Doing is the best way of thinking

24 February 2023
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They know each other: Sabine Biesheuvel, one of the founders and director of BlueCity, and Jouke Goslinga, program manager of RDM Rotterdam (part of Rotterdam Makers District). Both are passionate advocates of the manufacturing industry. If we want to achieve circular economy, we need many more creators. More crafts, less consultants. They are firmly convinced of that.

Sabine Biesheuvel and Jouke Goslinga at the old Tropicana

Seven years ago, there was mostly talk about circular economy, but little happened. 'That's why we started BlueCity, a primal Rotterdam initiative,' Sabine explains. 'At the time, many idealists were mainly concerned with circular economy. However well-intentioned, we thought it was time to take the circular economy from light to large by setting up serious businesses.' With the help of an impact investor, the 12,000-square-meter former Tropicana swimming paradise was purchased, which then served as an experiment in circular construction. Additionally, BlueCity started renting out indoor spaces to circular entrepreneurs, 50 of whom have now found a place in the building. 'We are helping these entrepreneurs with their business and its scaling up.  What characterizes us is a very positive and constructive attitude towards what is possible. And when you start, it's not perfect yet, but at least you've started.’

The Rotterdam Makers District

The Rotterdam Makers District is the hotspot for the new generation of creators focused on making the city and port more sustainable. 'This is where the municipality and Port Authority are working together to develop a new environment devoted to innovation,' Jouke explains. 'In addition to the physical development, the network of entrepreneurs and cooperation with the education sector are particularly important. The district is developing on both sides of the Meuse River and has energy transition and digitalization as key innovation themes. At RDM, a strong maritime and offshore cluster has emerged over the past decade; in M4H, the focus is on mobility and circularity. M4H offers opportunities as an experimental and growth location for these very areas. The area is changing from an old port and industrial area into an innovation environment with living, learning and working, with places for experimenting and socialising.  Precisely this combination is distinctive and makes it an excellent environment to work together on techniques and technologies for a sustainable city and port. With collectivity as the basis for circularity.’


What binds BlueCity and the Rotterdam Makers District is the manufacturing industry. What I like about BlueCity is that you just started doing it,' says Jouke. 'The other day a visitor said that doing is the best way of thinking. If we're not careful, we'll over-analyze everything and lose that "talk less, do more" image. And we can talk quite well in the city by now, but we find it hard to take action. That's why it's so great that there are initiatives like BlueCity. Together we are a breeding ground for innovative talent, experimenting in abundance with circular products, materials and business models. Our goal as RDM is not just to give startups a hug, but to offer opportunities to the most interesting and relevant ones. With us, most startups that contribute to a smart and clean port are one step ahead.’

Blue City in het oude Tropicana
Foto: Daniel Verkijk

More money for creators

Much needed, because the manufacturing industry seems to have almost disappeared from the Dutch landscape. 'If we really want to go for the circular economy, we cannot do without creators, without crafts,' Sabine argues. 'You can't eat from a services sector alone. We really need more makers who work concretely with raw materials and bring sustainable, repairable or recyclable alternatives to the market. We need more people growing or making tangible products that we also pay for according to value. We have started paying people who have no calluses on their hands but can only press enter far too much. Someone who can craft a fantastic table earns 45 euros an hour at best. While a consultant who writes a report that ultimately only delays important transitions gets at least 110 euros an hour. When you know how hard it is to make or grow something, you revalue what you have and treat things differently. Moreover, if you start paying them more, you make the manufacturing industry an actual alternative for young people.’

Concrete assignments

A few years ago, according to Jouke, "being a startup entrepreneur" seemed like a hype way of life and there were more companies to mentor startups than there were startups. ‘Fortunately, that is receding somewhat. For a startup, the most important thing is a concrete order from, say, the Port Authority to make and deliver something. There have to be realistic business cases. Like BlueCity, RDM has an information and inspiration role to all kinds of parties. We try to work with parties who want to join us, the pioneers, in an inspiring way to see what is possible. RDM works together with the Port Authority, the local council and educational institutions such as Techniek College Rotterdam and Hogeschool Rotterdam. No innovation without young talent and hands! At RDM, you can collaborate with students as a startup and/or SME by applying for an education project.’ Sabine: ‘We are also trying to get SMEs on board in the current transition, as in the New Nassen program in which the City of Rotterdam is also participating. In this way we offer economic opportunities to catering entrepreneurs by putting healthy and sustainable dishes on the menu and promoting them.’


Even if the power of innovation is mainly in circular startups, they are not going to get the big power transition off the ground on their own. Large corporates like Shell and Vopak are really working on innovation in their own way and they will make huge progress,' Jouke believes. But in between startups and corporates are the SMEs, and especially in our region they are perhaps the most powerful parties. There are many family businesses among them, which often have a different horizon and sense of responsibility and where there is a lot of momentum. A very important group to work with innovation.’

Source: Rotterdam. Make It Happen.