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: Utrecht. Read the other episodes of the series here (as far as already published).
Health, enterprise software and fintech. Perhaps not the sexiest markets, but there’s a lot of activity in these areas in Utrecht. They form the top three of sectors with which start-ups from Utrecht are involved. It suits the regional entrepreneurial mindset, according to Herman van den Berg of start-up incubator UtrechtInc. “The typical start-ups here are very much about the pure Dutch ”act normal because the reality is crazy enough already’.”
Utrecht has a good start-up climate. That is also shown by a research of the University Utrecht, which was published last summer. The province is in the seventh place in the EE index. That is the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Index, a sum of elements and conditions that determine the ecosystem for entrepreneurship.
With the good climate that Utrecht offers, the start-ups from Utrecht still mainly focus on three sectors. Van den Berg says a number of reasons can be given for that. “They’re all three big, slow markets with a lot of unwieldy players”, he explains. “In such markets, start-ups can respond well to niches by innovating.” Besides, those are exactly the sectors in which money can be made, according to Van den Berg.
Utrecht Science Park
Although on the one hand, the Dutch entrepreneurial mindset explains the focus on the three sectors, other things also play a role. “In the city of Utrecht, there are a lot of highly educated people, partly due to the presence of the university and the academic hospital”, Van den Berg explains. In addition, Utrecht has a shared campus with Bilthoven, the Utrecht Science Park (USP). The USP especially targets on the life sciences and on health care: general, but large sectors in which a lot of innovation is possible.
On the USP, a number of factors come together: the university, the college, the different hospitals, such as the UMC Utrecht, the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital and the Princess Máxima Center, but also the establishment of all kinds of companies and agencies, such as Danone Nutricia Research and the RIVM (National Institute for Health and Environment). The incubator UtrechtInc is also on the Uithof and therefore often succeeds to connect science and entrepreneurship.
The start-up Tekster is an illustration of that. Tekster is a teaching method for writing skills which was initially developed in a research setting. When primary schools started asking whether the teaching method was for sale, the ball started to roll, says Monica Koster, one of the researchers who established Tekster. “Setting up a business from science was really like pioneering”, says Koster. Having an impact as a researcher is fun, but making money out of your research is frowned upon. “You don’t do that, that’s not considered right”, says Koster. With an incubator like UtrechtInc, the connection between science and enterprising was made after all.
In addition, there’s a very practical advantage to enterprising in Utrecht, says Koster. “Utrecht is beautifully located in the heart of our country. That’s always practical when you’re meeting up with people from all places”, she adds.
Tiemen Roest, the co-founder of Ikify, confirms the importance of the geographical location. Ikify is a platform that focuses on the mental health of working mothers and last year, they won the second prize at the Avicenna Healthcare Hackathon. The company is located in the Maliekwartier in Utrecht, at a cycling distance from Utrecht Science Park. “The UMCU, university and all sorts of companies being so close, is going to pay off for us as well”, Roest explains. “But in the current starting phase of our company, we’re getting much more out of the smaller ecosystem of our venture builder Holland Startup.”
Couldn’t it also be a disadvantage to be surrounded by all sorts of companies that want to fish in the same pond as you? Not according to Roest. “For me, the cool thing about the start-up world is exactly how open everyone is towards each other. We need each other.”
The challenges you do face in the region of Utrecht, strangely also have to do with the location. Although Utrecht comes with a lot of (practical) advantages as a central region in the Netherlands, it can also give trouble. For example, Utrecht can partly benefit from the international success of Amsterdam, but Utrecht should also sometimes step out of the shadow and do some more self-profiling. “It’s not really in our Dutch culture to feel proud of what we’re making. Amsterdam is internationally on the map. Although we have a lot of successful start-ups in Utrecht, those success stories don’t reach other countries”, Roest explains. “We could be a little prouder of what we’re doing here.”