Female techie Nathalie Drost wants to reform the pension sector
Co-founder of startup NestEgg Nathalie Drost may only be 23, but she just might be the ultimate underdog in the tech world. Ever on since she discovered the opportunities that blockchain technology offers, this world has been the object of her focus; she wants to use her expertise to reform the pension sector. Drost also advocates more diversity, in every area. Being a woman is not a badge of honor in and of itself. “I don’t need credit just because I happen to be a woman in this line of work.”
In 2017, Microsoft published the results of a study on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills conducted among 11,500 European girls and young women. This study showed that the interest in these subjects tends to be sparked at around the age of 11 in our country. Three years later, most of the Dutch girls end up abandoning this specialization.Role modelsShe makes sure to offer this quick disclaimer beforehand on the phone; she isn’t interested in a conversation that centers on what it’s like to be a woman in the tech world. This is too one-sided, particularly given all the turmoil about sexual intimidation in the sector lately. She does however want to share her ideas on the potential need for more diversity in general. Commuting between Heerlen and Amsterdam for her work in this male-dominated sector, Nathalie Drost does not feel “hindered in the slightest” as a result. As a young, blond female, she undoubtedly stands out during meetings. Looking back on her childhood, she says she was the only woman in her family who “always fixed the technical problems” at home. “I always loved trying to figure things out myself.” She thinks it might be because of her father’s genes, a man who has worked in IT. Later, she tried to get into coding, but that wasn’t her strong suit, she says with a laugh. Born in Wageningen, raised in Veenendaal, she studied in her city of birth and in Nijmegen. During a research project involving hybrid banking for her Master’s in Business Administration, Drost made a point of learning more about blockchain technology. She became so fascinated by it in fact that she threw her initial future ambitions overboard because she absolutely had to do something that involved this new technology.
Although more than half of the girls in Russia see encouraging STEM role models, only 35% of the girls in our country feel they have similar examples to look up to, according to the study. That same year, Drost participated in the Dutch Blockchain Hackathon. She was part of Team Ben2 that consisted of five members of the Blockchain Education Network. Their assignment was to work on the theme “the future of pensions”, and their project won. During a video interview after the event, Drost said that their idea “makes the system a lot less expensive for pension providers” and even joked that that’s probably why they won. Startup NestEgg was the result of the hackathon. In order to actually turn the idea into a prototype, an exploratory process has been started in cooperation with APG, one of the track sponsors of the hackathon.
Back then, it was also mostly men who were intrigued by the technology.
NestEgg has since found a home at the Techruption field lab. From this base of operations, the young entrepreneur is embarking on a mission, together with two others, that may essentially be summarized as offering future certainty to citizens. According to these pioneers, the current pension system in the Netherlands is actually not set up to accommodate the rapidly approaching service economy, which brings with it a decrease in traditional employment, and an increase in the number of independent contractors and job-hoppers. Besides, being able to anticipate a few important factors in advance is impossible for people when the time comes for them to (have to) make decisions about their pensions, according to Drost. Take future inflation or increasing retirement ages as a result of economic policy decisions, for example. Add to this the exorbitant overheads pension funds and providers are saddled with, and the question how much of these costs will actually be able to be paid later on. In other words, the pension sector is in urgent need of reform.
NestEgg aims to reduce the costs of living. The concept: through crowdfunding, participants invest amounts starting at five Euros in sustainable initiatives from wind turbines and solar panels to driverless cars. Using blockchain technology, factors such as ownership and returns are recorded in a transparent manner and monitored in real time. Anyone owning one percent of a wind turbine is entitled to one percent of the energy produced by that turbine. This will allow participants to lower their energy bill. Anyone who would rather sell can re-invest the value in several sustainable projects, thus expanding their portfolio. Some of the major challenges involve “building the technology” and navigating a legal twilight zone considering the regulation of blockchain technology is still in its infancy. And then there is the much-discussed gap between the old world and younger generations. How does a young, innovative company explain the initial ideas, while there is still the risk of a lack of knowledge on this complex subject matter? Sometimes there is, Drost confirms. This is why the strategy has been designed to first show people that something works on a small scale, and then ask them what they think about it. “This is much easier than the other way around.”
Looking at a problem through someone else’s eyes is unbelievably helpful.
Even though the commercial ambitions involving blockchain are soaring everywhere, Drost is clearly somewhat of an idealist. “The great thing about this technology is that it offers opportunities to give a little power back to the people.” According to Drost, the fact that as a rule, women are considerably less interested in these types of topics is at least partly gender-related. “It’s almost unavoidable. Take the beginning of the computer age for example. Back then, it was also mostly men who were intrigued by the technology.” She believes that every sector that is dominated by one gender is missing out on opportunities. “Women respond differently, approach and view questions and topics from a different perspective.” She sees diversity across the board as being even more important, in terms of gender, ethnicity, origin, education and experience. “This can only benefit an industry.” She can even see the added value of this in the small NestEgg team. Co-founder Dean Masley is from the United States. Drost: “The Dutch are fairly conservative. I tend to jump the gun and say that something is impossible, whereas Dean will claim that it is possible. Looking at a problem through someone else’s eyes is unbelievably helpful.” Entrepreneurship has stolen her heart, and Drost can’t imagine doing anything else later on. Her goal for NestEgg? Ideally, she would like it to be more or less self-sufficient in another five years so that she can bid it farewell, at least in part, so that she can start a new chapter in her entrepreneurial career. For now, she will continue plugging away in Heerlen. And in the nation’s capital, where she also works as a system engineer for APG, and enjoys spending time with her boyfriend.
As a young, blond woman, Nathalie Drost might just be the ultimate underdog in the male-dominated world she has chosen to become a part of. Every now and then, this idea is confirmed. “I always get strange looks when I first walk into a room. Ten minutes later, they’re asking me questions.” Drost doesn’t mind, as long as she doesn’t get pigeon-holed into being a special case. “Once during a meeting, someone remarked how nice it was that there were women present. I stood up and said something.” She shakes her head. “I don’t need credit just for being a woman in this line of work.”
About Nathalie Drost
An initial pilot using drones (“a fast and cheap way to test the technology”) showed that the technology worked, distribution would require some thinking, and drones ultimately weren’t that practical “because of how easily they can break”. During this phase, NestEgg has set its sights on solar panels to test out the product proposition, co-founder Nathalie Drost says. Questions such as “what will this accomplish” and “is it really worth it to sell it this way” need to be answered. If it were up to them, she and co-entrepreneurs Dean Masley and Isaac Ibiapina would love to cover the roof at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus building with solar panels. The question is whether or not they will get their wish. Drost does not feel that the full decentralization of their ideas is very realistic right now. “Quality has to be guaranteed, and you need validation from a third party to do this.”NestEgg: current state of affairs