I was never what you would call a “main-stream” kid. After high school, when most of my friends enrolled directly into university, I decided to become a fisherman on a Greek island for a year. The goal was to spend some time away from my family, and quite honestly, figure out what to do with my life.
That year, while my friends were studying, I was sailing a little boat, trying to plan my future. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to become an entrepreneur. I wanted to develop innovative products that would make the world a better place. Like all entrepreneurs, I wanted to make a difference in my community.
I got the idea when I was interacting with the dolphins that routinely swam by my boat. These gentle creatures of the sea were beautiful to look at, but they were also pesky— they would steal fish from my nets and rip the netting to shreds. They caused me a lot of trouble over time; however, the experience would define my calling as an entrepreneur.
That was more than 20 years ago. Today I head one of the most prominent innovation companies in The Netherlands. And though it’s been two decades since I sailed that boat, I find that the dolphins are still with me. After that journey of self-reflection, I came to learn that dolphins are in constant conflict with fishermen around the world. They cause massive damage to the catch and nets, and they can be a great burden on the income of hard-working men.
On the other hand, dolphins often die as unwanted by-catch. The casualties number in the hundreds of thousands per year, and some species are bordering on extinction. It saddened me to think that these wondrous creatures would die on their natural quest for food. With this knowledge, and the thought of helping these mammals survive at all costs, I leveraged my experience as an entrepreneur and gave back to the world.
In 1997, I started SaveWave, a project aimed at developing ultrasonic devices that are placed on fishing nets. These transmitters disturb the dolphin’s sonar system, keeping dolphins at a safe distance without harming them or the environment. My team dedicated itself to creating an innovative item that would avoid damage to fishermen’s catch and their nets, all while saving the lives of innumerable dolphins. It was an amazing experience that wasn’t without its lessons learned.
I believe that to develop a sustainable innovation in today’s business world, an entrepreneur needs to make sure that the knife cuts on both edges. In our case, when going from success to significance, we aimed to offer clear benefits for the people who use our item, as well as for the environment.
I also learned it’s crucial that a product offers direct economic advantages over existing alternatives, and that you should always expect the unexpected in life. It took me two decades to help the dolphins, but the feeling of contributing to their welfare in hopes of making a difference makes it all worthwhile.