’I now know that I can do it on my own, but I no longer want to’

Linda Zandt-Sloot at her company Tibo Energy in Disruptor on the TU/e campus. Ph
Linda Zandt-Sloot at her company Tibo Energy in Disruptor on the TU/e campus. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke
Alumna Linda Zandt-Sloot managed to turn her challenges into her great strength and now co-runs a successful startup.

Persevering and proving that you can do it despite the setbacks and adversity; Linda Zandt-Sloot knows exactly how this feels. After a difficult start in elementary school and years of problems with her physical health, she graduated cum laude from the Data Science master’s program at the age of 38. In the meantime, she co-founded a successful startup in the energy sector. "With people around you who truly know you, you can achieve so much more."

Linda Zandt-Sloot has characteristics of autism, is dyslexic, and is highly intelligent. At 39 years old, she has gotten to know herself well and is now experiencing the benefits of her super-analytical brain. Having worked her way up to become a co-founder and the head of Data Science at the startup Tibo Energy, she feels right at home.

When I was young, autism didn’t exist, and certainly not for girls. They just thought I was a little weird and ignored me.

Linda Zandt-Sloot

That wasn’t the case during her youth, growing up in a small village in Noord-Holland. "When I was young, I had trouble reading, became easily overstimulated, and had difficulty connecting with other children and teachers. Autism wasn’t spoken about then, and certainly not in girls. They thought that I was weird and mostly ignored me." The fact that she contracted glandular fever and was home sick for an extended period didn’t help either.

The elementary school that she attended after a move was hell for her. "I was severely bullied in class and constantly told that I was not allowed to take part in anything because I was different."

Her elementary school days sowed the seeds of her drive always to want to be the best and to feel permitted to be there. This has had negative repercussions: "Even now, I regularly feel that what I’ve achieved is insufficient."

At some point, I decided to do it on my own.
Linda Zandt-Sloot

Cheating on the CITO test

When she scored above expectations on the grade 8 CITO test, her teacher said she must have been cheating. "Taking a test in a quiet class without continuous stimuli works very well for my analytical brain." She had to retake the CITO test in the principal’s office and again scored better than expected.

The school advised her to attend an IVBO school. "This is small-scale education in which you learn basic skills so that you can go to work in parks and gardens."

Entrance test

Linda’s parents did not recognize their daughter at all’in this advice. They arranged for Linda to take an entrance test for junior general secondary education (Middelbaar algemeen voortgezet onderwijs, MAVO) in high school. "I was so proud that I was allowed to attend theoretical education."

As the MAVO class was complete, she was placed in a small class for students of MAVO and senior general secondary education (Hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs, HAVO) with the intention that she would move on to the second year of MAVO in her second year. That didn’t happen: Linda scored so well that she transferred to the second year of HAVO and then the third.

That teacher made the difference for me.

Linda Zandt-Sloot

The third year of HAVO marked the first time her path crossed with a teacher who noticed Linda and saw what she had to offer. "He said, ’You’re failing all’of the languages, but you’re getting straight tens in the science subjects. You don’t have enough of a challenge here; I want you to go to the Atheneum.’ That man made the difference for me," she says with a smile.

Glandular fever

Halfway through the third year of HAVO, she transferred to the third year of the Atheneum, a Dutch educational course to prepare for scientific education at university. With hard work and despite her dyslexia, she also managed to pass the languages. In the fourth year of the Atheneum, glandular fever knocked on Linda’s door again, and she spent a year sick at home. Afterward, she completed the fifth and sixth years of pre-university education (Voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs, VWO).

The turnaround

The big turnaround came at the University of Twente, where Linda began studying Chemical Engineering and Applied Physics when she was 19. As one of a few girls studying there at the time, she ended up in a student house with 13 boys as housemates. "That’s where I found my place."

On the first day of the introductory week, she met Bas-Jan Zandt, the supervisor of her group of physics students. She knew immediately: this is going to go wrong. "In the pre-intro for girls, we were constantly warned that you shouldn’t start anything with your intro supervisor. I laughed back then because I had no interest in boys at all. I was there to study."

My father always thought that I should have more fun and focus less on being the best.

Linda Zandt-Sloot

Fate decided otherwise, and the spark struck the first time they laid eyes on each other. "We both knew right away that we were the ones for each other. Bas understood what I meant rather than what I said. That was a miracle for me, given my severely limited social skills. He taught me how to communicate with the rest of the world and gave me a voice."

"So, I had to call my father after three days of intro to tell him I had a boyfriend. It gave him a great laugh. He always thought I should have more fun and focus less on being the best."

Done with the fun

"I was having the best time of my life at university, then I contracted glandular fever for the third time, and the fun was done." She had to quit her studies at the end of the first year.

This time, it was severe: "My immune system doesn’t work at full capacity. As a result, the disease could fester in my body. I grew weak, and my body stopped functioning properly. I could only lie in bed and was declared unfit for work."

I was diagnosed with ME/CFS. A catch-all term for "you’re completely exhausted and can’t take a punch anymore, but we don’t know why."

Linda Zandt-Sloot

Countless hospital visits and treatments in rehabilitation centers followed in those years. "I was eventually diagnosed with ME/CFS , a sort of catch-all term for ’you’re completely exhausted and can’t take a punch anymore, but we don’t know why.’"

Eventually, Linda took small steps forward. "I had to use a wheelchair to get out the door, but I wanted to do something again. I then started working two mornings a week as a scheduler. After a morning of work, I would be in bed for the rest of the day and the day after. But I did feel like I was participating in society again."


