The TOP Programme
What do Xsens, Aryzon, Booking.com, Thuisbezorgd.nl, DEMCON and Clear Flight Solutions have in common? That’s simple: these successful companies were all founded by University of Twente alumni, and, above all, the fledgling enterprises all benefited from the support of the TOP Programme.
At the start of the 1980s, then-rector Harry van den Kroonenberg gifted the University of Twente a new motto: ‘the entrepreneurial university’. He called for the institute to be a university that demonstrated entrepreneurship at every level, where people operated in close proximity to the market; a university that was prepared to do new and unconventional things – and take the risks that entailed. In its day, that was a pretty controversial vision. The University of Twente was to become a ‘doing university’ and encourage entrepreneurship in both staff and students.
With Van den Kroonenberg’s vision (read more about this in the canon ‘rector magnificus Harry van den Kroonenberg’) in the back of their mind, in 1984 the administration introduced the TOP Programme. TOP, which stands for Tijdelijke OndernemersPlaatsen (Temporary Entrepreneurial Posts), was designed to help start-up enterprises get through that difficult first year. The scheme offers brand-new entrepreneurs an interest-free loan, office facilities and guidance on all kinds of matters. The interest-free loan is meant to cover the living costs of the entrepreneurs, so they can devote more time to getting their business off the ground. The guidance aspect focuses on personal, legal and PR coaching for the entrepreneur and on product development in close collaboration with the University of Twente and/or university of applied sciences Saxion.
Over the years the TOP Programme has become established as an integral part of the culture at University of Twente. When interviewed, former coordinator of the TOP project Jann van Benthem said: ‘They’ve tried this at other institutes in the Netherlands, but those organizations didn’t have the right culture to foster entrepreneurship. The TOP Programme has contributed to the University of Twente’s business culture, and vice versa. The essential thing about the TOP Programme is that the doors of Twente’s departments are open to everyone. And this inclusiveness applies not only to the departments, but to the whole region. The success of the scheme has been due in part to the involvement of various businesses and institutions across the region.’
Over 400 entrepreneurs have taken advantage of TOP during the almost 35 years the programme has been active. 75% of these businesses were still operating in 2018, and the majority are based in Twente. Averaging eight or nine employees each, these businesses employ more people than the University of Twente itself! This shows the enormous boost the TOP Programme – the Netherlands’ first official business incubator – offers the region, giving a small university its chance to shine.