By Tilman Müller
This week some important protagonists of the Dutch startup scene came together at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam to discuss the prospects of the Dutch startup ecosystem with a focus on Amsterdam. The occasion was the bi-monthly event Stadsleven, a live talkshow about urban issues, in cooperation with the startup community and co-working space TQ.
Startups – a romantic affair?
Moderator of the evening was the great Tracy Metz. In her introduction she called startups “a romantic entrepreneurial idea” due to the fact that only one out of ten startups succeeds. She followed up with the obvious question about why people are actually investing their money in such volatile bets on the future? Tracy criticized the Netherlands for being still very risk-averse: compared to the US something like a culture of failure is missing. According to her, an entrepreneurial failure gives founders in the US startup culture something like a ‘Business Purple Heart’, which augments the person’s reputation rather than marking them as a flop.
Furthermore she mentioned the disproportion between the genders of startup founders: there are still way more male founders than female ones. Combined with the fact that the Netherlands have Europe’s highest rate of women working part-time, Tracy called on the audience to tap the full female economic and social potential of Dutch society.
The government is boosting the startup-ecosystem
After an inspiring introduction, the first guest was His Royal Highness Prince Constantijn van Oranje. Prince Constantijn is known for being a strong supporter of the Dutch startup scene and is the special envoy of TechLeap.nl (formerly StartupDelta), an initiative of the Dutch government with the aim to boost the standing of startups and scale-ups from the Netherlands. TeachLeap.nl will be backed with a government funding of 65 million euro for the years 2020-2023 and wants to focus on the knowledge development of the Dutch startup ecosystem.
The prince with an entrepreneurial passion and expertise praised the city of Amsterdam for focusing successfully on startups and tech in general. He is amazed, he said, by the development of the city during the last four years. He pointed out that digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI) have become a top national interest, with an urgency we haven’t seen before.
Putting the Dutch digital economy in an international context, he described the advantages the US has, such as huge monetary power for investments and the availability of many platforms like Google, Android, Facebook, Twitter, MacOS/iOS, Windows and many more. China in contrast is strong in its governmental long-term planning. According to Prince Constantijn, the strategy for the Netherlands should include learning from the startup-hub benchmarks Singapore and Israel. The two countries could be a best-practice role model for the Netherlands when it comes to collaboration between government, universities and the national economy.
Together with TechLeap.nl he also wants to work on new visa possibilities for non-EU skilled professionals and a more attractive tax system for startups to prevent a possible brain drain. He did highlight the fact that Dutch founders are very loyal to their country. He mentioned that supporting startups and scale-ups is about more than just money: opening networks, advising and support with finding executive staff may be just as relevant. In response to the initial question about why people invest in startups, he named entrepreneurs as people who make the nearly impossible possible The entrepreneur takes enormous risks, because he/she really believes in the greatness of the idea.
Raise and fall of a startup life in Amsterdam
The following time-slot on stage was reserved for four founders from Amsterdam and Italy who shared their experiences. They gave deep insights into the learning processes they went through. The first one, Stefano Cutello, made his startup pastbook.com highly successful after a long period of ups and downs. Michel Visser failed with his project Konnektid, but is happy about the great possibilities in career terms the founding process led him to. Today he is Country Lead for the Netherlands at the US social network nextdoor.com. The third founder on stage, Niels de Greef, retraced the development of his startup ParkFlyRent. After a very promising early stage, he had to give up in the end but is today COO of the successful sharing platform camptoo.nl.
The fourth was Daan Weddepohl, who shared his experiences building his startup peerby.com. Totally in the spirit of an entrepreneur, he summarized his key learnings in his book ‘99 redenen om te stoppen, en toch door te gaan’. All four agreed in the end that the process of starting a company of their own broadened their horizons, led them to knowledge they would have never achieved in a corporate job, which resulted in truly positive results for all of them. Conclusion: Founding a startup is always worth a try!
The startup-ecosystem from different perspectives
After these hands-on insights, five professionals entered the stage: Jennifer Harvey of Google Launchpad, Irene Duyn of the ING innovation district Cumulus Park, Bas Beekman, Head of StartupAmsterdam, Myrthe van der Erve, COO of The Next Web and the investor Johan van Mil, co-founder of Peak Capital. They all focus on startups in general but have their different perspectives due to the interests of the organizations they represent.
Jennifer gave interesting insights into the Google cosmos and explained how the internet giant is building talent pipelines around upcoming tech subjects like machine learning or AI. Irene addressed the competition between traditional banks and fin-tech startups/scale-ups. She explained the new self understanding of ING as a tech company with a banking license, and no longer a bank with a tech passion. That leads to a new situation in which that banks are not only competing with young fin-tech companies, but with all tech companies in general.
The numbers speak for themselves
Bas and Johan presented the audience with many interesting numbers and statistics about the development of the Dutch startup eco-system. Bas started with information about Amsterdam. The city currently has 1200 startups plus 150 scale-ups with at least 50 employees each. 80% of those companies are younger than 10 years. This year 411 Million euro in venture capital was raised by these companies in total, while 60 companies raised more than 1 million each. Given the fact that there are around 70,000 jobs in tech companies in Amsterdam in total, tech can be called the most important job motor of the city. But Bas had to mention that the founders’ landscape is still largely white and male, and he made a strong case for more diversity.
Johan compared the Dutch venture capital situation with Germany. In the Netherlands there are currently 13 startups with an valuation of more than 1 billion euro each, the so called unicorns. Germany currently has 27 unicorns, which is twice as many. However, Germany has a four times larger population than the Netherlands. Furthermore, Johan pointed out, valuations of startups in Germany are generally higher. But the Netherlands have a different competitive advantage. He sees that in Germany startups often focus only on the German market, because it is big enough for them to make a good business only there. In the Netherlands, however, a startup has to set up its business more internationally from beginning, which results in a variety of advantages in the growth process.
These numbers and inputs gave the audience a great foundation for further thoughts on the subject on their way home. The startup eco-system of Amsterdam is as vibrant as never before and we all can look forward to the upcoming developments. Everybody who is brave enough can participate.
Interesting? Watch the complete video of the event: https://dezwijger.nl/programma/start-up-fall-down
(c) Tilman Müller, November 2019
This report was first published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amsterdam-startup-ecosystem-special-report-tilman-m%C3%BCller/