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: Zuid-Holland. Read the other episodes of the series here (as far as already published).

It’s obvious that Zuid-Holland is an important province for start-ups. Almost a quarter of all start-ups in the Netherlands (about 24%) is from this province, emulating her northern sister-province. Still, Noord-Holland remains the biggest start-up province of the Netherlands, but there’s one aspect in which Zuid-Holland seems to be undefeated: innovation.

This summer, the Chamber of Commerce announced that, with 27 companies, Zuid-Holland is the best-represented province in the SMEs Innovation Top 100. The second place was for Noord-Holland with 23 companies. Zuid-Holland seems to want to maintain this number 1 position by investing in (future) innovative start-ups.

“As a province, we do invest a lot in innovation,” a spokesperson of the province of Zuid-Holland says. “Innovative entrepreneurs are of great importance for the economy of Zuid-Holland. They make sure that we can stay ahead as a region and that we can compete on a global level.”

Futuristic issues

One of these investments is the participation in the Startup in Residence program, a partnership between start-ups and the government which focuses on innovation. Several provinces and government agencies place ‘challenges’, or issues, to which start-ups or ambitious young entrepreneurs can respond. If a solution for an issue is picked, that start-up may start realizing that idea with the help of a grant that can go up to 50,000 euros.

The remarkable thing is the strong focus on innovation in the challenges of Zuid-Holland. Besides the well-known search for new energy technologies and more sustainable forms of waste processing, Zuid-Holland is looking for futuristic solutions for everyday problems.

“What does the bus stop of the future look like?” is one of the eleven challenges that the province has presented to the prospective start-ups, with the instruction to design and develop a futuristic bus stop concept. Other issues are about collecting data, along with citizens, about air quality and new ways to use the knowledge, ideas and solutions of the inhabitants of Zuid-Holland.

3D printed Bus Stop

One of the nine start-ups that started working on such a challenge is Studio RAP. They want to produce the bus stop of the future – with a 3D printer. “We’re an innovative architectural firm and 3D printing is a big part of it,” says Wessel van Beerendonk, co-founder of Studio RAP. Bus stops are often neglected and are no good invitation for public transport, and Beerendonk thinks that tailored bus stops can change that. “We’re now working to actually apply that to a bus stop at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam,” Beerendonk explains. “Eventually, three designing scenarios came out of it and one of them is 3D printing.”

UNIIQ – established by Erasmus MC, TU Delft, Leiden University and the regional development society InnovationQuarter – also offers opportunities to innovative start-ups in Zuid-Holland. This investment fund focuses on speeding up the process of bringing unique, innovative ideas from the province to the market, by means of seed capital with which the proof-of-concept phase can be bridged. “We saw that there was a huge need for funding in companies in that early phase,” says Rinke Zonneveld, director of InnovationQuarter. “We then discussed with the three universities in Zuid-Holland what had to happen about that and quite quickly, we came to the conclusion that a very specific fund needed to be established.”

That way, InnovationQuarter wanted to combine their knowledge of market and investment with the technological knowledge of the universities. This turned out to be a good plan, because UNIIQ now gets more than two hundred applications a year, all start-ups from Zuid-Holland.

“In Zuid-Holland, things are made that you can drop on your feet.”

“Zuid-Holland is strong in life sciences, strong in high tech, strong in aerospace, strong in maritime, and in addition there are big challenges in the area of energy intensity with the Rotterdam Harbour,” is Zonneveld’s reply to the question of why Zuid-Holland is so strong in the field of innovation. “I think it has to do with that.” Besides, the focus in Zuid-Holland is less on online platforms and apps, says Zonneveld: “In Zuid-Holland, things that you can drop on your feet are more often made.”

Start-ups experience the help of projects such as Startup in Residence and UNIIQ often as very useful, just like Studio RAP. “Programs like Startup in Residence are great,” is the enthusiastic conclusion of Beerendonk. “You receive guidance with start-up coaches and they’re also directly the client. That works really well.” And whether the 3D printed bus stops will eventually really come into existence? “That’s obviously what you’re doing it all for,” replies Beerendonk. “That is the ultimate goal.”