurs cannot be (too) insecure of phlegmatic. Last, but certainly not least, passion is the most important ingredient. Lacking that, fat chance of succeeding….

What would in your opinion be the best place to start for an aspiring entrepreneur?
There’s no such thing as the best place. It’s what you make of it. But speaking from my own experience, I think a good and broad skillset is a good basis. Having that, you will be able to deal with all the different aspects of doing business. Unlike others, who believe that a college education sets you back, I feel that learning to ‘think’ can help you on your way.

Looking at current society, how does entrepreneurship fit in? Some people see it as the salvation of the economy whereas others see it is a rotten capitalist system. What is your view on this?
I believe that Small and Medium Sized enterprises are the real engine behind the economy and the labour market. The financial part of starting a business is important, but certainly not all and not a rotten capitalist feature.

Are there any specific remarks you would like to share with the readers?
Maybe a cliché, but do what you do best, don’t give up and give it all. At Ohpen, we have 7 virtues that we encourage the whole team to embrace. This is one of them.

The original version of this interview was published on the Global Entrepreneurship Week Maastricht website.