Meet Guus Frericks, co-founder and managing director of Startupbootcamp HighTechXL (http://www.HighTechXL.com). Guus has also held titles such as vice president and general manager at NXP Semiconductors (formerly Philips Semiconductors), and president and CEO at Moversa GmbH. He’s a well-traveled global citizen of Eindhoven, having lived for longer periods of time in France and Austria, and spending time in China, Japan, and the United States.
I’m meeting him at Startupbootcamp HighTechXL’s office on the High Tech Campus. It’s an open office space, and at 9:15AM, I can look over the room and see plenty of young people already hard at work on their laptops. We sit down on the long-legged stools at table in the modular break room.
He’s a busy man – people in the office seem almost to be fighting each other for a moment of his time, but despite his hectic schedule, he remains calm and focused during our interview. He immediately asks me where I’m from, and we learn that we have both lived in France. We jokingly speak a few words in French and then carry on with our conversation.
Guus was born in Eindhoven to parents who were both involved in the technology industry. His mother worked for Philips Research, in the days before the area was turned into the High Tech Campus. The research she was conducting was strictly confidential. Guus distinctly remembers her leaning over and whispering to his father at the dinner table (which only made him more intent on hearing what was said) about their research plans to make televisions thin and flat. He remembers looking over at the clunky TV that they owned and thinking that such a change would be impossible!
Eindhoven has undergone some drastic changes over the last few decades. I ask Guus to share some of his impressions of Eindhoven from before and after moving back from living abroad. “It’s completely different,” he says. He left Eindhoven when he was 18 to study business administration at Radbound University in Nijmegen.
“As an 18 year old, I was excited to leave ‘boring Eindhoven’ and discover the world.”
Now, however, his opinion about Eindhoven has changed. As an example of the city’s improvement, he points to the fact that Dutch design has now gained international recognition at events like Milan’s Salone del Mobile (Milan Furniture Fair).
Just as Peter Kentie mentioned in his interview last week with Expat Spouses Initiative, Guus also refers to Eindhoven’s remarkable transformation after its economic downturn in the 1990s. Philips and DAF Trucks, the city’s two main employers at the time, were going through a rough period. “I had a friend who worked as a mail deliverer,” he recalls. “He said that he sometimes had to deliver several termination letters to a single address in one day.”
Eindhoven has also changed in terms of its makeup. “The international population has exploded,” Guus says. “There just aren’t enough engineers graduating from Dutch universities to fill the needs of companies like ASML and NXP.” Guus believes that the increase in number of internationals is a positive thing. He likes it when people from different cultures and backgrounds get together and exchange ideas; he believes that it breeds creativity and innovation.
Guus refers to himself as “a champion of high-tech startups”. He loves helping to build up companies from scratch.
Startupbootcamp HighTechXL is in its 3 year of operation as Europe’s business accelerator for high-tech hardware startups. The process works like this: Makers with a prototype in one of eight technical areasapply to become a part of the accelerator program, and if selected, they are connected with relevant mentors, investors and partners from around the world through an intensive three-month program. The program concludes with an investor “Demo Day” where the companies can show off the progress that’s been made. The accelerator program on the High Tech Campus is one of 11 such programs in cities all over the world as part of the larger Startupbootcamp organization. Three of these programs are in the Netherlands.
Startupbootcamp HighTechXL’s success has been made possible in part by the rapid changes that have taken place in Eindhoven over the last few years. Guus says that he never would have been able to start the accelerator program in Eindhoven 15 years ago, but he also understands that this is partly due to the recent advances in technology all over the world. He uses the enormous progress of companies in Silicon Valley as an example. “Apple was nothing 10 years ago when they started with their iPods. Now we have touch-screens everywhere.” I glance across the room at the sleek-looking coffee machine. It’s broadcasting the local news and weather forecast at eye level above the touch-screen-activated coffee and tea options. It’s hard to believe that barely 10 years ago such a thing was almost unthinkable.
I ask Guus what his favorite thing is about working with startup companies. He responds resolutely: “The people.”
He enjoys working with people, and watching them grow and push themselves to achieve things that they didn’t know they were capable of. He admits that sometimes the going can get tough though. “Sometimes people are crying on the floor in the office,” he confesses. “But they are really rewarded in the end.”
Guus has lived as an expat in France for five years, in Austria for three years, and has spent time in China, Japan, and the United States on business trips.
Since we’ve both lived and worked in France, we talk for a bit about the difference in workplace culture between France, the Netherlands, and the United States. When Guus was working in France, he was struck by his French employees’ flabbergasted reaction when he asked for their opinion on things. He got the feeling that they were asking him, “Well, you’re the boss – aren’t you supposed to know?” Instead of speaking their mind to him, they would voice their opinions (and complaints) to each other around the coffee machine. Guus is used to a more flat hierarchy in the Netherlands, where equality is believed to foster productivity in decision making.
He suggests that living abroad is the most difficult for the expat spouses or partners. He admits that here in Eindhoven, it’s especially problematic if the partner does not have a technical background, since the area’s focus is geared towards the technology sector. He concedes that “The chances that both partners are going to have a background in engineering are pretty slim.” The frustration felt by his wife with regards to her career was one of the factors that helped lead the couple to finally decide to return to the Netherlands.
I ask Guus if he would be able to offer a piece of advice to an expat spouse trying to combat these obstacles in the development of his or her career.
“Just one?” he laughs. “OK. Plug into the network. Go out and meet people.”
He reminds us that Eindhoven is relatively small and that “everybody knows what everybody else is doing”, and that this can work in our favor. We need to talk to people, make connections, and as global citizens of Eindhoven, to actively engage in the conversation about the development of our city.
Want to hear more? Come to the Global City Eindhoven event on October 2nd to learn more about these and other topics and to participate in active panel discussions with Guus and other prominent global citizens of Eindhoven. For more information and to register for this free event, visit http://globalcityeindhoven.com/.
Bottom-up enterprises such as Expat Spouses Initiative (http://expatspousesinitiative.org/) aim to achieve a more global future for Eindhoven by encouraging expats who follow their partners to the Netherlands to integrate more with the local community and to contribute to the growth of the local economy.
About the author: Kathryn van Zwol is an American-born, English-, French-, and Dutch-speaking global citizen of Eindhoven. She recently graduated with a master of science in social psychology (work and organizational psychology), and has professional experience in HR and Marketing. She is a volunteer for Expat Spouses Initiative and strongly identifies with the ideas and values at the core of the organization. She loves writing and has enjoyed being able to tell the story of the Global City Eindhoven event panelists.