Three of the Most Impactful Panels at The Next Web Conference

I had the distinct pleasure of attending The Next Web Conference at NDSM 9-10 May, 2019. When I first looked at the workshop and speaker panels, I was so excited that I felt like one of those “heavy breathing” GIFs. There were so many types of tracks offered – marketing and branding, trade, the future of work, the art of tech – that I really had to consider what I wanted to get out of this conference in just two days.

And on reflection, what I learned was how tech affects every corner of our daily existence and has the potential to improve our lives as well. I attended numerous panels at The Next Web Conference, but there are three that continue to impact the way I think about technology and how I approach my future.

Check me out at 0:37! But also watch the whole video

Combating Human Trafficking Through Data Science

After reading Kevin Bale’s Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, I constantly think about how I can be a better consumer to fight human trafficking. On average, between 40-60 slaves work for the average person, due to the nature of the modern supply chain. And this isn’t just about sex slavery. Modern slavery happens in restaurants, on farms, in construction, and in clothing factories, just to name a few industries that depend on human trafficking.

So what are the best ways to fight modern slavery with our money? As it turns out, simply banking with ABN AMRO may be an option. While survivor testimony is compelling, financial records are hard evidence against human traffickers. The University of Amsterdam, ABN AMRO, and the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment work together to locate survivors and arrest their traffickers.

left to right: Jill Coster van Voorhout, Jeroen Hermens, and Raila Abas
  • 📑 The University researches patterns of behavior, such as traffickers forcing their workers to withdraw or transfer their entire salary deposits
  • 🚩 The University presents these findings to ABN AMRO, who then flags a variety of unusual activity that could indicate a trafficker or survivor
  • 🕵️‍♀️ The bank then has its people look at the activity to separate truly suspicious cases from false positives, and passes the information to the Ministry
  • ⚖ The Ministry then examines the information even further to determine whether they have a viable case, and if so, they pursue an investigation

From the time the Ministry receives the information, it can take anywhere from one month to two years to make an arrest.

Human trafficking – as well as invasion of privacy – is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly. This process may slow and tedious, but since they’ve started the program, they’ve discovered 50 survivors who may not have been found otherwise.

How Open Innovation Fuels Ground-Breaking Tech Solutions in Food and Agriculture

Another favorite subject of mine is food – specifically how technology helps farmers around the world. I enjoy reading reports and listening to podcasts about food supply, food waste, and ethical supply chain management. It seems that, while many food manufacturing companies want to emphasize and strengthen their relationships with farmers, the farmer will always get the raw end of the deal.

But people don’t become farmers for the money. “Farming is something you usually inherent from your family,” Yasir Khokhar from Connecterra said. Farmers see themselves as growers, and they stay with it because they love the lifestyle.

left to right: Patrick de Laive, Yasir Khokhar, Rassarin Chin, Erdem Erikçi

But, as I learned at this panel hosted by Rabobank, the way they are farming has to change. There simply aren’t enough skilled people to continue farming the way we have been for hundreds of years. And this is where artificial intelligence plays a vital role.

Connecterra, Tarla.in, and Listenfield are all gathering data to help farmers around the world run more efficiently. Tarla.in collects climate data to help finance companies and farmers conduct risk assessments, while Listenfield uses environmental data to help farmers determine best planting times for greatest yields and profits. And Connecterra is helping dairy farmers maintain healthy herds, but you already know that from my previous post.

While they are all using various forms of AI to help farmers, the farmers don’t actually care about the data itself. Farmers want someone to interpret the data for them and then tell them what needs to be done. For Connecterra, this means Ida has to not only collect the data, but interpret it, and present a solution to the farmer, all without the farmer’s interaction or prompting.

But the million dollar question is, as always: can it scale? All three companies have experienced incredible growth and change over the past few years, but as Erdem Erikçi of Tarla.in says, “The decision-making process is slowed” as the number of decision-makers increases. But without their efforts to reduce food waste, increase food supply, and improve the lives of farmers, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to have these conversations.

Marie-Elisabeth Rusling talks about the importance of female investors in entrepreneurship

Virtuous Circles, Snow Ball Effects and Golden Opportunities – The Case for Female Investment with Marie-Elisabeth Rusling

And after attending this panel hosted by The Next Women, I’m seriously considering switching from freelancing to investing. Not because I have money to invest, or because I have any understanding of investing, but because so few women are investors, and without female investors, female entrepreneurship will never grow (#powerofthepack).

