V.l.n.r.: Nard Sintenie, Marian Spier en Han Dirkx
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The Netherlands has one of the most robust tech ecosystems in the world. Within the EU, Amsterdam-Delta is the top-rated start-up ecosystem for the second year. But, despite the Dutch tech sector being one of the best performing in Europe, investments declined by 25 percent in 2023. Whereas the United Kingdom and France are seeing the tech ecosystem grow, it is stagnating in the Netherlands. Start-ups need help finding if the expat scheme’s scaling back is eroding competitiveness, according to Techleap.

These are some key conclusions from Techleap’s annual The State of Dutch Tech 2023 report. But how does the sector itself view this? We put some conclusions from the report to three ecosystem insiders: Han Dirkx, founder of start-up Alphabeats; Marian Spier, serial entrepreneur and CEO of FEM-START; and Nard Sintenie, general partner at investment fund Innovation Industries.

1. The austerity of the expat scheme and critical attitude towards labor migration affect the competitive position of the Netherlands.

Nard Sintenie: “I recognize the concerns being expressed. We have a shortage of tech talent in the Netherlands. The bottom line is that we depend on smart people from abroad. If we want the Netherlands to develop further as a technology country – and I am convinced we should want that – then you also have to make sure we make or keep the Netherlands attractive for knowledge workers.”

Marian Spier: “I hear many people discussing this in my environment. It is tough to find personnel. FEM-START (a platform that wants to narrow the funding gap for women entrepreneurs, ed.) is internationally oriented, so I also think it’s important that my team, which includes French and Sri Lankan colleagues, reflects that ambition. If the pool of tech talent you have to fish from as an entrepreneur is made even smaller, for example, by further tightening the expat regulation, that will not make the business climate more attractive.”

2. Start-ups find funding more difficult than in previous years.

Sintenie: “I disagree with that. Anyone who wants to start a tech start-up can get money. Only if you’re going to scale up and talk about hefty funding rounds will funding become a problem. The Techleap report also shows that companies have to look outside the Netherlands or Europe for those rounds. You want to prevent a jumble of start-ups hanging on to life support but not having the chance to become significant. This keeps talent away from promising start-ups with an opportunity to grow. There is more than enough money, but there needs to be more people who can explain the technology side to investors.

Han Dirkx: “The typical tech start-up founder is technical and has trouble selling a story or a dream. Ultimately, it’s a promise to sell to bring in funding. Investing is a people business: the invention is 5 percent of the success, and the other 95 percent is selling that invention. We are missing many opportunities there in the Netherlands, but I don’t believe there is a lack of funding.”

3. The reliance on foreign venture capital funds for later-stage financing highlights the need to improve domestic investment.

Dirkx: “Looking specifically at the deep-tech sector, I find increasing attention to this in the Netherlands. For example, the establishment of DeepTech XL has changed a lot. Whereas before, it was very difficult for companies that needed a long run-up – at Alphabeats, after four years, we are finally getting close to a product that can go to market – that has changed. It would help if you had investors who could think with you and dare to value companies based on their technology. And that requires different kinds of funds; I think that’s going very well. Because the deep-tech ecosystem in the Netherlands is so strong, that helps us raise funding in follow-up phases.”

Spier: “I see the start-up ecosystem getting more and more attention and venture capital funds becoming more visible. Ultimately, entrepreneurship is always about solving problems and finding the right market for your product or service. With so many challenges and needs, there are countless opportunities for new businesses to emerge. I am not negative when I look at the investment climate in the Netherlands.