Ferdinand Grapperhaus (pictured left) is the CEO of PHYSEE. Together with his co-founder Willem Kesteloo he runs one of the successful scale-ups on the TU Delft Campus. The company develops technology to help buildings make optimal use of natural energy while prioritising comfort for users. It currently employees 50 people. We were curious to find out how Grapperhaus experienced this growth, how entrepreneurship has changed him and what motivates him. “Every project we deliver is a milestone for me.”

Grapperhaus the entrepreneur vs. Grapperhaus the student

“I studied applied physics because of the challenge. It had a reputation for being the most difficult degree programme, and it really was tough. But a bit of intelligence and my analytical skills helped me through. When I later went into business, I discovered that intelligence alone isn’t enough. You need more than just intelligence to build a company. Working really hard is just as important, and that’s become a much bigger part of my ethos than when I was a student.”

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Entrepreneurship is a way of life

“It is the comprehensive nature of entrepreneurship that appeals to me so much. You have to make sure that the technology is right, that the planning is tight and in line with both hardware development and attracting investors. You have to bring in customers, but also have an eye for the development and growth of the team: each phase requires a different organisational structure. Being an entrepreneur is about doing everything at once, and that’s what makes it so much fun. It never ends and I don’t really believe in a work-life balance. It’s about a balance in life, and building a company is part of that.”

“Being an entrepreneur is about doing everything at once”

Ferdinand Grapperhaus

CEO

Inspiration is just around the corner

“I look for inspiration from people in my immediate surroundings rather than from American role models such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, for example. For instance, I’m friends with a fellow entrepreneur on the campus, Sander Schutte from Mapiq. They’re still at YES!Delft. We work out or grab a sandwich together every week. The way he is developing his company – they’re a phase ahead of us – continues to inspire me. It can sometimes be quite lonely as an entrepreneur: everyone has an opinion, you’re always either doing something right or something wrong, but things are not always so black and white. That’s why you have to learn to trust yourself, and if you have the opportunity to chat to someone who is in a similar position – sometimes I help him out – that can be very inspiring.

Proud of every project

“I go and have a look at every project we deliver. The other day, I was at one of those huge 30-storey residential buildings where all the windows generate energy, and were supplied by us. I looked up at that giant building, finally complete and up and running, and it felt like a real milestone. Then I think, ‘Yes, we did it again!’ There’s a huge chain behind projects like that: the glass manufacturer, the façade builder, the contractor, the architect. In every project, you have to get all of these parties on board to actually get our innovative windows and control system into the building. That’s chain innovation, and we don’t shy away from it – this is one of the things I’m really proud of.”

From start-up to scale-up

“Transitioning from a start-up mentality with a team of enthusiastic people to a scale-up routine is a difficult. You can no longer just take on everything and give it your all. When you reach the 50-employee mark, you also need different business processes: operational excellence is key, and costs play an increasingly important role in delivering a competitive product. This also has a huge impact on our team. The biggest task is then to get a whole group of young people on board for this transition: from being enthusiastic about everything, to being a professional organisation where we take pride in the service and quality of the innovations we deliver.”

SEE ALSO: Investment of 4 million euros for technology innovator PHYSEE

The most important piece of advice: feedback is invaluable

“I’ve received a lot of good advice in recent years, but if I had to say which was the most important, it would be to make the most of the feedback you get. Never question whether the feedback you receive is correct, but reflect on which aspects of that feedback are correct. Because if someone has shared their perspective, there will always be some truth in it. Especially when it comes from people who have your best interests at heart – both professionally and personally. If you want to grow, you have to embrace feedback. I have followed that advice often; as someone starting a company while still a student, I have certainly benefited from it.”

Active within the ecosystem

“We have everything in Delft – an office on the campus, a lab and production facilities nearby, and there are plenty of opportunities for the talent being trained here. We collaborate closely with TU Delft in various fields: solar cells, coatings, façades, and even machine learning and AI. But besides simply ‘taking’ from the ecosystem, I also think it’s important and fun to give back to the community. For the past three years, for example, we have organised a summer school for children aged 10 to 12, to introduce them to green technology and innovation. We also work a lot with local catering businesses to provide our lunch, for example. I really value those kinds of personal relationships and collaborations.”

Make the building work for you

“Everyone wants a smart building, but no one really knows what you can do with it. We show them what’s possible. Buildings that have access to data and algorithms can make much better decisions about light intensity, temperature and air quality – and thus also increase well-being. We want to set two global standards, one for hardware and one for software. In ten years’ time, every window will need to generate power and data. We will use software to set the standard and show that comfort and sustainability really can go hand in hand!”

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