Meet the first startup of Rijkswaterstaat

Catching up with the World of Flood Defences

Last March six teams from Rijkswaterstaat (RWS) — the Dutch government agency responsible for roads and waterways — took part in the Fast Lane Innovation Bootcamp. The two-day event organized by Professional Rebel saw groups test their ideas, pitch them in front of an audience and learn from startup mentors. We spoke to participant Joost van der Hammen about setting up “the first startup of RWS” with three of his colleagues.

Members of Startup ‘World of Flood Defences’ Defne Osmanoglou, Joost van der Hammen and Iris van de Kerk on the first day of the Bootcamp. Team member Vera Konings joined on the second day.

Can you tell me a bit about your idea?

“Our initial idea during the Bootcamp was to map the risk of flooding worldwide. On the first day one of the startup coaches asked us two or three very sharp questions that got to the heart of what we wanted to do: to include flood defences [such as dykes and dams] in current risk models, which are still missing.’

Storm surge barrier (flood defence) Maeslantkering. Picture courtesy of Rijkswaterstaat.

“That’s something we know a lot about and that’s why we ended up changing our name and focus from ‘Global Flood Risk’ to ‘World of Flood Defences’.”

What have you guys done since the Bootcamp?

“We got in touch with a company called GeoPhy to create a proof of concept. Using elevation data we created a dashboard to determine where flood defences are.’

“Then in July we organized a conference at the LEF future center of RWS with institutes and companies in the industry. We asked all the participants to indicate on a scale of 1 and 5 how much they’d like to participate in the future and everyone gave at least a 4. We’re now looking to continue with this group and are considering setting up a Fastlane XL or Hackathon XL.”

How did the Bootcamp help you?

“It was super helpful to have two whole days devoted to just this topic, without interruptions. The key moment for us was of course that discussion with the startup mentor. It was also super inspiring to work with startups in such an environment. That’s partially the reason we present ourselves as the first startup of Rijkswaterstaat.”

Why else do you call yourselves a startup?

“Because it’s a bit cheeky and it definitely grabs the attention. We’re different from a project for two reasons. We don’t answer to any manager or director, although we do work with sponsors within RWS. The second is that we’re not a part of the primary processes of the organization, but we do believe that what we are developing will have advantages for it.”

Is this a part of your work or something separate?

“For sure I haven’t been doing any less of my other work as Water Safety Advisor. We do a lot of things in our free time and we have some breathing room during normal working hours.”

Joost pitching at the end of the Fastlane Innovation Bootcamp

How do you guys continue to make your startup bigger and better?

“At first that just happened. We’d get calls from a professor or director asking about what we were doing. It actually went a bit faster than we were comfortable with, which I’ve been told is also a part of entrepreneurship.’

“What really helps now is that we have an 11 step plan with clear goals based on our mission — insight into the risk of flooding, everywhere, every time and for everyone worldwide. So we try to focus on the short term and not any further.”

Any other tips?

“You just have to do it. That’s also our motto. During a meeting we sometimes ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing something or are we talking too much again?’

“It also really helps to have a mission. When you read it you think, ‘Wow, we’re really doing that.’ So remember what you’re doing it for and do it.”

If you’d like to know more or get involved with World of Flood Defences, get in touch with Joost: joost.vander.hammen@rws.nl


Roald Tjon is our chief reporter and speaks to professional rebels and shares their stories.

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