Josefien Groot (27) is an entrepreneur in heart and soul; she never shies away from a challenge and is brimming with ideas for the future. Thanks to her positive attitude and can-do mentality, she and co-founder Ruben Geutjens have successfully expanded Qlayers into a team of 25 people within the space of just four years. The company serves Dutch and international customers with innovative application methods for coatings. How has Josefien handled the rise of Qlayers and what are the principles that underpin her drive? “I want to put my energy into a company in which I can make a real sustainable impact.”

Entrepreneurial family

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad had a bulb-growing company and my sisters and brother are all entrepreneurs. I don’t feel as though I was pushed into it, though. The vibe when we were growing up was more one of, ‘as long as you’re happy’. But I guess we’ve all got a bit of that entrepreneurial spirit in us. I have set up a business before: YogaChicks. We sold yoga leggings made from recycled plastic. That was great, but, in the end, I didn’t think it was sustainable enough because we imported from the United States, and I wanted to do something that would make more of an impact.”

A business alongside a Master’s degree

“During my Master’s, I got the urge again; it was time to start another business. Ruben was my neighbour in my student hall, and we got to talking. He’s the mastermind who came up with the technology: a method for applying a coating with special microstructures that reduces the resistance of water and air and can be used on ships and aircraft, and which then results in considerable fuel savings. At first, I just helped Ruben temporarily with the business side of the company, but it clicked so well that I never left. For me, several key things came together at Qlayers. I thought: ‘If I really want to make a sustainable impact, I need to help make industry more sustainable’.”

“In my mind I have already started five new companies”

Josefien de Groot

CEO and Co-founder Qlayers

Inspired by other start-ups

“When you’re a student in Delft, you live in a bubble and think, ‘anything is possible’. That’s just fantastic, and really inspiring. You get to go to all kinds of lectures and events; inspiration is everywhere. It’s the perfect place to develop outside-the-box ideas. YES!Delft’s support plays a huge role in actually turning these wild ideas into businesses. And it’s also a great network; I’m still in touch with other founders. When I was a student, I attended the Entrepreneurship Day – and that definitely fuelled my ambitions.”

It’s a man’s world

“I once went to a maritime industry conference where there were 200 men to 10 women, which felt crazy. But I’m not complaining; sometimes it works to my advantage. We are launching a new technology, so there’s no harm in standing out a little. I prefer not to emphasise the differences between men and women. I’m proactive and ambitious, are those ‘masculine’ characteristics? As far as I am concerned, the most important thing is that everyone uses their own strengths.”

The most important piece of advice

“Richard Borsboom (Business Transformation Director at Sandd) sat on our Advisory Board and gave me a really important piece of advice. He encouraged me to always tell it like it is. Thanks to him, I had the ‘balls’ to ask one of our customers for a substantial investment that we needed to develop the technology further. And against all odds, we got it. That was a huge moment for the company and for myself. It was a real eye-opener. I often think that anything is possible.”

Keen to move quickly

“After the first sample, I thought, ‘yes this works, so within a few months we’ll be coating our first ship’. It takes a bit of adjusting when you realise that it will take longer to get the industry on board and to scale up complex technology. The coating process, which is entirely manual, hadn’t really changed much in a hundred years! But we are gradually making progress, and people are seeing the benefits of our automated coating application technology, such as minimising paint wastage. Our product has the potential to make a huge impact in today’s value chain.”

‘This isn’t the end of the road’

“I see opportunities everywhere and in my mind I have already started five new companies. I first want to build Qlayers into something really big and I still have plenty of aspirations for this company, but this certainly isn’t the end of the road for me. I am always looking for ways to make the biggest impact. I get my inspiration from the things I read and hear and from my personal life. At the moment, I live in an off-grid tiny house with my partner and little girl, which is also an inspiring adventure.”

Get in touch

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Jenny Konings

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