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On education, the future and how to sell yourself

posted in Events on August 21st, 2007

Dutch cross media network iMMovator kicked off the new season of their CrossMediaCafe events yesterday with an interesting event.

The guest of honor was Ronald Plasterk, Minister of Education, Culture and Science. When asked as to what kind of technology he uses in his daily life, he made a remark about his recent vacation to Bali, stating that “he uploaded a couple of eps of 24 to his iPod so he could watch them during his trip“.

Naturally, the above statement should be taken with a grain of salt, after all, can one really trust politicians? Political views aside however, Plasterk struck me as authentic. He listened to what people had to say and provided insight into why he did certain things.

This was only the second time I met a Minister and the first time I actually liked the guy. Very non-condescending and approachable. No fancy security guys to shield the guy from the audience and a highly likable appearance.

His statement on Blackberry usage during cabinet meetings was great too: “my mother taught me that it is very inappropriate and plain jerk’ish to not look someone in the face when they are talking to you” (this is not verbatim, but Plasterk’s statement came down to that)

Later on, Paul Rutten from Hogeschool InHolland commented that Blackberrys actually increase the efficiency of people and as a user of these kind of technologies, I would have to agree, nonetheless, the point Plasterk makes about it being rude still applies.

One of the keynotes also contained some interesting information. It appears as if one third of the dutch IT / creative industry seems to be concentrated around the so-called Noordvleugel, namely Amsterdam and Hilversum with a respectable growth and many small, innovative companies. It might not be Silicon Valley yet, but it may put us on the next Fast Cities listing.

Then came the, for me, highlight of the whole conference - Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten speech on Entrepreneurship and ways of becoming an entrepreneur in today’s world and how he became the man he is today.

The speech was hands down the best thing about the whole conference / meeting because Boris dares to show that all you need is some big cojones and the strength to get up when someone tries to knock you down. For those that are interested, head on over to bomega.com and read the speech, it is definitely worth it.

According to Boris, the Dutch educational system is not built for success and only breeds “hive workers” that have little to no ambition to advance in their profession. This is being backed up by the fact that only 7% of Dutch students actually plan on setting up their own company, compare that to the 70% of American students and that’s ’nuff said. Just about everyone in the Netherlands who goes into higher education, does that for the sole purpose of finding a job where you can apply for, people lack the motivation to come up with something innovative.

In the end, Boris says, it all comes down to selling yourself (or your product, for that matter) the right (successful) way.

Pitching is something we do 24/7; at your company, when you try to convince your boss that you need more funding for that awesome idea you have, with your co-workers, when they do not feel like working late but you still need them and of course, with your significant other, when you need them to sign off on your next big purchase.

Boris thinks that the Netherlands (although, this would apply to any country really) would do a lot better, internationally speaking, if presentation skills would carry a higher importance in the educational system. With “only one oral presentation every year, as opposed to one oral presentation EVERY week in the US“, it is no wonder that our students are scared of pitching something.

The lack of serious presentation skills (or should that be: the serious lack of presentation skills?) was also obvious during some of the showcases speeches:

First up was Wobble, a product from Momentum Interaction. Wobble is a piece of wood you can step on and use as a kind of enhanced joypad. The system can be connected to a PC and gathers an array of data that can be used for medical purposes.

While the system in itself is nice enough, the suggested price of more than $4,000 made me laugh. For one, the system, in its current state is a long way from actually being production-ready and moreover, 18 months ago, I came across a similar system at my own college, which was built over the span of nine weeks as opposed to ten months (which was the time Momentum Interaction needed).

The “home” version of Wobble will have an approximate price of $150 to $250 and will be easier to set up. It does make one wonder how a device that costs $4,000 for medical usage, can end up at less than 1/10 of the price in a retail customer’s hands.

Any consumer will expect a range of games that can be used with the device and the looks and usage would have to be improved too, all factors that would drive the price up as opposed to down, yet Momentum Interaction thinks that the home product can be sold at that price.

I am no analyst, but seeing what “our guys” came up with really makes me think if the approach that was used for Wobble was the right one …

The second showcase was Stoneroos which was, no offense to the presentator, the worst presentation I have ever seen. Did someone forget to tell the lady that folding your hands is a no-go for presentations? Oh and “uhm” and “err” do not work that well either.

This may be out of line, seeing how Stoneroos is an accomplished company with a nice portfolio of clients, but wow, one would expect that as a CEO, you would have the time to prepare a well thought out and clear presentation and do a dry run at least once to get some feedback.

Stoneroos’ product itself, the iFanzy (whats with the “i” by the way?) is a solid product but I wonder why I would want to use that , limited, platform as opposed to something along the lines of Windows Media Center.

One of the guests commented that Stoneroos lacks focus; their product portfolio includes electronical program guides, games and other services and you can tell that Stoneroos is trying to be a Jack of all trades; at the cost of being a Master of none.

The third showcase was about Wunderwall, a product that enables you to utilize the wisdom of crowds for various tasks on your computer. While the name in itself is not really something I would go for (it might work great in a German speaking locale), the product in itself is an innovative and useful solution.

Wunderwall enables multiple users to take part in the presentation / application that is displayed on a screen, allowing everyone to interact with the various elements. The “mutliple users, single location” principle was well thought through and the presentation was great too. No Dick Hardt, but still better than the other showcases.

The final showcase was about AVI Drome, a product from ParkPost; the product in itself did not catch my interest, simply because it is very location specific and not geared towards home / office users but rather companies in the (audio / visual) media creation sector.

Boris claimed early that the number one angst in the Netherlands is giving a presentation and looking at how badly half of the showcases was delivered, one must really wonder how it is that a student community can find a better selection of showcases for their events than a national cross media network.

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