As I’ve learned with the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam, when women are in positions of power, they are more likely to support other women. We like to think that we will all succeed based on our merits and dedication, but at the end of the day, everyone tends to help those who look like themselves.

Business Angels Europe did a study to learn more about why women aren’t joining the industry. The most common response was that women don’t know where or how to start investing. Women depend on their networks for guidance and support, which doesn’t really exist in the investment world. And they don’t seem to have access to knowledge resources that could encourage them to invest.

It’s easy enough to become an entrepreneur: you feel like you’re good enough at something that you can sell it. Taking a risk in yourself seems easier than taking a risk with someone else’s idea. Business Angels Europe found that, if women build a foundation for other women to learn how to become investors, women are much more willing to join the industry.

Georgina talks about what her team learned by changing the Big Spam newsletter

BONUS: The Big Spam on the Big Stage

I love the Big Spam newsletter. I subscribed because someone who didn’t offer me a job told me it was one of his favorite resources for tech news. And ever since that company rejected me, I have found endless entertainment and occasionally great information in Big Spam.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that the newsletter was a bit of an experiment. Georgina Ustik talked about what they learned when they changed Big Spam (apparently it used to look boring). Some insights included:

  • 🤔 Subject line is key
  • 📊 People love polls
  • 😨 People like to engage with confusing and disgusting things
  • 👏 Having an engaged community is better than having a big one

I loved this panel not only because I was part of it (see photo below), but also because I can apply these insights directly to my own work. And that was really the joy of attending The Next Web Conference – connecting with and learning from people who are doing incredible things.

This was my contribution to The Next Web Conference
My classy contribution to the Big Spam slides at The Next Web Conference

Follow Friday: International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam

One of my biggest reservations about moving abroad was how difficult it would be to meet people.

First of all, as a freelancer, I’m not interacting with many people (if anyone) on a daily basis. I may occasionally meet with clients, but as it stands now, most of my work is remote.

And second, even if I do happen to leave my house, most of the people I interact with are Dutch. Don’t get me wrong – the Dutch are lovely. But I don’t speak Dutch, and even though they speak English, sometimes it’s nice to speak with people who have similar experiences.

International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam

Like most people, I turned to Facebook to find people I may have something in common with. The International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam was one of the first I found.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse, networking can be nerve-wracking. It’s not easy to walk into a room full of people you don’t know but seem to already know each other.

Meeting the women of this group was different, primarily because the first time I met them was at a café, and every person that attended the event seemed to awkwardly approach the table and say

“Is this the International Women’s Networking Group?”

As a result, the conversation would break in order to welcome the newcomer and conduct a round of introductions, and then conversation would continue with this additional person.

And that’s how almost every event has been: anywhere between 6-10 women will attend a lunch or dinner to socialize and network. It’s been such a pleasure to meet women who work in different industries than I do, and to learn about their experiences moving from their home countries to Rotterdam.

Recently, we shared our stories about doctors and hospitals in the Netherlands, and we found that our experiences – good and bad – were not unique to just our individual selves. We all agreed that doctor visits are much easier in our native languages, but we’ve all accepted the inconvenience as part of living abroad.

There are also Dutch members who, in addition to being great company, help us navigate cultural customs, correct our pronunciations, and broaden their own horizons in our interactions.

I’m extremely thankful for this group of women who motivate me not just to leave my apartment, but to push the possibilities of friendship and professional opportunities.

Starting the New Year with a Strong, Driven Network of Women

As much as I praise my personal experience, making the decision to attend an event can be difficult for many people. Beyond simply collecting business cards, people want meaningful connections in all aspects of their lives.

At the end of January 2019, the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam is hosting an event at Progress Bar to help women network in order to achieve growth. Unlike other networking events, we hope to learn as much as possible about our attendees before they arrive in order to jump-start their networking process.

click on the image above to visit the Facebook event, or purchase your ticket here

We will provide a low-key ice-breaker activity to help attendees start conversations with each other, with the goal of establishing at least one meaningful connection.

