In our Trailblazers series, we bring you individual perspectives on creative leadership, social innovation, and positive change from THNK’s worldwide alumni community. Marcus Breekweg, a former executive with Vodafone, burnt out in late 2011: ‘I couldn’t generate any more forward energy,’ he says. It took half a year to get himself back to work, but something in him had changed.
Burning out to burn brighter
Marcus Breekweg makes new connections with Undagrid
I left my corporate life at Vodafone in need of a new challenge — I didn’t want to sell products or services just for profit anymore. I wanted to put my skill and energy towards something that would create positive social impact. As I was mulling over what to do, I was invited to participate in a THNK Forum about smart cities. This is where I realized that design thinking was a way to find what I really wanted to do, to pursue a passion — and to grow. It was exactly what I needed at just the right moment.
In my work, I had only ever used my rational and analytical brain. I needed to bring the human element back. I felt ready for something radically different. Together with three co-founders, I started my own company: Undagrid.
At any moment, people are dependent on service providers for a connection to the internet and each other. Even sending a quick text message to your next-door neighbor depends on the service providers. It’s all subscription-based, and it keeps us very reliant. Undagrid gives people and businesses a very simple and easy way to connect any device in a network, and then extend that network themselves. It is already used at international airports to manage the large fleet of ground support equipment, but it can also be used in areas that need disaster recovery. For instance, in the case of a flood or earthquake, you can easily get connectivity without having to first rebuild a mobile network. Every device you add expands the network — as the network grows, so too does our ability to help each other.
“A network like this invites people to be more entrepreneurial. It ignites new ideas and solutions that help people to build their own lives ”
It is great to see Undagrid technology being used at airports and in smart cities, but I’d love to also see it being used in remote areas where people can expand their communications and improve their daily work with almost no cost or IT knowledge. There are so many different applications that could facilitate good ideas and a better life, with an easy and shareable network — you could help bring goods into developing areas, organize disaster recovery, improve the standard of living in refugee camps, or establish more stable economies. It’s not just about food and shelter. A network like this invites people to be more entrepreneurial. It ignites new ideas and solutions that help people to build their own lives. Without so much lively discussion at THNK, the extent of all that possibility wouldn’t have crossed my mind.
Working from a place of passion and purpose can be scary at first. When you’re building your own company, you don’t have the comfort of a guaranteed income. You need to be intimately comfortable with uncertainty. I’d never consider going back, though. I have so much more freedom and so much more satisfaction every day.
“If you don’t share, you don’t grow. Not only personally, but as a business.”
As human beings, we don’t generally share ideas very well. There’s also a tension in the Western world that is the backbone of capitalism — this urge to keep ideas to yourself to protect your advantage. But if you don’t share, you don’t grow. Not only personally, but as a business. Opportunities float to the surface when you’re open. The real advantage is not in being the first, but in being the force that spreads innovation to the market. I am working within a framework that is connected to possibility, all the time.
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Marcus’ venture, Undagrid, won the European award for Best Idea in the area of Internet of Things by EITICT, as well as Startup of the Year 2014 for the Netherlands. It is recognised as one of the top 25 most promising companies in the Netherlands by Dutch Business Magazine, and is one of 15 companies mentioned as Amsterdam’s Pride on the city’s website to promote Amsterdam as the Startup Capital of Europe’s West Coast. Get in touch with Marcus to learn more about Undagrid services.