Universiteit Leiden

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From chemistry teacher to founder of outdoor escape room company

Alumnus Vincent Renken studied Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences in Leiden and is now co-founder of an outdoor escape room company. ‘I asked myself: do you want a standard life or an adventure?’

Vincent Renken grew up in Eindhoven but wanted to leave home and live in a city far away. He chose Leiden, coincidentally the city where he was born. He joined Quintus and Asopos, was an active member of his study association and lived in an active house. ‘I was really green behind the ears. When everyone started singing at Quintus, I really wondered what I was doing there.’ But Renken soon got used to student life and can now look back on a fantastic time with a lot of freedom and great friendships.

Renken and his board during the board year at Aesculapius

After he graduated he wanted to work with people, so decided to go into teaching. It was tough. ‘I never worked as hard as I did in teaching and have real respect for all teachers.’ In the end he decided he wanted to see more than the inside of a classroom, so he started the Delft University of Technology traineeship, where he set up Bètasteunpunt Zuid-Holland. After his traineeship he stayed at Delft University of Technology, where he worked for BioTech Delft. He got to organise things and bring people together and was involved in the teaching: three things that were important to him. He felt at home there but then the next adventure beckoned.

‘I never worked as hard as I did in teaching and have real respect for all teachers.’

When his friend and ex-colleague Martin Bruggink asked him during the pandemic if he wanted to start a company together, he seized the opportunity. ‘We thought escape rooms were cool but had to come up with something else because of the Covid restrictions’, he explains. That’s how the idea of Outside Escape arose: a city walk with all sorts of puzzles along the way that teach you about the city’s history and get you to see it with different eyes.

For Renken, Outside Escape started as a project alongside his work at Delft University of Technology but eventually grew so fast that he had to consider going full time. ‘It was really terrifying to take that step. I had a lot of stability and security and this was a leap of faith.’ At a New Year’s Eve party, someone asked him: ‘Do you want a standard life or an adventure?’ He knew that he had to go for Outside Escape.

Vincent Renken (left) and Martin Bruggink

Renken and his partner are now three years and 31 Outside Escapes further. They manage the entire process themselves, from idea to route: researching a city’s stories, working out the route and coming up with puzzles. ‘We look for interesting stories in the alleyways that most people pass by without a second thought. I now know a great deal about the history of the Netherlands and Belgium.’ One of his favourite Outside Escapes is the one in Ghent with a walk based on a true story about a stolen painting that was never recovered. Another favourite is a themed walk about Hieronymus Bosch, whose art is intertwined with the city of Den Bosch.

Entrepreneurship also suits Renken. At the interview he is in a building with various other entrepreneurs. ‘Everyone is self-motivated to be here and not because someone else has told them they have to be’, he says. ‘At Delft University of Technology, your ideas always had to be approved by loads of people. Here you can carry them out straight away, which gives you much more freedom.’

‘We look for interesting stories in the alleyways that most people pass by without a second thought.'

Renken is proud that he and Bruggink have created a product from nothing. ‘We get loads of positive reactions. It’s great to hear that people do the walk that you came up with and really enjoy it too.’ He and Bruggink hope to keep growing and are already expanding to Belgium and Germany. Does he have any tips for current students? ‘Look for what’s in your stretch zone’, he says. ‘Don’t stay in your comfort zone. Your options are much greater than you think.’

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