There will also be speakers covering topics such as personal branding and capitalizing on the “A-ha!” moment. There will also be a chance to win goodie bags. And, of course, beverages and snacks will be provided to help ease every introvert into this social situation.

And on top of all that, guests have this unique opportunity to see what Progress Bar offers as a co-working space. Unlike others in the city, Progress Bar’s intimate space encourages members to interact, as well as enjoy meals or coffee together (at no additional cost). Their mission is to promote progress, and they believe that interaction with like-minded people outside of your normal circles is key to success.

I highly recommend you join us, not just because I want this to be a successful event, but because I believe we can all benefit from meeting new people (but in this case, women).


Are you looking for a strong, independent woman to get shit done? Let’s talk!

Follow Friday: Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse

Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw “The Blockchain Tiramisu – Tech Stacks and Pragmatic Engineering,” and thought to myself I like tiramisu, and also blockchain!

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this event was not, in fact, serving tiramisu, but it ended up being a great experience anyway.

Vierde Vrijdag at The Hague Tech is a gathering for people in business and tech to socialize and learn from each other about various trends and developments in the industry. I didn’t know much about the presenters, but the programming sounded quite educational (for myself, at least). People spoke about intellectual property laws, blockchain, and digitizing the city.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the whole program, but I had the pleasure of listening to Susanne Pieterse talk about what blockchain is and how it can be useful to a variety of businesses.

Susanne Pieterse and her company Pieterse Innovate

Pieterse started her presentation informing us that she will give this presentation at an event for the Powerful Business Women’s Network, and we were a test-run audience. The PBWN asked her to present not only because of her prestigious status as a powerful business woman, but also because their audience wanted to know more about how blockchain technology can improve their companies.

As a woman interested in networking and being powerful, I was already intrigued.

She went on to tell us about her work experience as a legal consultant who worked in digital zoning for ten years. She had always been interested in computers, so she studied programming last year and then started her own business, Pieterse Innovate. The company advises clients on how to innovate and evolve their processes.

But her enthusiasm doesn’t end there. She also runs blockchain030, a blockchain co-working event every Monday in Utrecht, and she started the podcast Block Rock, which focuses on Dutch blockchain news and projects.

How Blockchain technology is being used

Pieterse gave a great explanation of blockchain technology (safe, immutable, shared ledger), emphasizing that its use is based in trust. While it’s not a solution for everything, it is extremely helpful when

  • More than two parties are involved
  • If there are conflicting interests
  • In the presence of shared common trust

She also gave a few examples of how blockchain technology is currently being used. Pieterse mentioned the Port of Rotterdam collaboration with Blocklab, as well as automated micro-transactions for package deliveries, and an experimental effort to tag social welfare benefits. (Though it was noted that the kindpakket project decided it was too difficult to implement blockchain this way at the moment.)

But blockchain can be used for so much more.

Supply Chain Management: An experiment with a fishery found that everyone in the supply chain had conflicting interests. When an app was developed to solve the problem, many in the supply chain rejected its use because they felt it didn’t represent their interests.

Energy Usage Data: With Oehu, smart meter owners submit their energy usage data to the website. Users remain owners of their data, but the shared access to the information will help improve the technology.

Theater Tickets: GUTS Tickets uses blockchain to create a fair ticket resale market. As a result, it fights ticket fraud while giving fans a better opportunity to attend shows.

Document Verification: The University of Nicosia uses blockchain for certificates, which means future employers or organizations would not need to contact the University to verify the authenticity of the document.

Final Thoughts

Vierde Vrijdag was a great opportunity to participate in a discussion about the tech industry, rather than just reading about it. At first I was nervous because it seemed like everyone already knew each other and was familiar with each other’s work (that’s always the case at networking events, right?).

But when I got pulled into a conversation, it turned out that other people attending also didn’t have a background in programming. My greatest takeaway from the event – as well as Pieterse – was that it doesn’t hurt to just go: go to a networking event, go to a panel, go hard on the paint and start your own business. Just go.

Intermodal Europe 2018: What I Learned

I learned about Intermodal Europe 2018 while scrolling through my LinkedIn newsfeed. It was two days way – I knew I had to register!

I was only able to make it to one of three days of the conference, but I thoroughly enjoyed the the panels I attended. As someone who doesn’t currently work in the industry but wants to serve the industry, it was quite enlightening.

