Laura Di Santolo & Forward·Inc: Helping Newcomers Become Entrepreneurs

Laura Di Santolo is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Forward·Inc, an Amsterdam-based, internationally operating organization devoted to helping newcomers pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. They have a program dedicated to supporting people through all stages of entrepreneurship. Learn more about their programs and find out what Laura predicts for the Dutch startup ecosystem in the near future.

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1. Hi Laura, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you’re connected to the startup world?

My pleasure! I am originally from Luxembourg but have lived and worked in the Netherlands for the past ten years. I studied Business in Rotterdam and moved to Amsterdam once I started working on Forward·Inc. I never really thought about becoming an entrepreneur or working in a startup. It just happened all organically. 

2. You’re the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Forward·Inc, an Amsterdam-based, internationally operating organization devoted to helping newcomers pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Tell us more about your mission.

Our mission is to enable entrepreneurial refugees, forcibly displaced people, and newcomers at large to start, grow, and fund their businesses by following our programs and attending our events. We do so by delivering top-quality training and emphasizing individual support and networking. This is possible through our fantastic network of volunteers ranging from successful entrepreneurs to corporate experts, and dedicated university students. We aim to grow and scale our programs and events because we see that our method works and leaves a lasting positive impact. 

3. Could you tell us a bit about the various programs for entrepreneurs you have at Forward·Inc?

We offer roughly 7 different programs at different times of the year. 

  1. We start with the Digital Entrepreneurship Program, which educates people on entrepreneurship and business principles. It allows them to move from a rough idea to a clear concept on paper.
  2. Next, we have an Incubator program focussed on experimenting if the idea is feasible, desirable, and viable in the market & if the newcomers can execute it. This program is unique because all the entrepreneurs are matched with business coaches and university student consultants, helping them to test ideas.
  3. From the Incubator, people can move into the Growth Program. In the Growth Program, we work with registered businesses that want to grow their customer base, improve their operations, and build a strong commercial and marketing strategy.
  4. We also run an accelerator program, focussed on investor readiness and further maturing the team, operations, financial management, execution, and strategy.
  5. This spring, we ran the Investor Readiness Program for the first time because we saw it was the main focus of all the applicants to our Accelerator.
  6. We’re also experimenting with a 100% remote Accelerator for entrepreneurs in Africa and the Middle East in collaboration with Orange Corners.
  7. Finally, for all the participants in our programs, we offer one-on-one mentorship matching. We match an entrepreneur with a specific challenge with a mentor, and they meet at least 3 times to work on this together.

4. What do you think is going well in the startup ecosystem in the Netherlands at the moment? Which challenges is the ecosystem facing?

The Dutch ecosystem is very busy and active. You could attend events every day. There are also serious efforts to create a more diverse ecosystem, and that is, of course, where Forward·Inc plays a role. We showcase talented entrepreneurs with different backgrounds. 

However, the ecosystem does not only lack diversity in terms of gender and nationality; a lot could be done to make the scene more accessible to people who didn’t go to university.

5. What do you predict for the ecosystem in the Netherlands in the near future?

I’m optimistic! We tend to complain a lot, but the Netherlands is a great environment for entrepreneurs. The level of digitalization is very high, English is widely spoken, and the tax system is very competitive. I feel like, in general, people are open to new ideas and less risk-averse than in other neighboring countries. 

I hope the Dutch ecosystem embraces its diverse population more in the future. It will truly benefit everyone. I believe that more diverse teams are better equipped for all types of challenges, especially when it comes to scaling, which is an area where the Netherlands could grow a lot in. I’m excited to be part of it all.

Thank you for sharing your story and insights, Laura. We wish you & Forward·Inc the best of luck in future endeavors.

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