The Netherlands is a country with ambitions. It is also a country with challenges. We should be a knowledge economy. We have an energy transition to make. The population is ageing, and healthcare costs are rising.

These are all serious challenges. Yet nothing we can’t cope with.

On Thursday evening Innovation Origins presented the Piek Awards, the prizes for the most important contributions to innovation in high tech in the Brainport region. In the run-up to that, I felt slightly sad to read that in 2019 it was news that Dens, a company that is developing generators which run on a green fuel (formic acid) raised half a million euros in investment. Lightyear raised €30 million in 2019. That seems like a lot of money … but read on.

Dutch alderman Stijn Steenbakkers also asked that we pay serious attention to the challenges we are facing. Our ambitions don’t square with what is actually being done..

Money is not a guarantee for success

As already mentioned, Lightyear’s €30 million sounds like a huge amount. Just like the €1.7 billion offered to Invest-NL. But the American developer of Rivian electric trucks raised €2.5 billion in 2019. This was for a company whose products may be pre-ordered, even though no deliveries have been made so far.

In China, one AI start-up, AInnovation, raised US$57 million during its second round. In total, billions are being invested in AI in China. Even the €100 million that TU/e invests in AI institute EAISI is not that impressive compared to this kind of scale.

“Money is not a guarantee for success”, or “it’s not about the money” are frequently parroted catchphrases uttered by consultants who want to help start-ups become ‘investor ready’ but who have no money of their own. The kind of consultants you should be extremely wary of. Because it is all about the money. No, money doesn’t guarantee success. But a lack of money does guarantee failure. A talented team that is primarily working on grant applications, sending out business plans, cutting back on developers or tools is not a team that is bound for success.

If we genuinely believe in the innovation talent of The Netherlands, then we also must be serious when it comes to making investments. We could also preserve our Calvinistic tradition. Provided we don’t whine about being dependent on foreign companies in all sorts of areas.

Merien ten Houten is co-founder of Innovation Origins and was at the very core of several successful companies, including the media platform NU.nl. In addition to Innovation Origins, he is also involved in the car sharing platform Amber Mobility, which he co-founded.

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