Commonly thought to have been born in Holland because of his Dutch nationality and last name, Eric van Der Kleij was born in South Africa and grew up in the UK, where he spent most of his life before co-locating in Switzerland to join the Kickstart Accelerator initiative.
Eric has an impressive background, having been amongst other successes the founding CEO of TechCityUK and Head of Level 39 – one of the largest Fintech hubs in Europe.
Our co-managing director Sunnie Groeneveld had a chance to spend an enjoyable time with Eric and discuss some of his impressions on the Swiss environment and the exciting plans ahead for the start ups that are kicking off the Digital Zurich enabled “Kickstart Accelerator” program later this month.
We know you’re a very sought after asset by many Fintech initiatives worldwide. Why did you choose Digital Zurich’s Kickstart Accelerator?
Even before I was invited to join I had met many Swiss institutions. I had a prior very positive interaction with UBS in a bold Crypto lab initiative that made me more fascinated about the Swiss environment.
The Swiss have this terriﬁc global brand and trust ethos, and I always thought a campaign around that, together with the strong ﬁnancial segment here could be potentially huge globally. When I heard about the Kickstart Accelerator what got me most interested was that it was not just about sponsorship, it was not only about money. The partner members were all committed to POCs (Proof of concepts), so there was real engagement and it got me really excited. I thought: “Ok, that’s authentic, that’s for real.”
I also liked very much the fact that the initiative was open to bringing someone international to lead it, I felt it was a sign of openness and a truly international move.
Also, I would like to say that it was inspired timing about the UK’s Brexit vote but it wasn’t planned, just lucky because I believe there has probably never been a better time for UK and Switzerland to have closer collaboration. Even more so in Fintech!
What brought you to the entrepreneurship scene?
I am person better suited to the start up environment and transforming ideas into action. I don’t think you’ll ever see me running a huge corporation with thousands of people.
I’ve always enjoyed my own companies, my own start ups and I also enjoyed very much the TechCity UK work because it was a bold idea in need of a strategy and a plan on how to get there. And then after helping designing the strategy I was invited to get things going and start it as the found CEO, which was also great thing to ask me to do.
In all of these endeavors, it’s always a work of bringing a lot of people, entrepreneurs, institutions, corporations, investors together. And you have to really believe in what you’re doing so that you can advocate for it. I believe it takes almost a “graceful stubbornness” or a “polite unreasonableness” to be able to really create something new. Something that inspires me is that I remember a story about a young person being asked once what they thought an entrepreneur was, and the answer was “simple – it’s someone who has an idea and does something about it!”.
More and more I believe in collaboration and network effect for real disruption rather that a
“centralization” as it was in the past with the Silicon Valley, for example. How do you see Kickstart Accelerator enabling this collaboration between corporations and start ups?
In ﬁnancial services there are mainly two types of start ups. The ones that work from the existing scenario and help to improve it – they have a solution to a problem, bring efﬁciency, transparency, control or anything that improves the current scenario. And then there are the disruptors. The ones that really make it all different. I believe it is our duty is to create the environment that is the most supportive to embrace both the disruptors as well as the improvers, without being overly protective of the established corporations, but also deeply involving them in the process.
It’s about balance, and Kickstart enables that because it gives us the ability to work with both the corporates and the innovators. We are a bit like the level playing ﬁeld between them, we curate those connections so that it is equally rewarding and safe to the innovator and that the corporates can bring their scale and execution power, and innovate by engaging fairly and collaboratively. It’s a privilege and wonderful to be part of helping the players behave in an honorable way that helps develop their industry and provide better services for their customers.
We are less than two weeks away from the launch of the program. Can you tell us a bit about what is going on behind the scenes, how are you feeling?
I am very excited. Have you seen the pictures of the accelerator space in Selnau? Its amazing! Such an incredible location, we’re so lucky to have it. We’ve been working hard with the start ups to make sure we design a curriculum so they all have an individual development plan. On the demo day it has to be proven that they have everything necessary to win a POC with one or more of our partners. And we have the ﬁnal date so we work backwards to create the curriculum and plan of what has to happen by then.
The Kickstart team is working with the world’s leading experts. We have been reaching out to literally everyone that we’ve met that is relevant, that can help the start up on that path to win the POC or even go straight to winning contracts or funding.
And the team is doing such an incredible job. I have to say it’s one of the best accelerator curriculum I’ve ever been part of.
We are excited too and looking forward to the launch! Stay tuned.