Netherlands takes steps to become the startup-friendly 'West Coast of Europe'

New immigration laws and Startup Delta’s Neelie Kroes propel Netherlands towards startup success

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A spotlight has been shining on tech startups in the Netherlands recently, as young, disruptive technology companies make a name for themselves in the “West Coast of Europe”.

Changes to immigration laws at the beginning of 2015, combined with increased government funding across Europe, are making the Netherlands an increasingly attractive destination for foreign startups and investors.

Former European commissioner for the digital agenda Neelie Kroes, recently announced ambitions to introduce programmes that would steer the Netherlands into tech startup success over the next 18 months.

Kroes took up the role of the Netherlands Special Envoy for Startups at the beginning of 2015, and is at the helm of the community Startup Delta. When announcing her role, Kroes said she planned to use her new position to attract more international startups to set up business in the country.

During a recent visit to Brainport in the Eindhoven region, Kroes visited the Global Government Venturing Summit, which was taking place at the High Tech Campus. The summit attracted more than 200 startups, policy-makers and academics.

And at a startup event in Eindhoven, she told delegates that the country needs to attract more interest from foreign capital, including venture capital and angel investors, according to reports published in the Netherlands.

During her keynote, Kroes said: “I make no secret of the fact that I’m impatient. Over the next 18 months, I want to see more people walk the talk because, across Europe, more cities, regions and countries are starting to pay attention to startups. Not many countries, however, have special programmes in place to attract foreign investors, including venture capital and angel investors. Both are crucial for the development of an active startup ecosystem.

“But perhaps the most important step is that regional and national initiatives should ask for input and feedback from foreign investors. They need to do this far more often than at present. In a sense, this is not very different to what good startups are doing already.”

Kroes highlighted how the Netherlands needs to join forces, making better use of resources that are already out there and creating new ones where needed. “We also need to educate the managers of important funds about the different funding cycle needed for startups,” she said.

Lack of available capital in the Netherlands

Never before has it been more crucial for European startups to maintain a competitive edge, with the support of the right funding and access to networks, to recharge local economies.

But Kroes stressed how funding – or lack of – can make or break an idea. “From my journey around the country, I know that the availability of funding for startups is a very important issue – it can make or break a world-class idea. For more capital-intensive industries, like high tech, it is important that countries in Europe work together to create larger funds.

“The Startup Europe programme, which I initiated when I was at the Commission, has helped Europe to be more startup minded. But now it is important to extend the startup policies to scale-ups. Vice-president of the European Commission [Andrus] Ansip will take this forward, and I look forward to working together with him to make it happen. The Juncker plan is also a step in the right direction to create larger funds.”

The Juncker plan is a €315bn investment programme endorsed by European Union leaders. The investment, unveiled at a summit in Brussels in December 2014, aims to kick-start Europe’s economic growth.

Changes to Dutch immigration laws

The Dutch government has gone one step further to express how it values startups in its economy, by introducing a new startup visa law.

Regional and national initiatives should ask for input and feedback from foreign investors

Neelie Kroes, Netherlands Special Envoy for Startups

With countries competing for global talent, Dutch immigration law changed on 1 January 2015, to make available a new visa for startup founders from non-EU countries.

The law marks one of the first outcomes of the Startup NL Manifesto, unveiled by Dutch politician Anne-Wil Lucas last year.

Kroes said the introduction of startup visas was just one of the steps in making the Netherlands more startup friendly. “There is no equivalent in the US, but we need more action like this,” she said.

The new law is an extension of the existing one, which requires applicants to show business progress after one year. To be granted the visa, the startup must be considered innovative and should be supported by a known accelerator or incubator. The business is also required to have seed money to support itself and its founders.

“I’m here to share a clear message that the combined strengths of the Netherlands are actively open for business with the rest of the world,” said Kroes.

What is Startup Delta?

As part of her Special Envoy role, Kroes heads up the startup community, Startup Delta, which was formed to unite government bodies, startups, investors and financiers to support businesses in the region.

Startup Delta is formed of a network of 10 innovation hubs based in eight Dutch cities:

  • Amsterdam – creative industry for mobile apps and internet services
  • Rotterdam – logistics, environmental, medical, energy and food technologies
  • Utrecht – gaming, life sciences and health projects
  • Groningen – natural, technical and medical sciences
  • Arnhem and Nijmegen – health and life sciences
  • Delft – universities in design and IT, engineering, computer science and biotechnology
  • Twente – nanotechnology, bioscience, high-tech systems and materials
  • The Hague – cyber security, forensics, big data analysis and urban security.

“By connecting more than 10 Dutch tech hubs across this compact country, Startup Delta will play an active part in forming the largest startup ecosystem in Europe. We aim to amplify the global connectedness of Holland, aligning us with other top ecosystems in the world. I believe this approach means that others will think of the Netherlands in the same breath as London and Berlin. We aim to be in the top three,” said Kroes.

In January 2015, Startup Delta made its first tour of the Netherlands to host six hackathons, with the aim of creating an online startup community to support forming businesses in the region.

The events aimed to position the Netherlands as a real player for European startups and to attract the fastest growing tech startups, talent, investors and innovation teams from overseas.

Kroes said Startup Delta is an “essential cluster within the greater European ecosystem” offering “a great business climate for European and non-European investors and startups, here on the ‘West Coast of Europe’.”

Kroes said she believes her Startup Delta team can lead the way in creating a ventures academy for entrepreneurs in the Netherlands.  

This was first published in February 2015

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