Interviewing MKB Cyber Campus about their Hacklab

March 6, 2023

To gather information about The MKB Cyber Campus and the Hacklab Set Up Guide, interviews were conducted December 2022 in Leeuwarden Netherlands with Jelly Paulusma, Sybren Dijkstra, and founders Nienke Hoeksma and Erik Miedema. MKB Cybercampus is a leading example in setting up a Hacklab, as Nienke and Erik began their own Hacklab before the start of the Erasmus Plus WHAT THE HACK?! project. In the beginning it was only open one day a week, but now they are a professional education company open five days a week.

They raised money for this by partnering with foundations in the region as well as the municipality of Leeuwarden. They also work closely with VET schools for IT, with students joining the program or teachers giving lessons. The Hacklabs main audience are young adults who don’t fit in the main educational system, and/or who haven’t been in employment for some time, usually between 18-40 years old. According to Sybren, working with this target group “it’s not always easy, and not everyone will be successful, of course, but many people that came here have now found work”. The MKB Cyber Campus reaches their target audience through the municipality, job coaches, account managers, and through government health organizations. After students finish the program they often find employment or go back to school, with the success rate being between 70-80% according to Nienke, one of the MKB Cyber Campus founders. There is still some difficulty in reaching certain audiences. For example there are not many women in ICT. However, a lot of experience and a lot of good network contacts can help guide students to the Hacklab program. Another challenge is that when students join the program they can be at very different levels. Some could have years of experience, while others are just starting out with their IT skills. The teachers have to manage the group and try to keep everybody motivated in their different levels. Cooperating with the world of work through partnerships allows MKB Cyber Campus to cater the training to the needs of ICT organizations, and allows students to receive real world assignments to work on.

When a student joins the program they typically begin with a short intake period, after six weeks there is a decision of “go” or “no go”, then they start with one subject, such as security, ethical hacking, or software development. They stay in the program for nine months. The participants have a sort of lesson twice or three times a week where the teacher explains some things, and the rest of the week they educate themselves and do homework. “The key concept is that IT is something that you have to do. You don’t read about it in books. You just have to put your fingers on the keyboard and do, do, do, and make a lot of hours practicing” said Jelly, a coach at the Hacklab.

The program is successful because there are low barriers of entry for the students, and the program, because it is not attached to formal education, is flexible, changing with the industry. Students find this interesting as it is not classical school lessons, but more project based and they can focus on what they want to learn. “When they are discovering that IT is something fun to do, it gives a certain internal drive and then they’re gone, and they sparkle and come to life” said Jelly.

Furthermore, there is a shortage in cyber and IT personnel these days, so now is a good time to start a career in ICT. “One of the strengths of the Hacklab is that we are quite small. So we have some partner companies say ‘I need someone who, for example, knows waterfall’ and we can start a course tomorrow about waterfall.” MKB Cyber Campus works very closely with industry partners and can provide a very hands on approach that meets industry needs.

Important tips for starting a Hacklab are to have structure in the program and what you will offer, as well as knowing how to find funds and partnerships to support you. If you find a weakness in your program , try to solve it right away. Be transparent and communicate a lot. Having low barriers of entry to join the Hacklab is also a huge strength as some of the participants may have been unemployed for some time. As it gets increasingly difficult to find a job, it is important for the Hacklab to be welcoming and give these people a chance. Furthermore, it is important to have a positive psychology, focusing on the positives, and focusing on the interests and intrinsic motivations of the students. Additionally, participants must make a lot of hours practicing. Lastly, working with real companies and providing real life assignments for the students increases the motivation of students, and also prepares them for the actual world of work.

To learn more about Hacklabs check out our resources at including the Hacklab Setup Guide, the Blended Training Programme for Hacklab Coaches, and the Blended Training Programme for VET Youngsters. Or check out the MKB Cyber Campus at For questions email