Intermodal Europe 2018 Review

Change Is Coming to the Logistics Industry (or at least it should be)

I constantly heard that one of the main factors slowing progress is the resistance to technology and change.

Today, we can download an app to hail a cab and watch it approach our location, while also turning the heat on before we arrive and ordering food to be delivered to our home. In contrast, logistics companies can’t tell a customer where their shipment is or how it disappeared.

One speaker noted that one of the highlights of last year’s conference was a type of tracker that goes inside the shipping container. That was 2017.

Why hasn’t the industry progressed? Why does the supply chain seem to encounter the same problems it did 100 years ago?

The resistance to technology is not just a change of inertia – it’s also a fear of job losses. People are constantly afraid that artificial intelligence will replace them, rather than approaching it as a tool.

And this resistance to technology has ripple effects. The Women in Logistics panel highlighted not only the absence of women in the industry, but the absence of any interest from the upcoming workforce. Logistics and supply chain has not proven itself to be a forward-thinking industry compared to other fields currently embracing the unknown technological frontier.

While there is some innovation is coming from within the industry, other fields are also developing solutions for the inefficiencies of logistics.

Digital Platforms: Baby Steps into the 21st Century

I still find it shocking that the logistics industry hasn’t, as a whole, made the shift to digital platforms. How does anyone trust that their items will get from point A to B? How is anyone held accountable? How do companies stay competitive if they don’t have a user-friendly interface or website? Who has the time?

Companies like FreightBro offer great solutions for customers and freight forwarders to reduce their paper use, communication delays, and time spent connecting the dots. By centralizing all their freight operations in one application, companies and customers  waste less time searching for solutions and create a better workflow.

But while digital platforms may help streamline administration, they do not address all the challenges facing the logistics industry.

Blockchain: Take the Plunge

Another universal sentiment seemed to be the need for collaboration. No one functions alone as part of the supply chain.

Dr. Rolf Neise echoed an idea that the Blocklab white paper also suggested: players in the logistics industry need to specialize or focus on what they do best.

Being really good at administrative tasks isn’t enough. Shouldn’t everyone be able to file paperwork correctly and communicate efficiently? By specializing in a field or aspect of the supply chain, a company can secure its position in the industry and prove its value as a partner.

Nico Wauters from T-Mining, Tom van Dijk from CGI, and Clinton Senkow from ShipChain were all passionate advocates for using blockchain to improve the supply chain. By implementing its technology, companies can shift their focus from “fire fighting” to providing premium customer service.

Currently, blockchain trials are being conducted in small, private networks. If (and when) the technology takes off and becomes commonplace in the industry, transactions and payments will be visible to everyone on the blockchain.

Building Trust within the Logistics Industry

Change isn’t easy for everyone. Blockchain is not only a change in a company’s workflow, but also its mindset. You have to trust others in the industry that they will make good choices, too.

Van Dijk said that blockchain is disruptive by creating a layer of trust between points on the supply chain. It seems like such a strange definition of “disruption,” but with the lack of visibility in the industry – another universal complaint – it’s easy to see how that trust between partners is not easily earned.

Sharing is Caring

As part of trust-building, some people call for data sharing. It feels risky – why would anyone want their competitors to know how well they move product?

Currently, everyone operates based on the information they are given and the data they produce. This, however, is an incomplete picture of the supply chain.

Thomas Bibette demonstrated how DCBrain is helping companies put their own data to practical use. But with more data available, new trends may reveal themselves, which may lead to better solutions, which may lead to less churn for you.

Without sharing data, it will be increasingly difficult to pin-point issues in the industry so that everyone can improve. Remember: no one functions alone in the supply chain. (At least, if you don’t want giants like Amazon and Alibaba putting you out of business.)

How to Get Decision Makers on Board

It’s the million-dollar question. From what I saw, it seems that many leaders in the industry are focused on making today’s sale, or on the number of shipping containers lost last week. It’s hard to plan for the future when there’s a fire that needs to be put out today.

As step one of his value-based 5-step method, van Dijk suggests starting with creating awareness among key stakeholders before experimenting and creating a pilot.

But how do we create awareness that will change the mindset of this ancient industry?

