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Why a better future starts with letting go

True innovation starts with letting go. Letting go of how we think: shifting from a focus on capitalism to one on social relevance, from centralization to decentralization. And most of all, from preservation to experimentation. This is the theory of self-proclaimed troublemaker Vince Meens, whose responsibility it is to boost blockchain entrepreneurship at Techruption.

He doesn’t believe in “corporate innovation”, but in creation above preservation. Anyone asking how he got interested in blockchain technology will hear that he is “a bit of an anti-capitalist”, among other things. Now 31, Vince Meens was making websites for local discotheques 16 years ago. He had already discovered the joy of programming and coding as a 13-year-old. The fact that he could earn money at a young age did have an adverse effect on his motivation to work hard in school. Waiting to pay for his coffee at the register, Meens laughingly admits he has some degree of difficulty with authority, further proven by the fact that he belongs to the category of early school-leavers in the Netherlands. Self-taught, he embraced entrepreneurship, which came with a lot of trial and error. As his LinkedIn profile reads, “Experienced both successful exits as well as a bankruptcy.” Meens is fully aware that these anti-capitalist ideas may seem to contradict the contents of his résumé. “Technological developments are what drive me, not cash.”

Innovation startup blockchain entrepeneur

“Preservation is unnatural. Creation ultimately always wins.”

Global blockchain race

As the person responsible for blockchain entrepreneurship development at Techruption, Meens focuses on attracting and supervising startups. He also brainstorms about how to maximize the capitalization of this area on a global level, in the middle of the technological blockchain race that is currently going on all over the world. This requires patience on the one hand, since you just can’t “conquer the world right off the bat” and on the other hand, “a culture must be created” within which the path has been cleared for experimentation. Meens doesn’t worry too much about matters such as the privacy-related consequences of the PSD2 guidelines (“I think that these types of questions are simply overtaken by blockchain”) or the potential risks of blockchain applications such as the lack of control at the time data is input. He believes in a “casino-like structure: the longer and more frequently you speak the truth, the better your reputation becomes.” Besides, timing plays a crucial role. “With the current systems, we manage on an after-the-fact basis, whereas this must be done live in the blockchain. This limits the time someone is able to defraud.”

Volume strength

Achieving sufficient volume strength is high on his mental agenda. According to the National Blockchain Coalition agenda for action,  Brightlands offers input from the Techruption field lab for the continued development of policy and regulations, among other things. Whereas the goal of the coalition is “to create conditions for reliable and socially acceptable blockchain applications,” you could counterbalance this with the concept that developments usually don’t wait for anyone’s agenda, particularly disruptive innovations. What is the situation with the international competition; after all, fighting it appears to be a major challenge, to put it mildly. “We have the right people,” Meens says, “and we are perhaps the best place in Europe in this field. The challenge is to keep an eye on the small-scale aspect of Limburg or the Euregion.” In other words, they’ve gotten off to a good start, and now it’s a matter of staying the course through promotion, rapid scaling-up of programs and investment. He points to the large number of incubators and accelerators in the United States as an example. “There are many more there than there are here.” Elaborating on this, he reasons that “cherry-picking in advance” is not the most optimal way for the Netherlands if you want to be a frontrunner. For this reason, he advocates a more flexible approach. This means the following: allowing experiments that fall outside of the regulatory scope (for now), creating a culture “in which a hundred things may be allowed to die an early death, the legacy of which is a person who comes up with something of great social value.” Gesturing, he says, “So just let someone go all out, live, even if people’s toes get stepped on in the process.” The new world simply moves “incredibly fast and doesn’t fit the mold of policy and discussion groups”. A software startup has to be aggressive, Meens says. If you can’t be up and running within three months, you won’t have much credibility. An attitude (and approach) dependent on subsidy schemes will have a restrictive effect. “Startups that want to qualify for regional financing must be based here. This can prove to be an obstacle. I think we would be lucky to have a company from the U.S. wanting to set something up here for a few months. More flexibility is necessary.” He then corrects himself. “Maybe I’m too gung-ho about it all.” After all, he is proud of the fact that choices are at least being made, choices that have led to Techruption. Choices like the one “APG is making; huge investments in innovation and wanting a front-row seat.” In an assertive tone, he adds, “Dare to choose, this is where it starts.” Meens hopes there will be a substantial scaling-up at the Heerlen campus (“as much as 40 or 50 times all of this”), preferably in the coming year. He sees opportunities to turn Techruption into a virtual brand, with partnerships in China and elsewhere in the world. It would make Meens very happy to see Techruption take on a “pirate’s-nest-like role”.   “One with a campus that’s open 24 hours a day. Where I can walk in and never want to leave because I see 200 inspiring strangers working on a better future.”

Preservation vs. creation

An oft-held discussion involves the question whether or not an active government fuels the entrepreneurial spirit or if extra caution should be taken to avoid too much interference from above. Meens is a proponent of government that creates “accurate boundary conditions” yet “shouldn’t interfere” with the how and where in the allocation of resources. He suggests issuing a “brightcoin” in order to help finance blockchain and other startups. At present, there isn’t much of a chance this idea will meet with much approval from those around him he explains, saying that people feel it is too risky. “The Province of Limburg is in a strong financial position. Let’s make all Limburgers brightcoin shareholders. This would mean shared responsibility and achieving economies of scale through crowdfunding from the community.” Apart from decentralization, Meens also argues for more local initiative; he believes in a future full of cooperatives. Community interests before individual interests, as the counterpart of capitalism. The “burning question” that remains is how people want and will be able to cope with this type of transition from an old to a new world. Meens is however convinced that great changes await us. “Preservation is unnatural. Creation ultimately always wins.”

About Vince Meens

Vince Meens likes to think big. Anyone speaking to and reading the résumé of this native of Kerkrade will undoubtedly arrive at the same conclusion. He also has a sense of humor. Under “Education” on his LinkedIn profile, he has filled in “Master’s degree, Troublemaking”, received from the “School of Hard Knocks”. Other positions gracing his profile include CTO and CEO. Although “blockchain is not a golden tool for everything”, Meens is a firm believer in the technology’s importance. During a podcast by Rhys Lindmark on “creating a humanist blockchain future”, Meens said that people still get away with things relatively easily. “Blockchain will help us realize that ‘the quick win for ourselves is not the good win for all of us’”. In addition to Techruption, he is also hard at work on the “Pod”, a driverless electric car. Vince Meens was born on July 15, 1986, is engaged to be married and lives in Maastricht.

Author: Gwen Teo. Translation: Allison Klein