Meet the FI Team

Meet us!

Get to know the FI team


I studied International Management at the University of Amsterdam and the Erasmus University Rotterdam. I also completed a Masters in Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, focusing on EU foreign policy. Upon graduation in 2017, I started Forward Incubator together with my college roommate David Hwan, shortly after joined by RSM classmate Laura Di Santolo. I worked in marketing and operations at the legal start-up LVDO Legal, business development at tech-firm VIGOUR, as well as a a non- profit consultant for startups and NGO’s called De Kleine Consultant.

Forward Incubator is a prime example of the power of diversity. We are a startup in a domain (integration) occupied by NGO’s and government and we advocate a different vision. We acknowledge that economic independence is key to success and integration of newcomers and we empower them to achieve this. We are no-nonsense, result-oriented and full of energy and power. We change lives for the better, both of our participants as well as everyone involved in our programs.

Following the growth path of people over the course of our program. Many participants have great visions and ambitions and find their challenge in grasping the Dutch cultural context, the modern approaches towards entrepreneurship and their skill in leading and managing a team. It’s inspiring to see people take giant leaps forward in such a short period of time.

‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free’. Emma Lazarus



I am born and raised in Luxembourg, for my bachelor’s degree I went to Rotterdam and studied International Business Administration, in my third year I left to do my exchange in Taiwan. My master’s degree in International Management I started at WU Vienna and completed it also at Rotterdam School of Management. Since I am 15 my dad encouragingly pushed (read forced) me to do internships during my holidays. This allowed me to observe how corporates and governmental agencies work and after finishing my master’s I was eager to do something completely different. I joined back then Refugees Forward as an intern and after my first lunch with Diederick and David I already felt like one of them. Ever since then, I focused mostly on improving our incubator program and professionalising overall operations. Now I am the Program Director aiming to be competitive with commercial incubators in the Netherlands.

Forward Incubator is built on beliefs: We believe that newcomers are an enrichment to the Dutch society, they bring skills and experiences that should allow them to provide for their families and communities. What we do is go further than just believing in them, we translate beliefs into action. We build companies, we help people to get out of social support and we give them back the power to be in charge of their lives.

First, Forward Incubator has a social mission, but all of us are very business-driven. We are not satisfied with mediocre results and are always striving to be better. In addition, we see every entrepreneur as an individual with specific needs, hence we tailor our program to satisfy those concrete needs. Finally, we maximise value by leveraging on the experience of coaches and the motivation of students enabling them to be a crucial success factor to the development of the entrepreneurs’ businesses.

I can be creative all day every day, there is no book with rules we have to follow. There are a lot of problems and challenges every day, which pushes me to be solution-oriented and action focussed. Working with the entrepreneurs gives me perspective and it motivates me to go the extra mile. Seeing the entrepreneurs succeed is the most rewarding part of my job.

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”Albert Camus






I am from Ireland, but I left Ireland when I was two, and since have lived in several countries mainly in Europe, also Scandinavia, and lived in Japan. However my favourite country I’ve lived in is the Netherlands. I graduated from my masters in Global Business and Sustainability in June 2018 from the Rotterdam School of Management. I am interested in social entrepreneurship, the complexity of it intrigues me, and working for FI, I see the potential in it becoming a self sustaining organisation. I have been working at FI since January 2019 as a Team Facilitator, and now I’ll be taking on the role as the Rotterdam Program Manager, looking forward! 

I was following Forward Incubator from the beginning, and I really liked the idea, because of the mix between business and social cause. I’ve never thought that an incubator program is where I would end up as one of my first jobs, but when I applied I really liked the idea of constantly working with a large range of businesses/entrepreneurs and being able to learn about different industries. I knew that every day would be different, in that I would have diverse range of responsibilities and tasks, which is very attractive these days. 

I think what makes Forward Incubator unique – is not only that our target group are entrepreneurs with a refugee background, but I wouldn’t see our organisation as a charity either. We take people who unfortunately have had to flee their countries for several reasons, and come to the Netherlands with close to nothing in their pockets. However, that does not mean that they are incapable of building their own businesses, yes sure it makes it a lot harder to start, but with our platform we can connect these entrepreneurs with the right group of experts, coaches, lawers etc.. To guide them on a path to success. Its our individualised approach to each entrepreneur that sets us out from the sea of incubator programs out there. 

I love that I am constantly surrounded by people that I can consistently learn from. I don’t mean only learn from my team, coaches, and experts but specially from the entrepreneurs, they have taught me personal development skills, and gratitude. 

“Your attitude defines your altitude” 



I am originally from Costa Rica, where I did my undergrad in Business and Marketing. In 2010 began my career working in Sweden and later Singapore as a product developer and manager for a large multinational company. In 2015 I switched to the social sector to work as a freelance consultant for non-profit organizations. These experiences motivated me to learn about social impact; therefore, in 2018 I completed an MSc in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Currently, I live in Amsterdam where I manage our entrepreneurship training program.

Its mission. I share the perspective that entrepreneurship is the best path to achieve self-reliance and financial independence for poor migrant populations. I have been passionate about this social issue for a number of years; when I switched my career to the social sector, I worked with organizations that aimed to improve the livelihoods of  foreign domestic workers in Singapore through financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Later, I worked in Bangladesh to develop entrepreneurial capacity and opportunities for the Rohingya refugees. I believe that I will always be driven to this field because it combines business and social impact in a very organic way.

