Q & A with our Founder and CEO Remco Bergsma
- 4th February 2022
- Anthony Bowie
Ever wondered what Remco is thinking about the business landscape right now or his plans for the future?
Or why he started the company in the first place?
How his European heritage gives MiEN an edge in the US market?
How he sees the future with this dynamic company we’re building?
We interviewed Remco to see how he is thinking about his role in the company and what he sees in our future. Even though the creation of active learning and working spaces is the work we do every day, it’s the outcomes of those spaces for employees, educators, and students that are most important to him. Read on.
Q. What brought you to Grand Rapids?
A. I began my career in the Netherlands working with high-end office furniture. There were many things that made Grand Rapids attractive. The city has been the center of office furniture manufacturing for decades. There are several large manufacturers based here in West Michigan along with a lot of product sourcing. It made sense to build a company here.
Q. How did you start the company?
A. After selling a company to one of the major manufacturers in West Michigan, I bought the North American division of a Dutch office furniture company. They had an extremely successful educational assortment, and we wanted to maintain the European furniture design. We then redeveloped those educational products for America, bringing most of the international production to West Michigan.
Q. Why did you start the company?
A. In Europe, they were already designing open learning and working environments with intentional design. I believe schools should mirror modern working environments to help students prepare for the real world. I wanted to recreate in North America what we were already doing in Europe.
Q. What were the early days like?
A. We immediately found an audience. Architects and designers wanted to use open space products instead of the traditional rows of desks and chairs. We also learned that by simplifying the designs and production, we could meet a K12 budget.
In the beginning, I saw it as a very profitable business, but soon my focus became the impact we were having on schools. It’s a thrill to show others what is possible to drive engagement and eventually academic outcomes.
Q. What did you see as different about designing school spaces?
A. In early grades in the US, classroom design is done well, but as students get older, their learning environments are less functional. In Europe, school space design is simpler but focused on creating student-centered environments all the way to 12th grade.
Q. Why is intentional design important?
A. Intentional design in schools can build readiness for the work environment. It amplifies the soft skills future employers are looking for. Research has shown a 20% increase in engagement when a space is designed with intention. We know from our own open office design at MiEN that workers need collaboration and privacy areas. Schools also need those kinds of active learning spaces, particularly now that educators are moving away from traditional instruction and shifting to more personalized learning.
Q. How do you think about sustainability?
A. I’ve never not thought about sustainability. 25 years ago in Europe, it was already becoming a prominent issue. As a company, we’ve always been driven by sustainability behind the scenes. We know it will become more important here in the US, and there are ways we can have a tremendous impact.
For example, with our new headquarters, we’re reusing a building that’s 150 years old and reclaiming the heritage of the Dutch furniture built in Grand Rapids. We are showing how to reuse old space and why it’s important—modeling the importance of sustainability in a combined living and working space that also reclaims part of the riverfront neighborhood.
There are other ways we can have an impact with our work, whether retrofitting an older building or designing products built with recycled or sustainable materials. Making it easier for customers to select sustainable products and finishes is also becoming the norm.
Q. How do you plan to keep the company innovative?
A. We’ll keep finding and reviewing active learning spaces where they have superior outcomes, and educating people through our white papers and research. We’ll bring education leaders to our new building so we can learn from each other. We want to cultivate thought leadership about new ways to think and learn about the power of active learning spaces. There are so many angles: ergonomics, appeal, flexibility, economics, adaptability, and more.
Q. What are you planning for the future of the company?
A. Our future is partly a function of the deep connections we are making in our local community as well as our national community of schools and districts. That is how we’ll develop new opportunities. I want to build the best company possible with the best people. We want to get better and better at shaping and showing what future-ready learning spaces can be. Our legacy will be the outcomes we help grow.