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#021 Bas' innovative entrepreneurship

The story of David's absorbing business is a story of Bas' innovative entrepreneurship

David Fernandez Rivas and Bas Koelewijn both overcame major challenges and created their own opportunities. David left his socialist country for a career abroad. Among other things, he started an ultrasonic cleaning business based on microbubble technology. Bas is finishing up his master's, despite his chronic illness, exceeding other people's expectations. Today David and Bas find each other in their passion for making real change by helping people with practical applications rather than big words. Clearly, these men are doers. No matter what: giving up is not an option. Bas: ‘Theory is nice, but I want to turn my personal experiences into action.’

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Monday 8 March 2021

If you don’t try, you surely fail

David: ‘On LinkedIn, your profile says you’re a student. Is that right?’

Bas: ‘Yes, I’m currently writing my master’s thesis in Business Administration. I focus on entrepreneurship and innovation management.'

David: ‘Can you tell me about your expectations of student life? And how did you grow as a person during your time at university?’

Bas: ‘My educational journey has been quite unusual since I was young. I have a chronic condition that causes bone and nerve pain, inflammations and fever after doing anything that takes effort. The main growth I’ve experienced since coming to the UT is that I no longer push my disability away. I now see an opportunity to use my experiences as a driving force and motivation that can help push the inclusion agenda forward. It’s something I can have a positive voice in.’

“Innovation is much like inclusion. Both start by hearing different voices”
Bas

David: ‘Of course, it gives you credibility. You use your background to fight for inclusion. What does inclusion mean to you?’

Bas: ‘I believe inclusion and innovation are similar. Inclusion means opening up to voices that are different from your own and allowing those voices to be heard in a structural way. Innovation comes about when we listen to voices that express new ideas. In a way, inclusion may lead to innovation.’

Insiders and outsiders

David: ‘Interesting. But inclusion is big. There’s gender, race, disability. We can easily get overwhelmed by the number of reasons that hold people back in life. How do we translate these big themes into actionable goals?’

Bas: ‘The conversation about inclusion needs to be big, but our actions can start small. Inclusion can be very simple. Say I'm ill on the day of an exam. If I need to ask my professor for an alternative, it’s like I’m asking for a favour. But it’s not: it’s my right. As long as these exceptions feel like favours, we have an atmosphere in which people can be excluded. With “insiders” who function well within the status quo and “outsiders” who fall through the cracks.

‘Without insiders facilitating them, the outsiders will eventually drop out, along with their ideas and talents. If we want to hear different voices on campus, and get the most out of people, we need to help them stay. The problem is not that somebody is in a wheelchair. The problem is that there’s no ramp to get inside.’

“Facilitating people with special needs should not be seen as a favour. It’s their right”
Bas

David: ‘True, but it’s not always easy. I like to help people. I hope my research on injections without needles will improve the lives of people with diabetes type I. But I don't always know how I can help. Obviously, I’ll help an old man with a stick get on a bus. But many disabilities are less visible, and people tend to keep their problems to themselves. So how can I help if I don’t know?”

Bas: ‘Yeah, people often tell me: “you don't look ill”. I think it starts with awareness. Every person is biased, and we need to confront our biases every day. We must consider how our choices can impact different groups. Like you said: we don't always know what’s going on with somebody. Still, we often figure out a solution for them. Why not ask people what they want first? Did you ever feel like an outsider when you came to the Netherlands?’

David: ‘Not at the UT. I got a lot of support from my PhD supervisor and my colleagues. But when I was looking for accommodation, I did feel like an outsider. In other countries, a PhD student is a student, so when I came to the UT, I tried to find cheap student accommodation. But I soon learned that in the Netherlands, a PhD student is an employee. The other students were concerned I was too serious, or just old.’

Bas: ‘Finding a room was a challenge for me as well. When people can choose between somebody who might – in their view – have special needs, and thirty others who don’t, it’s an easy choice.’

Opportunities and experiments

David: ‘It seems like you spend a lot of time on matters of inclusion. How do you keep a healthy work-life balance?’

Bas: ‘Good question. It’s always a dilemma: I care about these matters and working on them gives me energy. So, I can choose to feel happy and accept the physical consequences. Or I can play it safe, feel better physically, but stop doing the things that are important to me. Actually, conversations like this are a nice outlet for me.’

“When you only get a few opportunities, you will do everything you can to make them count”
Bas

David: ‘I understand: getting the chance to talk to people plays a big role for me staying at the UT as well. Here, I can help people shape their lives. I sometimes supervise students from abroad or from other institutions like Saxion University of Applied Sciences. Some colleagues might not. But I think we should be willing to give people with the motivation to learn a fair chance. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what could have been.’

Bas: ‘Exactly! We need to learn to fail. That’s the only way. Let's not predetermine outcomes. That takes courage. People often talk about giving opportunities, but when push comes to shove, few people actually do. Give me an opportunity, and I will make the most of it. If you only get so many, due to health issues, financial reasons or whatever, you want to make them count.’

DR. DAVID FERNANDEZ RIVAS (1981)

was born in Havana, Cuba, where he studied Nuclear Engineering. After collaborating in several international projects, he started his PhD in Twente in 2007. During his postdoc projects, he started a spin-off company, before he got tenure track at the Faculty of Science and Technology. Currently, he leads a multidisciplinary team working on challenging topics from novel microfluidics for green chemistry to bioengineering solutions, such as needle-free injections.

Bas Koelewijn BSc (1988)

was born in The Hague and grew up in Flevoland. Here he played an active role in several youth organisations. After high school, he came to the University of Twente to do his bachelor’s in European Public Administration. Bas was involved in the introduction of students with a disability to the UT. Moreover, he participated in a research program focused on industrial innovation. He is currently working on his master’s thesis in Business Administration.