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Whereas Dutch entrepreneurs see the country’s business climate getting worse and worse, Clinton Bemont still finds the Dutch setting very welcoming. “Dutch entrepreneurs often complain that they don’t have access to easy funding mechanisms; they compare themselves to California. I don’t have any direct experience in California, but from where I stand, when it comes to the pros, the Netherlands is close to that level,” he says. Bemont is the CEO of maxwell+spark, and he spoke to IO about his company, his decision to move it to Rotterdam, and the current business climate in the country.

Why this is important:

Despite Dutch companies sounding an alarm over a deteriorating business climate in the country, businesses moving to the Netherlands still find much value in the ecosystem.

Maxwell+spark is a South African-founded company working on lithium-ion technology for industrial mobility systems. Their primary focus is cold-chain refrigeration, as they develop electric-powered solutions for truck and trailer refrigeration systems to replace conventional diesel generators. The company officially opened its Dutch branch in 2022 and has twenty people working at its Rotterdam location. Most of the team – over 100 people – and the headquarters are still located in Durban, but the South African branch of the company will soon become a part of the Dutch group. Furthermore, maxwell+spark also started operations in the United States.

After the first years of operation, the company needed more space to grow and looked at Europe as the place to do so. “We opted for Europe for a multitude of reasons. So we focused on the Netherlands and Germany, to then realize that Rotterdam was the obvious place because of its port and the supportive ecosystem around it. We saw significant value in the the support systems when coming into the city,” explains Bemont. The CEO particularly stresses this point, as the presence of actors like Up!Rotterdam and Rotterdam Partners helped them fit and connect in the region. 

Rising concerns

Although Bemont still has a positive opinion of the Dutch business climate, some minor concerns are starting to arise. The CEO hints at the changes in the taxation for expats, which is making bigger companies such as ASML think of leaving the country to grow further, given their need for talent. 

“Making it more difficult for highly skilled workers to come across is not clever. You want highly skilled people to come to your country; there is nothing complicated about that. I think the thirty percent ruling was one of the best mechanisms that any country in the world put into place for attracting foreigners, and now, with the scaling back, it is less appealing,” Belmont stresses. 

Clinton Bemont – © maxwell+spark

The CEO of maxwell+spark also alludes to the minimum wage needed to take full advantage of the rule, which was raised to €46.107 this year. His company also brought talent from South Africa to give a foundation to the Dutch branch, thus experiencing the impact of the policies firsthand. 

New regulation on the horizon

Nonetheless, the scenario might change further for maxwell+spark as the PGS-372 directive will become law. This directive is a set of guidelines for storage and related activities involving hazardous substances. Specifically, the directive focuses on lithium-based batteries, setting more stringent rules for lithium-ion manufacturers. The law might become effective as early as next July or at the beginning of 2025. Given the new limits, which are considered the most restrictive in the world, lithium-ion product manufacturers might consider leaving the country. Bemont and his company will wait and see what will work best for their situation.

maxwell+spark’s technology

Conventional refrigerated trucks, both mid-sized and trailers, need an extra diesel generator onboard to keep goods at the right temperature. Instead, maxwell+spark offers a range of solutions catering to both trailers and small vans that make the refrigeration system fully electric. Their system for smaller and medium-sized vans, which the company designed specifically for Europe, is a battery inverter system that connects to the existing fridge of the trailer, converting it into an electric one.


Testament to the possibilities and favorable environment, maxwell+spark received funding from the Just Transition Fund (JTF) to develop and scale up its Advantage.li product. The JTF is a European fund targeting the shift towards carbon-intensive industries. It is making money available to local subsidiaries, such as the JTF Rijnmond, which is co-financing the € 2.5 million venture with maxwell+spark itself. 

“The project will roll over the next two years, and the resulting innovation will be a step in reducing the upfront costs of our system and the payoff time for users,” underlines the CEO. He also remarks that having similar initiatives in South Africa would be “close to impossible.” In his view, there is a lack of such support systems in his home country, which thus makes businesses’ lives more challenging. 

The company’s origins 

Bemont has a past as an academic at the South African University of KwaZulu-Natal. After getting a Ph.D. in materials engineering, he became interested in electron microscopy to later research lithium-ion battery anodes. It was when talking with a friend working in the refrigerated logistics industry in 2015 that he realized the potential of using lithium-ion tech to decarbonize the sector. In fact, to keep goods at the right temperature, trucks and trailers commonly use an extra diesel generator that keeps running, even when the lorry is not moving. Just like a combustion engine, a generator emits CO2 and particulate matter. 

Nowadays, the company offers two solutions for the refrigerated logistics sector: Fridge.li, a fully integrated refrigeration system for medium-sized trucks, and Advantage.li, a battery powertrain for trailers’ refrigeration system. In addition, it also developed motive.li, a lithium-ion battery for materials handling, such as tow trucks and forklifts. Advantage.li was specifically designed for the European market.  The company caters its solutions to different geographies. In addition to the South African and Dutch branches, maxwell+spark is also present in the United States and currently assembles most of its systems for that market in the Netherlands.

Outcomes in the long run

Bemont describes Rotterdam as “nothing but supportive,” highlighting the many initiatives in the city that are fostering the innovation community. Events like the Upstream Festival play an important role, but local policies are also making it grow. Overall, the mix of contributions from different actors is what makes the city ecosystem appealing to innovators.

Yet, he warns about the potential outcomes of today’s decisions. “I would say everyone should keep in mind that the effects of policy changes will manifest in five to 15 years. And I think that the Netherlands has made a lot of good decisions in the past. The world changes, but the fundamentals of what makes a good economy don’t change.”