Maybe start with a few examples of how blockchain has proven its positive impact on the supply chain. The ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam have shown interest in it. Companies like Walmart have experimented with shipping lettuce using the technology, and IBM and Maersk developed a blockchain partnership:

Through better visibility and more efficient means of communicating, some supply chain participants estimate they could reduce the steps taken to answer basic operational questions such as “where is my container” from 10 steps and five people to, with TradeLens, one step and one person.

One step with one person. The efficiency is almost unimaginable. Why would your company want to be left behind in this technological advancement?

These, however, are industry powerhouses. They have the resources to invest in this type of research and experimentation. The blockchain infrastructure doesn’t fully exist yet – it is still only comprised of private networks.

But even so, ShipChain is running pilot programs with Perdue and CaseStack, and has had its work recognized in the DHL white paper on blockchain and logistics. While these names, again, are heavy hitters, the growing investment and interest in the technology cannot be ignored.

As Senkow said, this is just the “dial-up” stage of blockchain. It has so much potential and there’s no denying that it will be here to stay.

Final Thoughts

At the moment, it seems that offering services at the lowest cost is everyone’s priority. With giants like Amazon and Walmart offering free shipping, it’s no wonder people expect low costs, regardless of quality of service.

But that just can’t be the case.

At the moment, clients may be willing to pay a low price for the risk of the item getting lost. But if you could guarantee that their product could be tracked all the way from point A to B with your stellar customer service, wouldn’t that be worth the risk of investment?

And, as I mentioned before, the future of logistics is also dependent on the type of talent that the industry attracts. Don’t you want the best and the brightest? Because as the logistics industry strands, it’s not looking very attractive.

Logistics is the backbone of the global economy. Why isn’t it a leader in advancement?


Interested in nerding out about supply chain logistics? Talk to me!

Follow Friday: BlueCity

One of the hardest changes I’ve had to make since moving to Rotterdam is not having a compost bin. It breaks my heart to throw away my egg shells, my juicing scraps, my week-old flowers – anything that can be naturally broken down into soil, rather than trapped in a plastic garbage bag.

To the chagrin of my husband (and possibly my neighbors), I am experimenting with making a compost bin on our balcony. Alternatively, I am also tempted to casually scatter my bio waste among the green spaces in the city. (Just kidding…mostly.)

While it may be difficult for me as a resident to dispose of my green waste in a responsible fashion, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Rotterdam are working towards creating a new economy, also known as a circular economy.

Sterling Schuyler BlueCity

About BlueCity: The Circular Economy

Set up in an abandoned water park, BlueCity is working towards “Bringing Back Balance” by creating circuits of earth-friendly practices. Even its initial choice to re-purpose an abandoned water park set the tone for this incubator for innovation.

But it’s not your run-of-the-mill co-working workspace or collaborative offices. (Did the abandoned water park tip you off?)

Their vision is to create a no-waste economy, one that finds alternative uses for an industry’s waste, ideally coming full circle through various businesses. They want innovators – and the world – to produce waste that can be a building block, rather than unused potential.

BlueCity offers their space as a breeding ground for imagination. Here, businesses can test prototypes in a collaborative environment without fear of failure. It’s a space for trial, error, improvement, and eventually development of scalable solutions.

Environmentally-Friendly Innovation

BlueCity’s space and resources have allowed a variety of businesses flourish. Rotterzwam designs countertop mushroom kits that use coffee grounds so that users can grow oyster mushrooms at home. Their materials are recycled plastic, cardboard, and used coffee grounds from their partner Moyee.

KEES makes clothes from residual and renewable materials, while also employing people who may not be considered “useful” otherwise. They fight fast fashion with their thoughtful designs and uncommon uses of materials. KEES then makes an effort to hire people who have been recipients of social assistance for long periods of time – those who may not have the skill sets to secure a long-term job, but have the drive to work.

Better Future Factory offers prototyping and design with recycled materials. It can be challenging to make upcycling sexy and practical, but if anyone is winning at it, it’s Better Future Factory. From perfume to tiles, they are quite literally reshaping industries. They’re even making glasses frames from pogs (or as they’re called in the Netherlands, Flippo’s).

Final Thoughts

Reducing our impact on the environment can feel daunting, or even hopeless. But knowing that there are people out there working really really hard to curb climate change makes me want to contribute, too.

Sorry not sorry neighbors – my composting experiment is here to stay.