Carst Vaartjes, AI Thought Leader of visualfabriq and Rockstart Mentor
Carst Vaartjes, Chief Product Strategy and Co-founder of visualfabriq has joined RockStart’s AI Accelerator as a mentor for the latest cohort of start-ups. Ten AI start-ups were brought into RockStart’s ecosystem in November last year for six months of intensive and inspirational development of their emerging, potentially world-changing business ideas.
RockStart, which was founded in Amsterdam in 2011, is one of Europe’s first multi-vertical start-up accelerators working to provide access to market, capital, knowledge and community. Over the years, RockStart has become a specialist in building whole ecosystems and is applying this now to Europe’s first AI accelerator program.
All mentors, startups and relevant RockStart staff meet up regularly for half-day sessions of intense conversation and collaboration in ‘s Hertogenbosch. “These sessions are all about sharing experiences and giving, as well as receiving advice,” Carst says. “Every mentor has the opportunity to talk to every company. In addition, you’re coupled up with one or two companies that you find interesting, and that find you interesting. During the whole six-month programme, you are continuously in contact with them.”
So, is it all about AI?
“We discuss a broad range of business issues,” Carst explains. “We might deep dive into AI from time to time, but mostly we talk about how to bring their solutions to the market. For example, why should billion-dollar companies, who haven’t found any solution yet to their problems, believe that a company with only five people could solve it? As a mentor, I try to help them on these business levels. How can they make sure that people are not scared by their solution, but acknowledge it as a supporting solution that will help them now and in the future? How can they convince people that the solution will be non-intrusive to their way of working, and will help them instead? How can they demonstrate that their solution is reliable, consistent and predictive? And most of all, how can they convince a management team that their solution can solve very specific problems in a much better way than people can?
What visualfabriq AI experience can you draw on as a mentor?
“In our company, we are quite far in our development from start-up to scale up. I can share our experience of how it was for us in the first few years, and what happened when we told people about our solution. They can learn from our experiences, and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I am a mentor for a company that does something completely different to what visualfabriq does. It’s another industry and a very different type of solution, but it is also based on applying AI. Now, to deliver on bringing AI into a client’s core business processes, delivering reliability, consistency and improved predictions are challenges that we encountered in the past, and they are encountering this now. So, I advise and help them as to how they can explain this to potential clients, and how they can sell their solution without making people nervous. Young, start-ups need to understand that at management level, people don’t want to know how to work with a specific tool. They want to know how their company will benefit from your solution. So you need to talk to them about the business case and the benefits they’ll have, rather than trying to get them to understand the details of the technologies. That’s one of the things I emphasise with the company I am mentoring.”
Are you finding benefits to you in this volunteerism?
“Oh yes. First of all it’s fun and very nice to do. You meet people with the same passion and the same drive to make a difference. The best thing is, is that you are being triggered as well. It is inspiring for you as a mentor too. All companies have one theme in common: applying AI into their solution. However, the companies are from a broad range of different industries. For example, from predicting parking space availability for consumers, to cleaning robots in supermarkets, to network improvements for telecom providers. I am enjoying getting insights into different companies that work within the same AI theme but in completely different sectors. What’s interesting is that they have similar business challenges as we have had in that phase of our company, issues that are currently universal to AI, it seems. So, being a RockStart mentor broadens my horizons as well, and I would definitely like to stay connected to my mentees after the conclusion of the programme.”