If there is one category of companies that are responsible for innovation in the Netherlands, it would have to be the start-ups. Innovation Origins is always looking for relevant innovations, therefore there is every reason to really capture the complete Dutch start-up ecosystem. Armed with the data sets of StartupDelta, we visited all Dutch provinces. In 14 episodes, published between December 24, 2018, and January 7, 2019, we’re giving an overview of the start-up ecosystem in the Netherlands. The series has been made by the journalists of cooperation PitchProducties, commissioned by Innovation Origins. Today the final consideration. Read the other episodes of the series here.
How are the start-ups in the twelve Dutch provinces supported, and what characterizes the start-up ecosystem in these different regions? Two weeks ago, we started a project to create a clearer view of this than has been done so far. Hereby, we draw up the balance of this research: what do we hear often, what’s going well – but also: what could go better?
If anything stands out in the Dutch start-up ecosystem, it would be that every province contributes to it. Of course, the majority of the start-up initiatives can be found in the regions around Amsterdam and Eindhoven, but also in relatively underrepresented provinces like Zeeland and Drenthe, there are funds, challenges and incubator programs.
Still, this should be nuanced a bit more. Start-up initiatives in smaller provinces are still relatively often linked to organizations that focus on stimulating entrepreneurship in general. Although that stimulation can of course only be applauded, the terms ‘innovation’ and ‘start-ups’ are often confused with ‘starting up’ sole proprietorship or small businesses without innovative or disruptive impact.
Besides, it is striking that in the comparison between ‘large’ and ‘small’, when we spoke with sources outside the previously mentioned innovation strongholds, we often heard about the presence of the ‘act normal because the reality is crazy enough already’-mentality. We heard this, for example, in Drenthe, Friesland and Zeeland.
A strong position?
A little more pride should be present in the Netherlands. From a global perspective, the Netherlands is scoring relatively well in the field of innovation, as is evident from the annually released Global Innovation Index. The Netherlands has been in the top ten for years and this year it’s even on the second place in terms of innovation climate.
“The Netherlands obviously has a very strong economy. We have good knowledge institutions and a well educated labor force”, Myrthe Hooijman of StartupDelta explains the strong position of the Netherlands. According to her though, this position isn’t that obvious. “Times are changing now, in which we invest insufficiently”, she says.
If it was up to Hooijman, new technologies would be invested in more in the Netherlands. “In five years’ time, what do we think the Netherlands is best at on a global level?” She thinks too little thought is going into that now. “In the Netherlands, we’re focusing on SMEs. That’s also important, but the distinctness loses.”
To boost the innovation climate some more, Hooijman would like to see that it was made financially more attractive to invest profit from a sold company in other companies after an exit. She says this is stimulated in a lot of other countries, but not enough in the Netherlands. “Entrepreneurs who have been successful are the best mentors”, says Hooijman. She thinks they are exactly the people you would want to involve in the process again.
We also saw campuses playing a big role in the start-up ecosystem in provinces like Overijssel, Limburg and Groningen. The same can be said for the campus in Delft and the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. Besides a campus, a start-up network can also be formed in the region, as can be seen in Groningen.
It’s clear that a good collaboration with knowledge institutions provides an advantage and it can serve as a catalyst for the (innovative) development within a region. Whether it’s a university, colleges or large companies: there are several ways to shape a campus.
Comments are made here and there, of which the main one is that it could be a little less competitive between regions. It is precisely the division into regions that causes fragmentation of initiatives in the Netherlands. Hooijman recognizes this fragmentation. She says that cooperation is bigger than it was a couple of years ago, but innovation in the Netherlands is still inhibited by internal competition. “It’s not unwillingness, but the division into regions is deeply rooted in the Dutch culture”, she says.
StartupDelta strives for a “one-single hub“, she says, whereby knowledge around an innovation theme is widely shared in the Netherlands. According to Hooijman, this doesn’t necessarily have to happen in one place. “But in terms of knowledge development and for companies, it’s more interesting if knowledge would be more bundled.”
The start-up series has come to an end, but the story of innovation never ends. Follow Innovation Origins to stay up-to-date with all those initiatives and activities that are working towards a better world.
Have an idea?
With this article, we’re closing our project to give a better overview of the start-up ecosystem in the Netherlands. We do have one last message though. Because even though it might feel like the world of start-ups and innovation is far away from you, this isn’t really the case.
In case you have come with a luminous inspiration or solution for a problem in the past few weeks (maybe even because of this project): pitch it!
You obviously don’t have to immediately quit your job or education. The Netherlands has plenty of initiatives where you can make a slow start. In case your interest has been piqued, you could participate in a Startup Weekend: this is organized annually in several Dutch cities.