Noorderwind: Connecting the dots from idea to impact

At CIC we see an increasing amount of companies working on sustainable solutions. Meet a few of these promising initiatives we interviewed about their industries, challenges, decisions and goals and how they reflect on the innovation opportunities and challenges in Rotterdam.

Noorderwind is not your typical venture generator. It is not a design agency and it is not a consultancy either. It is a collective with not just one single owner, but a team of “captains” and “crew members” who put societal and environmental impact before money-making.

“We take sustainable ideas and we co-create, co-validate and co-implement them,” says Boukje Vastbinder, one of the two founders of Noorderwind. “We are a bit different from a design agency as we not only help come up with the ideas, but also validate and implement them. We are also different from a consultancy because we don’t consult, but actually do the work.”

In other words, Noorderwind turns sustainable ideas into impactful businesses and does so in co-creation with various parties and stakeholders, from startups to corporates and the government.

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Running a sustainable company as a collective Everything about Noorderwind is a bit different. For one, the organization is structured as a collective, which means that nobody really owns it.

“Being part of a company that is of everybody can be a challenge because you need one or more people to set the direction and make sure we stay the course,” Boukje says. “That’s why we have captains and crew. The captains are responsible for having everyone onboard and reaching their goals, while the crew put their time, expertise and capacity into various projects.”

Every year, crew members are asked if they want to become captains, and vice versa. Noorderwind has been around for three years and currently consists of a team of 20, four captains in charge of the strategy and goal-setting, and 16 freelance crew members. Each of them is an expert in their own field, from medical technology and circular design to change management and personal leadership.

Whenever Noorderwind takes on a new project, they make sure that they have the capacity within their talent pool to support it. Projects always take place in co-creation, in which they work closely together with the idea owner.

“The way we work is based on an exchange of knowledge and hours among the different teams, startups and organizations,” Boukje says. “We, as Noorderwind, are the broker of those hours. So if one company or person is good in IP and patents, it might share its knowledge with a company that has legal expertise, which in turn might help a third with their contracts.

A corporate or a governmental institution can do “The way we work is based on an exchange of knowledge and hours among the different teams, startups and organizations,” Noorderwind team 36 37 the same.” In case an organization is not interested in exchanging hours, they get paid for providing their expertise.

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Co-creating solutions with impact The team of Noorderwind stands by the idea that societal and environmental impact is more important than “making big money fast”, as Boukje puts it, as long as the businesses they work with can financially sustain themselves. At the moment, the organization is working on 18 projects from developing innovative medical technologies to collaborating with the Dutch Army on delivering first aid packages.

Their approach to various projects differs based on what is needed, whether it is a one-time project to encourage immediate action or a complete overhaul of a company’s strategy to become more sustainable in the long run. “For the Dutch Army, we’ve organized design sprints, the last one of which was focused on disaster areas and finding out if it was possible to use drones to deploy first aid and food packages,” Boukje explains.

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“As the Army does not have the internal capacity to run such a project, we put together a team – with experts from their side and sourced from our own network. In this specific example, we asked a drone expert as well as a person who’s worked in development aid to spend a week with the team to help drive this project forward.”

And so they did. This is how Noorderwind makes projects happen: They match the right (entrepreneurial) talent to the right business idea in order to create the necessary impact – both societal and environmental. They have the patience to see things through. They are not in it for the quick financial wins but for making the world better in the long run.

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Illustrations: Janneke Wing

Author: Mina Nacheva

The Work Rotterdam Europe