Arjen Miedema, StabiAlert 'You have to be ready for entrepreneurship'
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Arjen Miedema, StabiAlert 'You have to be ready for entrepreneurship'

Together with two associates, Arjen Miedema developed an advanced sensor system that both registers vibrations and detects subsidence extremely accurately. The proven measurement method is now used worldwide in a variety of construction and infrastructure projects. 'I have learned to trust my intuition even more.'

It is late 2008 when Arjen Miedema is invited to Jeroen Kleef's office in Groningen. Arjen has had a tax consultancy since 2003, and Jeroen, a true techie and owner of S & S Systems, was one of his first clients. Reinier Brongers, marketing specialist and also an entrepreneur, also attended the meeting. One thing was clear: the conversation would not be about tax issues this time. 'Jeroen and Reinier told us that they had come across something interesting,' says Arjen. 'A sensor system that had everything in it to record the maintenance status of bridges, tunnels, railroad bridges and levees and measure damage at the same time. They had taken over that system from someone and it needed further development. Whether I wanted to think about that.'

Current skew

Arjen was enthusiastic and immediately saw possibilities. 'During the construction of new infrastructure, a lot of vibration measurements are done in the Netherlands,' he explains. 'But it always involved the classic way of measuring. You measure the probability of damage, but you don't measure the damage itself. So you don't know what the actual misalignment is. Whereas with our sensor system, if perfected, you can show that.' Arjen soon noticed that together with Jeroen and Reinier he could partly change the market. After all, the fact that you can show during the construction of infrastructure that, for example, adjoining properties have or have not suffered damage is of enormous value to a client. In one evening they had decided: they were going to do it! A short time later, in 2009, StabiAlert was founded.

Safety and reliability

Tinkering was done, a database was attached to the system, and relevant functionalities were developed. As time went on, an increasingly powerful and sophisticated sensor system emerged. In the meantime, the company had also received funding from NOM. In short, StabiAlert was ready to take the market by storm. 'We provide safety and reliability in the form of data,' Arjen argues. 'With the sensor technology we developed, all kinds of objects can be measured for vibration and angular tilt. Objects that can move or subside, such as buildings, bridges and dikes, we can monitor on a continuous basis and chart the lifespan of the object in question. So we can determine at an early stage whether something is wrong, so that you can take timely measures.'

North/South Line

When they heard that work on the North/South Line in Amsterdam had caused four monumental buildings on Vijzelgracht to subside, they seized their opportunity. 'A leak caused water to flow into the tunnel, washing away the soil under the houses,' Arjen explains. 'The houses had subsided by up to 25 centimeters. Reinier did not hesitate and decided to write a letter to the mayor of Amsterdam. The central message was: StabiAlert can help restore these buildings and put them back on their feet. Within two weeks we were at the project office's table and got the job. Quite a leap of faith, of course. But although a complicated assignment, we managed to get the job done with flying colors.'

Flywheel effect

In that first period, Arjen immediately learned an important entrepreneurial lesson: When you see an opportunity, you have to take it. It's just not quite in keeping with his nature, he says. 'As a financial man, I am usually a bit more cautious. I always kind of wait and see first. Writing a letter like that to the mayor of Amsterdam would not occur to me at first. Perhaps that is also the strength of StabiAlert. Reinier, Jeroen and I are all three very different personalities. If you give each other the space to take your own piece, then things can suddenly go very fast. Then such cooperation can lead to beautiful and surprising things.' And indeed, the Noord/Zuidlijn project meant a breakthrough for the company. Because shortly thereafter, StabiAlert was asked to provide support for the renovation of Amsterdam's city gate the Waag, a 15th-century building that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 'So again, a prestigious project,' smiles Arjen. 'Together with the job on the North/South line, that has created a flywheel effect. At an early stage we had already put the company firmly on the map.'

Tax Office

Arjen grew up in Het Bildt, a municipality in the northwest corner of Friesland. After high school, he worked for a short time at the tax office in Dokkum. He liked working with figures. At the Ministry of Finance he then trained as a tax consultant. An internal training with a strict selection policy, but with a job guarantee. He then worked for almost eleven years at the Tax Office and for more than six years at an accounting firm. In 2003 he founded Boekhoud 113, helping entrepreneurs with their administration, annual accounts and tax returns. He still does so today. 'I was almost 40 when I became an entrepreneur,' says Arjen. 'I like it so much that I wouldn't want it any other way. Whether I should have done it sooner in retrospect? No, it never works that way with me. You have to be ready for entrepreneurship, I think. And I felt I was not ready until that moment. '


Still StabiAlert has the wind in its sails. The company has continued to evolve, as has the sensor. It has only become smarter and more user-friendly. Indeed, the system is nearing perfection. In the course of time, it has been deployed at the IJkdijk test facility and in North Groningen to closely monitor the effects of gas extraction on the soil. But the company now also has a firm foot in the door internationally. 'We have just completed a large project in Berlin,' says Arjen. 'In addition, we are currently active in San Francisco. A building is being erected there that people think might cause the adjacent buildings to subside. We are now monitoring those properties.'

Controlled growth

Still, even for StabiAlert, it is often a case of run or stand still. After all, attractive projects are not easy to come by. Moreover, tendering sometimes takes longer than planned in advance," Arjen emphasizes. As a result, there have been periods when we were struggling financially. However, there has never been any panic. We rely on technology and have never taken any major financial risks. We have always opted for controlled growth and we have set up the organization in such a way that we can switch back into a kind of survival mode at times when things get tough. Until the next assignment presents itself. Over the years I have learned to trust my intuition even more. In some potential projects I put a lot of energy into bringing them in, but afterwards it was clear that it would not work. Then it is better to be smarter about taking your losses, so that you have more energy for the opportunities that do exist. And opportunities are plentiful. Especially given our reputation in the field. Because if a project is really complicated or if there is financial pressure behind it, they call us.'

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