Winning Women in Tech: In conversation with Marijn Pijnenborg, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Winc Academy

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

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If you haven’t heard of Marijn Pijnenborg yet, you most certainly will have heard of some of her most successful investments and stellar business savvy. Marijn is a co-founder of Funda, the biggest online real estate platform in the Netherlands, and was the primary angel investor in Usabilla, which was recently acquired by Surveymonkey in a $80 million cash and equity deal. Marijn’s other notable investments are OtriumSeatMe/IENSSpringest and Solvo (the company behind dokterdoktergezondheidsplein and ziekenhuis). The full (and growing) list of Marijn’s accomplishments and remarkable entrepreneurial skills can be found on her website, Boralis.

Besides being a wonderful human being, Marijn might just be the most successful female entrepreneur and startup investor in the Netherlands. After successful endeavours in PropTech, Automotive and eHealth, Marijn and newfound business partner, Carla Snepvangers, decided to build their next business in online education.

Marijn’s latest business venture is Winc Academy, an online learning platform initiative enabling anyone between the age of 20–80 to become a software developer in just 30 weeks.

We first met Marijn about 5 years ago in Amsterdam during one of our first big WeAreBrain projects. WeAreBrain co-founder, Elvire Jaspers and I had the chance to sit down with Marijn during our recent reunion to chat about what Winc Academy is all about. Here’s what Marijn had to say:

Q: What makes Winc Academy so unique?

I am very proud of Winc Academy as I believe it is a truly remarkable addition to the e-learning sphere. It’s fast: it only takes 30 weeks to become a software developer, which includes a mandatory internship in order to put your thorough theoretical framework to the test in a practical, real-world setting. In addition, because the program is online based, you are able to study from anywhere in the world at any time. And perhaps the biggest appeal is that you don’t have to pay upfront.

Starting a new course where you have to invest thousands of euros can be a big step for most people. We want everyone to have a chance to start a new career. That is why we have come up with a smart solution: when you start at Winc Academy, Winc finances your education upfront. You agree that you will pay us back for the initial loan with a percentage of your income as soon as you have found a job as a programmer. This is a fixed percentage during a period of 30 months, with a set maximum amount. Your salary payment goes back into Winc Academy so that new students are able to start. In this way you also help others learn, with a kind of ‘pay if forward’ ethos.

Q: How did you get the idea for Winc Academy?

According to the latest Jobfeed reports, there are currently more than 20,000 vacancies for developers in the Netherlands alone. This void is hampering the progress and growth of our entire economy. While at the same time the majority of admin related office jobs are at risk of AI automation in the coming 10–15 years.

We think there is a large amount of hidden programming talent in the Netherlands. Many people have never thought about a career as a programmer because they think they are not technically minded enough, or that it is too late for a career switch. And so we want to give people the opportunity to take this step with our streamlined, practical training where you can develop an in-demand skill that you are able to pay for after you become employed.

There is still a common misconception that you need previous experience or a mathematics background to be a great developer. I realised during my work with different startups and scaleups that everybody can actually make the switch to become a developer. And there are so many interesting disciplines in the field of software development and programming that we can easily match a person’s skills with the requirements of a specific tech discipline. Think of UX designers, quality assurance engineers, maintenance engineers — the list goes on.

Q: Who is the program for?

The program is for anyone who is interested in developing an in-demand skill which can open doors to many remarkable opportunities to work for amazing companies around the world. From people working in the service and hospitality industry, to people currently working in administrative roles who want to take charge of their career — anyone and everyone.

Our goal is to get people ‘career ready’ for the next 15–20 years, for many this is the second half of their professional careers. Our ambition is to (re)educate a total of 5000 people in the coming two years, enabling those Winc Academy graduates to apply their newly gained technology skills in professional environments. Big companies such as Bol have already attached their name to Winc Academy and we’re sure many will follow in the months leading up the official launch in the Summer.

We have no doubt that Winc Academy is going to be a massive leader in tech e-learning in the not-too-distant future. With Marijn’s involvement we are sure this project is destined to succeed in ways we know will be fitting for her amazing entrepreneurial track record. We are very excited to see what impressive skills Winc Academy graduates are armed with coming into the industry. Onwards and upwards, Marijn! We look forward to having another reunion after the launch.

Do you live in the Netherlands? Are you interested to join Winc Academy? Apply here. Not convinced yet? Why not sign up for a mini course: Apply here.

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Samantha Wolhuter
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Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
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