From Frustration to Entrepreneurial Beginnings


Social Entrepreneur | De Upstarter
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Our Meeting in the Amsterdam
At the end of December I took the ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to De Upstarter office where I met with co-founder Mariette. Together with a core team of three women she works to minimize unemployment under university graduates. De Upstarter offers special programs with a focus on personal development and work experience, to help kick-start great careers. To help young people get ahead, they teach the important things that universities don’t.

I came in contact with her after having followed her business online for a while. Nina, the young author I interviewed for my ‘30 Cups of Tea – The Job Hunt Project’ mentioned Mariette’s business in one of her Facebook updates once and I have been happily following their progress for the past months.

After reading another one of Mariette’s great newsletter blogs, I replied with a request for a coffee date to chat about her business and a possible collaboration. In 2016 I will be investing more time in Camp Bluff and what we aim to achieve as a platform aligns so well with De Upstarter’s mission.

In their cosy co-working space in Amsterdam, we chatted about the current education system, her international dreams, our Creative Director ambitions and our shared love for brainstorm sessions, creation and networking. It was like talking to an older me, and this young woman jumps out of bed (nearly) every morning to go to work… so I listened very closely to what she had to say.

From Frustration to Entrepreneurial Beginnings 
Mariette started out as a teacher. She finished her degree at a young age and was able to get work straight out of university. She worked in education for seven years when she decided she wanted to change things up. Mariette disagreed strongly with the current form of traditional education and saw a great need to improve the ‘product’ that universities deliver.

Handing in her resignation came with a three months notice, as she had a fixed contract. This gave her the time to start applying for jobs before her steady income would disappear. The money she had initially put outside for a deposit on a first home got a new purpose, the financial buffer to create her own business within six months. During the summer months she experimented with workshops to test her material. Below she explains what her motives were to start her own social enterprise. 

“Many graduates are ill-prepared for the current workforce! I see three reasons for this: there is not enough room for gaining practical experience and working in teams, the learning methods are ineffective and lastly there is too much focus on just knowledge.”

“I felt limited as a traditional teacher, I couldn’t design my lessons in alignment with my beliefs. I don’t necessarily think the Dutch educational system is all bad, but there is a great room for improvement and innovation.”

“With De Upstarter I designed an innovative educational programme. My method certainly won’t work for everyone because some students benefit from traditional forms of teaching. And that is fine! I do this work, to help people like me, who feel like there wasn’t enough room for talent discovery and personal development.” 

Practical Experience & Teamwork
Mariette is a big advocate for experiential learning and group work. She sees a great value in learning by doing, taking ownership, making mistakes, exchanging perspectives as well as feedback with team members. “Within some university programmes, ‘group work’ often consists of little real collaboration. Students work on separate tasks alongside each other but they are not stimulated to exchange points of view and really work together. It’s more like toddlers playing next to each other in a sandpit, making their own sandcastles. The benefits of group work are not fully experienced.”

Ineffective Learning Methods
She expresses her frustration about the ‘one-size fits all’ model that is still prevalent in many educational institutions. According to her, there is also little time spent on self-discovery and personal development. Mariette sees a strong need to help students discover what their learning styles are because everyone learns in a different way. “When you know what works for you, what your strengths are, with which assignments you excel and how you deal with setbacks, you can start to activate your talents and make effective use of them!”

Too Much Focus on Knowledge
Mariette sees knowledge as a means to reach a goal but not as a goal in itself. She explains that Google has more knowledge than any teacher but that teachers are very valuable as they can help students apply their newly gained insights in a practical sense. 

Getting Connected 
During her last two years as a teacher, she worked part-time as a job coach. Several people had recommended she get to know Jorinde, a marketeer, who had similar ideas on education and talent development. Jorinde and Mariette bonded like their colleagues had suggested, one lunch date led to another and De Upstarter was born…after a bold phone call from Mariette to Jorinde, convincing her to give this venture a go.

In the start-up phase Mariette lived off her savings while Jorinde worked 60-70 hour weeks, combing two jobs. They got things off the ground within three months, organizing their first program for newly grads with success.


De Upstarter 1st birthday party

“In the beginning it is obviously difficult as you don’t yet have a name for yourself, you have to work to get good references from participants as well as from companies that offer work placements for the newly grads.

“But now, 15 months down the track, we are really getting a foot in the door. On the 11th of January, one hundred newly grads will start with an innovative nine month educational programme. It’s called the B. Startup School Amsterdam, a school where you learn relevant skills for today’s job market. This initiative is a collaboration between us, the Amsterdam Economic Board, B. Amsterdam and Man Power. Being able to take work on a project like this, shows that our hard work has really paid off!”


Italy | The Summer edition of the biannual training programme trip

 Dreams for the Future
“I would love for De Upstarter to become an internationally renowned institute, so we could help even more people. Having offices in Berlin and New York for example, would be fantastic! But first, my focus lies in gaining more ground within the Dutch market. Part of that is, making sure the B. Startup School Amsterdam is a success as well as our very own Content Academy that will launch on the 11th of April.”

“Besides this, I have the ambition to gain a Creative Director position within the B. Startup School Amsterdam, to be able to increase the collaborations between the students of the various programs.”

What did I take away from this meeting?

  1. That it is so wonderful to meet with someone that radiates, exudes energy and that has so much passion for her job

  2. If you can’t find your dream job, create it

  3. Put in the work but sometimes you also need to be patient, like with surfing, paddle out but wait till the right wave comes along

  4. Put money aside because you never know what you’ll want to invest in

  5. Coffee or lunch dates can lead to exciting new business ventures

Want to know more about what De Upstarter does? Visit their website (Dutch only but they have international ambitions)


Upstarter training | Discovering what your place is within the employment market.
(Mariette in blue)