Background Pattern

Combining a Master Data Science with a startup: Interview with Niels Verstappen

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Can you tell me something about your background?

“I started the Data Science & Entrepreneurship program in September of 2020. Before this, I did the Computer Science bachelor at TU/e, which is where I discovered my interest for data science. I like to apply technical knowledge to real-life situations, and I’m also interested in the operational side of businesses.”

What made you decide to apply for the MSDE program?

“I developed an interest for data science during elective courses that I took during my Computer Science bachelor. When searching for a data science master, what stood out for me in the MSDE program was the strong focus on how to apply data science within businesses. I prefer to apply knowledge instead of researching and I think it is valuable to be educated about the practical side of data science. After all, data scientists are currently very much needed in the business world.”

What made you co-found your own startup during the MSDE program?

“I wanted to gain experience in real-life data science projects. During the first semester of the MSDE program I collaborated in quite some projects with one of my co-founders, Max Roeters, when he approached me with the idea of beginning a start-up. We both felt that there needed to be more focus on the implications of data science applications, as these can cause serious damage in some situations. Being able to contribute to this awareness, gain experience in real-life data science projects, and learn about starting a business made me want to pursue this.”

What do you aim to achieve with your own startup?

“With Brush AI, we want to achieve a larger awareness and focus on responsible data science. Data science applications can have large consequences, and when they are not designed in a careful manner they can be biased in a dangerous way. On the other hand, data science tools offer so many opportunities to a lot of businesses. Therefore we want to create a low-code/no-code tool that allows business to make use of their data in a responsible manner without needing data science knowledge.”

How do you combine your own startup with the MSDE program?

“When we founded our start-up, I worked on it mainly in the evenings and weekends. However, as I was also taking all my courses and doing a project at the JADS MKB Datalab, I noticed that this way of combining everything was too much. So I decided to extend my program by a year, taking all second year courses as intended and doing my thesis during a third year. This gave me a lot of room to work on our start-up in the second year. I am very glad that I decided to do this.”

How do you experience and work with JADS’ own incubator, the JADS Playground?

“The JADS Playground has been of much help to us. Jonie Oostveen is very involved with the JADS start-ups and is always open to discuss any type of subject. It can be an issue that you are currently having in your start-up journey, or just exchanging experiences as Jonie has a lot of experience in the start-up world. It’s also very useful to be able to discuss your progress with other start-ups that are in the same phase, as you can help each other out. The JADS Playground regularly organizes workshops and sessions in which experts give insight in certain aspects of the start-up life. For example, we attended a workshop about founder teams and applied a lot of these insights within our own team.”

What will be your next steps with your startup?

“We will focus on acquisition of consultancy projects, while also further developing our tool. We have quite a clear idea of what we want our tool to look like, so we want to create a proof-of-concept as soon as possible and show it to prospective clients. Hopefully, we can develop such a proof-of-concept in close collaboration with the companies for which we do our consultancy projects. In this way we can improve the tool iteratively according to the wishes of these companies.”

Do you have any advice for other students that aspire to found their own startup during their study?

“If you have an idea that you are enthusiastic about, you should just start to work on it. In the beginning I sometimes felt that we should make the idea perfect in our mind and then start executing it, but the best way to make the idea perfect is to iteratively adjust it by validating the idea with your target group. I would say just go for it if you really want to do it, as the MSDE program is very flexible and supportive towards combining a start-up and the master’s program.”

Would you recommend MSDE to anyone? Why?

“I would definitely recommend the MSDE program to everyone that likes to apply their knowledge in the data science field. Of course there is also a lot of room for people with an academic interest, as PhD and PDEng positions are available. However, I feel that the curriculum and the way the courses are taught, give the students a great preparation for data science jobs that are currently out there. The first 3 out of 4 semesters include a Data Entrepreneurship in Action course, where you collaborate with actual companies. These courses teach you valuable lessons on the dynamics with a client in a data science project.”

More information

More information about the Master Data Science and Entrepreneurship can be found here.

For more information about the JADS Playground, click here.

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