RSM graduate Evan van der Holst receives Rotterdam Thesis Award

A master thesis focusing on what social entrepreneurs need so they can scale up their businesses has won the Rotterdam Thesis Award. A Search for a Fertilizer for Social Enterprises is written by MScBA Master in Management alumnus Evan van der Holst, who graduated from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) in 2017.

Van der Holst will be presented with his award during the Opening of the Academic Year of Erasmus University Rotterdam on Monday, 3 September. He is the second RSM graduate to receive this prize; Rianne van Nieuwland won the first Rotterdam Thesis Award in 2013.

His master thesis was supervised by Professor Rob van Tulder with Professor Lucas Meijs as co-reader. Van der Holst focuses on what social entrepreneurs need to scale up their businesses. He argues that although the social enterprise sector is growing steadily, the question of why social enterprises have not yet seen the kind of rapid scaling up experienced by companies like Facebook and Google still remains. The goal of his thesis was therefore to research the question: What ways exist for Dutch social enterprises to overcome scaling barriers?

To answer this question, Van der Holst presents a model that projects the strategies for overcoming scaling barriers in three different phases. Strategies that were claimed to have the greatest impact because they influence multiple barriers were: implementing a theory of change; developing a governance structure; and developing business acumen. Strategies that proved to be an interesting addition to the literature and practice were: overcoming ‘Founder’s syndrome’, choosing loans over equity, and choosing realism over idealism.

About the Rotterdam Thesis Award

The Rotterdam Thesis Award is a joint initiative of Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Municipality of Rotterdam. Students are encouraged to make an active contribution to social developments within the city itself.

The Jury Report

Evan van der Holst’s master thesis offers rich insights into how social entrepreneurs go about their business and what they require from their surrounding ecosystem to achieve scale-up, said the Jury. While social enterprises are hardly a new phenomenon, they do play an increasingly important role in the city’s social development. The jury consequently praised the practical relevance and applicability of Van der Holst’s thesis, as well as its methodological rigour and theoretical quality, which of course are also the core values of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

About the Opening of the Academic Year

The Opening of the Academic Year on Monday, 3 September marks the start of Erasmus University's 105th anniversary celebrations. The university is celebrating with the city of Rotterdam and its residents with the theme: ‘Science Meets City: Getting to know each other’, and the ceremony in the Sint-Laurenskerk in the centre of Rotterdam will have the theme of ‘Value in diversity’. Information and registrations is at:

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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