Things got a lot better when she became pregnant with their first child at 28. "My body seemed to get a boost and a reset because of all those hormones." In the meantime, her husband Bas-Jan had graduated with a PhD in neurophysics and was offered a postdoctoral position in Norway. The young family moved there for two years, where their second son was born.

After three sons and several migrations for her husband’s work, the family arrived in Eindhoven for a job at ASML. "I felt good and told my father: ’I’m going to look for a job.’ ’That’s not going to happen,’ he replied. ’You’re only 33, you’re going to get a degree. You have plenty of time for work ahead of you.’"

Too old

"I said he was crazy; I’m not going back to university at 33, with three kids, among 18-year-olds. Besides, I was too old to follow the career path to become a researcher after that."

Linda’s father kept pushing and sent her information about the Data Science program at TU/e. She visited an open day and knew immediately that it was for her.

When our youngest son was nine months old, I returned to the lecture halls.

Linda Zandt-Sloot

To combine studying with her family, she submitted a plan to study at a slower pace. In doing so, she would complete her bachelor’s degree in Data Science in four and a half years rather than three. "Following approval by the Examination Committee, I returned to the lecture halls in 2018. Our youngest son, Marcel, was nine months old at the time."

In the first quartile, she found that she often had more in common with the teachers who supervised the seminars than with fellow students. "I had a lot of fun with Josh Mengerink, who taught the Programming-1 course. He recognized that I picked things up quickly and gave me extra assignments. He told me that he was starting a company with his friend Bram Cappers and offered to come talk when I graduated. But I was so enthusiastic that I offered to come on a summer internship."

Good click

The three had a good click, and Linda began working with them. "I did find it quite nerve-wracking, though, because they were two guys with PhDs. What did I know?"

On her first day, they gave her the results from their algorithm with the task of poking around in them. It remained silent for a few hours until Linda turned around and said, "Guys, your threshold values are incorrect. But if you change these and these numbers, I expect you’ll get a better outcome."

I’m very good at seeing patterns in data, so my super-analytical brain is good for something.

Linda Zandt-Sloot

"They could only laugh hard. They’d been working on it for half a year. ’You can’t know better than us after just a few hours,’ they said. But what I said was correct. I’m just very good at seeing patterns in data, so my super-analytical brain is good for something."

She went to work for Bram and Josh one day a week alongside her studies. That company later morphed into CodeNext21, with Linda as a co-shareholder. "The three of us make a wonderful team, complementing each other very well. Whatever algorithm needs to be built, we can do it."

Energy transition

There was a great desire not to work for clients but to build a platform themselves. On a terrace in Brussels, Bram and Linda philosophized on the sector in which they wanted to do that. "We came upon the energy transition. There’s so much data available; grid congestion was already at play. We figured that it had to be possible to do it smarter. That’s how Tibo Energy was born, allowing us to build our own platform to manage energy systems."

What does Tibo Energy do?

Tibo Energy has developed an energy management system (EMS). This software platform allows companies to optimize their energy consumption and reduce costs. The system can also control energy systems.

This starts with creating a digital twin of a company’s energy components - both the parts that consume energy and those that produce energy, such as solar panels and heat pumps. The current and desired situations are incorporated into this, such as installing solar panels or setting up charging stations.

"Our software can then create simulations that can look 30 years ahead. You can create scenarios: what happens in a harsh winter if we add a battery or go off the gas and install heat pumps? The system immediately provides answers to those questions," says Linda Zandt-Sloot of Tibo Energy.

The platform is built for complex energy consumption at companies or on campuses. "It can control components in a live situation: your solar panel has to turn off now because feed-in costs money, or your charging station is best to run at only 40 percent. It’s a smart system that continuously monitors your consumption and makes adjustments where necessary."

Linda Zandt-Sloot founded Tibo Energy with Josh Mengerink (left) and Bram Cappers (right). Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Tibo Energy, meanwhile, is no longer a startup. The company won a Gerard & Anton Award in 2023, and earlier this year, they raised three million euros in an investment round.

"We’re going up like a rocket," Linda explains enthusiastically. "We transferred the staff from CodeNext21 to Tibo Energy and now have 25 employees. We’re building such cool stuff. We recently completely redesigned the core of our platform, for which Josh, Bram, and I locked ourselves in a little room for months."

Linda also graduated - cum laude, of course. "My father congratulated me but immediately said, ’That means you could have achieved it with less effort and could have enjoyed life a bit more.’ But he was proud, as were my husband, children, and colleagues. They all shared in my joy."

Colleagues become friends

Linda feels seen and understood at Tibo Energy. "We’re a fantastically close team in which everyone is allowed to be themselves. They know that I have trouble with stimuli, and they take that into account. In our company, there’s a bell that you’re allowed to ring when you’ve sold software. They warn me if that’s going to happen."

Over the years, her colleague Bram has become a good friend. "He sees me for who I am. That’s been true from the very first meeting. He knows that I have trouble with environmental stimuli. When we have an outing with our company, he often orders food for me because he knows I have trouble reading the menu in a busy environment. He automatically takes that out of my hands."

Leaning on others

"I’m still just as sensitive to social interactions and stimuli as in elementary school. But when you have people around you who really know you and help you, you can do so much more. In high school, I thought I could do it on my own, and I would. I now know that I can do it on my own, but I no longer want to. I dare to lean on others now, making everything much nicer."

"It will always be a struggle to feel like I’m permitted to be here, that I’m smart enough to belong. It’s so important to have people around who remind you that you do."