In my opinion, the target group. Forward Incubator focuses on new comers; people whose lives can have drastic positive change by leveraging their potational and offering them solid learning and development opportunities. Furthermore, Forward Incubator has taken strongly into consideration the background and experiences of the people it serves, which is extremely relevant when working with groups with diverse cultural perspectives and in vulnerable conditions

Firstly, I enjoy working closely with the entrepreneurs; the hours spent on discussing their business ideas and making tangible progress towards their realization are not only fun, but also very rewarding. Secondly, the team! It’s a young group of dynamic, ambitious and driven people whom I find inspirational and motivate me to do my best work.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” – Ferris Buller


Maria Manuel

I am proudly portuguese, from the sunniest capital in Europe! I am 24 years old, passionate about knowledge and very curious – I studied Medicine, Engineering and Management. I joined FI in August 2019, as Program Developer, after having previous experience in consulting (worked during my studies).

It’s an organisation that gives a second chance to everyone to prove and develop themselves, and in a sustainable way. It’s not only about giving out bread, I wanted to help teaching how to bake!

Forward incubator represents an opportunity for people who have so much to give to their new home (Europe), but don’t get a chance to do so. Many newcomers had lives and businesses before they were forced to leave, but no means to prove themselves in Europe due to various factors. FI changes that, and allows them to make use of their knowledge and background, while also training and pairing them with coaches to achieve better results.

The contact with the entrepreneurs and all the nerdy administrative tasks!

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs



I am Austrian & Venezuelan and grew up in Brussels – the ‘where do you feel at home’ question describes my childhood. The answer: anywhere I comfortably speak the language.
I completed my bachelor’s in economics and I’m currently finishing up my master’s in business & sustainability at Erasmus University. After 4 years in the Netherlands I am starting to get the hang of the Dutch as I am learning the language and starting to feel at home here as well. I’m currently a Team Facilitator at Forward Incubator. 

Its mission to support newcomers so that they can stand on their own feet. Being financially independent is a liberating accomplishment and represents a vital step towards living a healthy life in the Netherlands. Working to empower vulnerable communities has been the reason for my choice of study, which is why Forward Incubator is the perfect match for me. 

Forward Incubator stands out from others because of their proven success in launching businesses and pooling stakeholders together to create an exciting training program. On the one hand the creation of businesses by newcomers allows them to sustain themselves, which not only decreases government spending on welfare but actually increases tax revenue. The positive net benefit to the Dutch government is evident. On the other hand, Forward Incubator facilitates the exchange between newcomers and the Dutch (business) community, effectively accelerating their integration process.

The young team! They have a creative approach to working in meetings and involve everyone in generating ideas. Also the amount of independence and room for creativity that is given when working on tasks. I’m still new so there’s still a lot to discover!

‘If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to help build theirs.’ – Tony Gaskins



I was born and raised in Turin, Italy. When I was 18 I decided to take on a new challenge, so I moved to Rotterdam where I did my undergraduate degree in International Business Administration. I am currently finishing my Master’s in International Management at UCD Dublin and at the Rotterdam School of Management. I am a Team Facilitator here at Forward Incubator for the Rotterdam program, as I wanted to get involved in something meaningful. I have previous experience in project management and sales in large organisations, which is what made me curious to engage with a start-up and its more dynamic environment. 

The refugee situation in Italy is part of the daily political debate, everyone has an opinion in it, but not much is being done. When I heard about this program, I decided to get involved in first person with the means I had available. In the day-to-day activities we try to help newcomers succeed in building a home away from home by empowering them with the knowledge that we were lucky enough to acquire and access.

There are many incubators in the Netherlands and in Europe that provide training, coaching and guidance for entrepreneurs. However, this was the first one I came across that was trying to proactively support integration in Europe and learn our way of doing business. It’s a new way of creating value, bringing new, external ideas to Europe and levelling out the entrepreneurship playing field for newcomers. 

I joined recently, but the welcoming environment and the team dynamics seem a great place to grow and develop!

The Dutch way of living: live and let live.


Tim Leijten

I was born in Amsterdam and after a few years moved to Hoofddorp. Once I finished High school I decided to move back to Amsterdam (such an adventurer, I know). I started studying Tax Economics at the University of Amsterdam with the aim of improving the distribution of wealth in society through taxation. During my time at several big four companies I figured out I wasn’t able to generate the impact that I was looking for. Therefore, I switched to studying Financial Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Here I learned about the driving financial forces in business, markets and economies that are decisive in making an “impact”. Meanwhile, I got involved with Forward Incubator at the very first day of its existence as a volunteer to learn about how to make a social impact. Now, two years later, after having worked for a few months at a strategy consulting firm and for half a year as a data analyst at a big data analytics firm I am back at Forward Incubator as a Business Developer. My responsibilities are to raise funding, manage external relations, handle finances and guide several entrepreneurs in the program.

The energy of the Forward Incubator team, the diversity of the people involved, the entrepreneurial spirit of the entrepreneurs.

Forward Incubator is one of the first and few incubator programs in the Netherlands that focuses on successfully supporting newcomer-entrepreneurs through the provision of financial, social and human capital. What makes Forward Incubator special, is that we have an active community of students, entrepreneurs and professionals working together towards the same goal: economic empowerment of newcomers.

The positive impact you are able to make on a daily basis on other peoples’ lives, the freedom to think on a strategic level and the variety of challenges we face as an organisation.

“We need not wait to see what others do.”