Mentor Interview with Erik Zijdemans

We launched our Global Mentorship Programme on the 3rd of August; the Mentorship Programme is a virtual acceleration that helps early-stage oncology startups to achieve their goals and become accessible to patients as soon as possible. The mentors are at the core of the programme and without them, we couldn’t have put together such a compelling set of activities, workshops, and events.

This week the teams participated in an interactive workshop on market conditions with the guidance of Erik Zijdemans. Erik is a serial entrepreneur himself and the COO of Publicize, a digital public relations agency. He did not only gave a well-structured overview of Porter’s 5 Forces and the PESTLE model but he challenged the teams along the way to come up with their own ideas and put the models into practice.

Blog post_Erik

Please tell us three things about yourself (professional and/or personal)

I am originally from the Netherlands, but have also lived and worked in Canada and Denmark and currently Colombia, always in the startup scene. I am passionate about entrepreneurship and strategic business model development, and I think data is the key to success.

Tell us about your current role

In my role as COO at Publicize, I am faced with the great challenge to match the inherently qualitative world of communications with the quantitative side of business operations. We have a fantastic team that create growth communications for our clients because we have developed an understanding of the ROI of PR and digital communications.

When and why did you start to work with start-ups?

I have always had an entrepreneurial side and I started my first business in my early twenties, repairing and reselling bikes. Since then, many other projects and businesses followed, many failures, and some successes. Eventually I ended up running an Accelerator Programme at a university in Denmark, where I actively supported the strategic business model development in dozens of startups.

Most mentors work on a pro bono basis in the start-up sphere, so it’s mainly the start-ups that are benefiting from the programme. How is it from a mentor’s point of view? Is mentoring a rewarding experience?

Everyone starts at the beginning, and we have all been there, I believe in passing it forward. I have been fortunate to receive some great mentorships and support, so it’s great to be a mentor now and help out others. Also, during my time in education, I have learnt that teaching is the best way to continue learning. So even though I am the mentor, I get to develop myself as well.

Why do you think supporting life science innovators is important? What is your motivation in turning towards oncology and supporting start-ups in the oncology sphere?

Life Sciences, and Oncology in particular is a key area where we can leverage innovations to safe life. However, in order to succeed in Oncology you need to specialize. Specialize in Oncology, and not in entrepreneurship. I think it is great to be able to contribute my own specialism to further enable the success of the startups in the cLab Ventures Programme.

Part of being an entrepreneur is about learning to fail. How did you learn to embrace failure?

I think doing it together with a fun team is important. I had a great partner once who was a master at failing forward. We started a bunch of projects and lots of failures and he was always able to keep it fun. Another tip here is to keep it fast and simple in the start. This way, you will be able to iterate fast on your idea and test and validate every step of the way.

What’s the most important and valuable lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur that all start-ups should know?

Find the most minimal version of your idea and test it with real customers. Without customer feedback, you are operating in the dark.

You have long-standing, substantial experience in entrepreneurship and business model development, what do you think is the biggest challenge for early-stage start-ups at the moment and how do you see their future in business the arena?

I am excited about the future for early stage startups, because the infrastructure of startup ecosystems is well-developed. This means you can directly gain access to many accelerators and incubators, access available funding, and rapidly grow your network.
With those exciting opportunities come the challenges. The availability and accessibility makes the barrier for new entry much lower. This means that competition is huge.
Another important challenge is the balancing act between openness and protection. Being open with ideas, services, and products allows you to get a lot of input which drives fast, high quality development while at the same time it opens you up for risks of copy-cats. It is critical to know local laws and legislation around patents and protection.

Off the top of your head, what’s the one book every entrepreneur should read?

The Design Sprint – Jake Knapp (
The Power of Moments – Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

cLAB Ventures - September 4, 2020