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: OverijsselRead the other episodes of the series here (as far as already published).

Overijssel currently has 217 start-ups, of which 168 are located in Twente. Twente turns out to be the start-up hotspot of Overijssel. Why do so many starting companies settle in ‘the far east’? Frank Bouwmeester of Startup Twente: “Entrepreneurship is in the DNA of the region. That was traditionally determined by the manufacturing industry of Twente”.

Enterprising university

To find out why Twente, with Enschede as the leading city, has so many start-ups, we have to go back to the 80s. The rector of the University Twente (UT) at the time, Harry van den Kronenberg, thought that the university itself and with that also its students had to become more entrepreneurial. This made him break the tradition that universities would only educate students for science and jobs in business life.

Van den Kronenberg was maligned by this idea. “Other universities shouted: free science is paramount, we shouldn’t surrender to business life,” says Bouwmeester. “But this eventually did make him the founder of the enterprising university. He laid the focus on the meaning of knowledge within the university, and the value this had for the society. He saw the possibilities for the UT to become a knowledge entrepreneur.”

And this possibility was used all the way. In the past 30 years, over 2,000 startups have been founded around the UT and the Saxion University of Applied Sciences Enschede. The for many well-known Thuisbezorgd (home food delivery, takeaway.com) – of which the founder is now a billionaire – was an idea of a student at the UT. This also goes for travel and accommodation website Booking.com.

Also from Saxion University of Applied Sciences Enschede, more and more start-ups are established nowadays. “They mainly used to come from the university, but Saxion is now also very active. Saxion, as well as the UT, has produced over 1,000 start-ups,” says Bouwmeester.

Ecosystem

In the past few decades, an ecosystem for start-ups has been established around the UT and the Saxion. Since 2000, the entrepreneurial attitude of the university was included in the curriculum of both the UT and Saxion. In addition, Foundation Knowledge Park Twente, now Novel-T, was founded from the university, which offers students free help in establishing a start-up.

“If you have an idea here, you can count on our help. The emphasis at Novel-T is on innovative ideas, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to help someone who wants to sell T-shirts”, says Tijmen van den Elzen, junior business developer at Novel-T. “It’s actually very accessible: if you have an idea, you can walk in to have a chat with us”.

Besides advice, Novel-T also offers the TOP regulation, a loan of 40,000 euros for promising innovative starters from the UT and Saxion. Van den Elzen: “From 2011 to 2015, 94% of the innovative starters who received this loan was successful”.

The retention of talent is, according to Van den Elzen, one of the most important reasons why innovation is so important in ‘the far east’. “Many young people leave Twente after graduating. We have to make the region as attractive as possible so that the talent will stay here”.

Aryzon: augmented reality glasses

Aryzon is one of those startups that arose from the UT. Three years ago, the company was established by five Industrial Design Engineering students. Leon Schipper, one of the co-founders: “A guy in my graduation group approached me. He had an idea. He had been working on it for half a year but he couldn’t do it alone”.

What exactly was that idea? “Cheap and scalable 3D augmented reality glasses,” says Schipper. With augmented reality, digital information is added to what you see in reality.

“Before we launched this one, there was already one on the market for 3500 euros. Ours costs less than thirty euros”. This enables everyone, according to Schipper, “to see holograms in your own surroundings. In the future, everyone will have to do with this”.

Aryzon received the TOP regulation early 2018, which enabled them to develop further. “At a given moment, all the money raised at the beginning was gone, so the regulation came in handy”, says Schipper. They mainly used the loan to hire staff.

Schipper: “That activist climate in Enschede is in everything you do.” He especially noticed this when he founded Aryzon. But he says you’re also motivated to get as much out of your studies, or for example your board year, as possible. “Enschede just has the enterprising spirit”.

Photo: University Twente

Catch-up in Zwolle?

In Zwolle, the entrepreneurial climate of Enschede seems to have blown over. Initiatives like Launchlab Zwolle, which is concerned with the support of start-ups, seem to confirm this. Henk Beijert, founder of Launchlab Zwolle: “We want to improve the start-up ecosystem in the Zwolle region.”

“Three years ago, I started as the initiator of Launchlab, because I wanted to give the start-up climate in Zwolle an impulse,” says Beijert. With his start-up, he had won Startupweekend Utrecht, but couldn’t find a start-up place in Zwolle for him to join.

Beijert established his own start-up community in Zwolle, where start-ups are supported. “In three years’ time, a lot has happened: Zwolle is thriving. Launchlab is a real breeding pond for start-ups”.

But becoming bigger than Enschede is not the goal. Beijert: “Zwolle is centrally located between several start-up hubs: the Randstad, Twente and the North. I see Zwolle as a test bed: this is where start-ups can experiment”. According to Beijert, Zwolle and Enschede can benefit from each other. Not competing, but cooperating is his creed.

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