A series of articles analysing the start-up ecosystem in the Netherlands found that while each region is making meaningful contributions, the tendency to only look as far as the provincial borders is still strong.
The start-up barometer series was published by Innovation Origins, an online journalistic platform focused on innovation. The news organisation Innovation Origins has locations in Eindhoven, Limburg and Munich in Germany, and is primarily financed by academic institutions, businesses and local governments in the Eindhoven region.
The series conducted interviews with business owners, representatives of various campuses (which are effectively local business hubs) and staff connected to so-called accelerators and incubators across all 12 provinces of the Netherlands. The profiles also used data from StartupDelta, an organisation led by Prince Constatijn van Oranje, a Startup Envoy, which was founded to promote the Dutch start-up scene.
Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen
In general, Innovation Origins concluded that every single province in the Netherlands has promising or established initiatives, but cited Drenthe in particular as more of a blank canvas where start-ups have yet to establish a strong foothold. “The majority of the start-up initiatives can be found in the regions around Amsterdam and Eindhoven, but also in relatively underrepresented provinces like Zeeland and Drenthe, there are funds, challenges and incubator programs.”
The analysis also made the point that quite a bit of terminology is used somewhat interchangeably, such as “innovation” and “start-up”, without distinguishing between small, medium and large companies. Another important difference from one province to the next is the extent to which start-up initiatives are “relatively often linked to organisations that focus on stimulating entrepreneurship in general”: this is especially prevalent in less populous regions. Businesses in more rural areas, such as Friesland, also appear less willing to proverbially stick their necks out since it is still perceived as the exception rather than the norm to be a self-promoting entrepreneur, according to IO.
In several provinces, including Groningen, IO says that campuses and networks are playing an outsized role in helping start-ups get off the ground. There are 35 so-called campuses across the Netherlands where academic institutions and commercial enterprises work side by side and collaborate, and they have been credited with creating 5,700 new jobs in the past four years.
Collaboration instead of competition
One of the main take aways from the regional analysis, which you can find in its entirety in English at the Innovation Origins website, is that regions should seek to collaborate with one another rather than compete against each other. “It’s not unwillingness, but the division into regions is deeply rooted in the Dutch culture”, Myrthe Hooijman, the team leader for regions and local governments for StartupDelta, told IO. “In terms of knowledge development and for companies, it’s more interesting if knowledge would be more bundled.”
Here is what the analysis had to say about the three northern provinces of Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen. You can check out IO’s site for more in-depth analysis of each province of the Netherlands.
“Between the meadows and lakes in Friesland, there are some floating start-ups every now and then. Floating is the right word, because where should they go for wise advice or funding? A lack of clarity is what dominated in the start-up culture in Friesland and that had to change. “Friesland has to come out as a whole”, Bertwin Kampman and Friso Visser, founders of the Startup Thermometer, find. Will a new course cause more start-ups to moor in Friesland?
Kampman, working at Innovatiepact Fryslân, and Visser, entrepreneur and working at Innofest, saw that the start-up climate in Friesland was fragmented. “The one part of Friesland had a certain approach and another part dealt with it in a totally different manner”, says Kampman. Friesland tends towards clustering, as it also happens a lot in the rest of the Netherlands, but according to Visser, this isn’t the road to success: “Everyone wants his own Silicon Valley”, says Visser. “But the solution is just to go from an ego-system to an ecosystem.” The Start-up Thermometer, on which all start-ups from Friesland are mapped, has to give the first push. “On the map, we’re one unit, that’s what the people have to see”, says Visser. “As soon as people realize that, we can make ourselves visible as a whole.”
“Along with Zeeland, the province of Drenthe has the smallest amount of start-ups of the Netherlands. Despite that, the involved organizations don’t seem to worry. As far as they’re concerned, it’s only just beginning in the province.
“According to StartupDelta, there are thirty active start-ups in the province of Drenthe. These beginning companies have mostly spread across the province, of which the largest concentrations can be found in Meppel, Assen, Hoogeveen and Emmen.”
“HackerOne, Dataprovider and Paylogic: these are three random examples of start-ups from Groningen that have already spread their wings. When the Dutch start-up ecosystem is examined, Groningen should definitely not be underestimated. In the recently published, annual edition of the Deloitte Technology Fast50 are no less than eight companies in Groningen among the fastest growing Dutch technology companies.”