The subsidy Topsector Energy, the Promotion of Research and Development Work Act, the subsidy Demonstration and Energy- and Climate Innovation, Operational Programme South Netherlands (OPZuid). These are just a few of the hundreds of subsidy schemes that are available in the Netherlands. Add to that the European subsidies and the choice is frankly overwhelming. For innovative tech start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs, these funds function as important instruments for securing funding. As it happens, banks often consider lending to these companies too risky.
Still, entrepreneurs tend to regard applying for those subsidies as a chore. Something that Liesbeth Kraaijveld noticed when she was working as a consultant for large subsidy consultancies. This is why Kraaijveld founded Innovencio in 2012. This consultancy firm helps start-ups, scale-ups, SMEs, citizens’ initiatives and educational and knowledge institutes to apply for the right subsidies.
Saving promising innovations
Whereas large companies and institutions often employ their own people to bring in subsidies in a professional way, start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs usually do not. “I found that too often promising ideas and projects fell by the wayside, because it is so much harder for small, innovative companies to claim subsidies. While that is precisely where innovation is taking place when it comes to transitioning to a more sustainable, better world. Through Innovencio, I want to ensure that those innovations are not lost.”
Kraaijveld opted for a very clear focus: the energy transition, sustainability, life sciences and circular economy. That choice was made based on her fascination with people who invent new technologies and solutions and who want to bring them to fruition. “I’m a bit of a do-gooder. Whether it’s a tiny ingenious device that makes open-heart surgery unnecessary, or a citizens’ initiative that is going to build a completely circular neighborhood. Technological innovations that contribute to a better world fascinate me.”
More money and more competition
Innovencio has grown rapidly over the past ten years, evolving from a one-person business to a company with 27 people on the payroll that sends hundreds of subsidy applications out the door each year. This was due in part to Kraaijveld’s focus areas becoming increasingly important. Whereas ‘circular economy’ was not recognized as eligible for subsidies by the government ten years ago, the government now wants the Netherlands to be fully circular by 2050. “When we first started, there were loads of good projects in that area. In recycling, for one thing. Yet at that time, no subsidy money could be claimed. Now there are so many more options. The same goes for the energy transition.”
At the same time, competition has also intensified. More and more parties are vying for government funds. “You really have to stand out and be very astute. The bar is high, companies are needing our help more and more often,” says Kraaijveld.
The right subsidy
Anyone who brings in Innovencio first puts forward their idea. If the consultants of the agency see something in it, they look for a fitting subsidy scheme, draw up a strategic plan and write an application. Of the applications that the company submits, 91 percent are approved.
The ‘Circular Polymers’ test bed is an example of a research consortium that Innovencio has submitted an application for. The consortium works on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus on converting discarded plastic into high-quality raw materials.
“For this project, knowledge institutions are working together with companies to make plastic circular. This has been awarded an OP Zuid subsidy, a European subsidy programme for the provinces of Zeeland, Limburg and North Brabant. Spearheads of this subsidy are innovation promotion and the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
“Of course, a lot can be done virtually these days; we don’t need to go overboard. But you have to create times when you can sit around the table together.”Liesbeth Kraaijveld
Hub on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus
Innovencio has had a hub on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus since April this year, in addition to its office in Zaltbommel. “There are so many parties there who are working on relevant issues that it is important to be nearby and to be able to easily start a conversation. That personal approach is important at Innovencio. Of course, a lot can be done virtually these days; we don’t need to go overboard. But you have to create times when you can sit around the table together. With this step, we will be able to make those times happen.”