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The Netherlands – A New Startup Cradle?

by | Coworking, Entrepreneurship

How does the Netherlands become a new cradle?

Written through the eyes of a Taiwanese expat, starring the Dutch entrepreneur Ferdi Jansen, who created the mobile app “Flexpackerz”; In a nutshell Flexpackerz is an office version of Airbnb, a connector of freelancers and a shared workspace concept to “make the whole world your office.”

In a coffee shop in the downtown area of Rotterdam, guests are working on their  laptops or having a pleasant chat. On the other side of the long table, a man asks, “Can I ask you something?” I nodded. He took out his mobile phone from his pocket and began to introduce a mobile phone App, Flexpackerz. This app is can be thought of as “the coworking version of Airbnb”, which is designed for freelance workers with no fixed office to find a workspace with power outlets, WiFi, and coffee in any corner of the city. His name is Ferdi Jansen, one of the thousands of start-up entrepreneurs in the Netherlands.

Number 6 best startup ecosystem in the world

Similar to most entrepreneurs on this planet, Ferdi cuts into a pain point and introduces the concept of “making the world my office” through a mobile app.  But the biggest difference is probably at his starting line, one of the world’s strongest new ecosystems–the Netherlands. According to the world’s major indicators, the Netherlands has risen rapidly in recent years. Startup Blink announced its ranking in 2019. The Netherlands has risen 9 places since 2017, becoming the 6th best new startup ecosystem in the world, next to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel and Australia. Among all the top-ranked countries in the startup ecosystem, the Netherlands especially stands out as a non-English-speaking countries. Next to that the Netherlands seems to be rather insignificant considering the population size and the cities. So, how do they do it?

Starting a business is risky. The Dutch are inclined to risk aversion rather than risk seeking. However, they are willing to walk into the crowd, sell ideas to strangers, and establish a personal connection, which gives entrepreneurs more opportunities to match supply and demand, to figure out technical feasibility and to get the “right person” on board.

Ferdi observed that the use of the office space in the city is often inefficient and that coffee shops and lunch rooms struggle with unpredictable peak and off-peak hours. At the same time, the number of freelancers and their need for a workplace was growing.

In addition, many office workers come to the city every day, locking themselves up in their cars and office buildings, without really being part of city life. Driven by the ambition to get people out of their office environment and to stimulate them to seek more interaction with the city, Ferdi started his journey as an entrepreneur.

In addition, most office workers went into the city every day, locked in buildings and cars, rarely exploring the city. In order to encourage people’s exploration and communication in the city from the office space, Ferdi opened his entrepreneurial road.

A safe choice for startups

The Netherlands may be small, but it has the courage to act as the “talent magnet” to attract the world’s most promising brains. This is how it works: The Netherlands provides a one-year startup visa for foreigners. The startup team proposes a business plan. After registration and approval, the startup needs to show certain results within one year. If they achieve this, then the entrepreneur can prolong his or her stay as self-employed worker. The purpose of the plan is obvious. If you start a successful business in the Netherlands, the Dutch economy will benefit from it. This way a win-win situation is created and both sides profit from it. But it’s not just the visa regulations that are relaxed. The public and private sector even work together to guide you in every stage. From starting a new company, writing a business plan and choosing the right business model to finding angel investors, getting crowdfunded and helping you to settle in the Netherlands. 

An attractive financial environment, a simple and fast registration process, in-place hardware and digital infrastructure, an English-speaking environment, and a well-connected location, starting a business in the Netherlands, often become a “multinational company.”  Besides, the industry-university collaboration is firm, and a university often plays the role of facilitator leading business idea realization, but not a bulky elephant struggling to chase the fast-changing commercial needs. There are industrial settlements in the new ecosystem of the Netherlands, such as Leiden develops biotechnology; Groningen focuses on health and aging; Delft has a leading position in technology, clean energy and information industry.  Although there are divisions of fields, various industries are generally able to develop evenly.

For ambitious entrepreneurs, the Netherlands is a balanced choice.  She is not a Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to break the highly competitive environment and is more possible to make a breakthrough. If entrepreneurs succeed in the Netherlands, they will have the opportunity to dive into the bigger capital market. Moreover, the relatively stable political situation in the Netherlands has been favored by capitalists at the time of Brexit’s turmoil.

In contrast, startups in Taiwan has become more and more valued in recent years. However, the market is small, but there are problems. The bureaucracy of different level of government is old-fashioned. The basic funds are insufficient. Most business models are similar. Given how fierce and competitive the international capital markets are, Taiwan’s ability to integrate with the international market still needs to be strengthened. Entrepreneurs must have the ability to tap and communicate the core values of the brand, recognize the brand awareness early, and tell stories about their own entrepreneurship.

Failure is not a bad thing

In addition to software and hardware, mentality is a key to Dutch innovation.  Ferdi said that the Netherlands has three levels of understanding about failure: First, “failure is safe.” Even if you are defeated, the family and the government will still support entrepreneurs and you will not be ruined once failed. The proportion of female employment in the Netherlands is high. When the family has double incomes, one of them dares to take risks. Second, “Failure is not a bad thing,” at least entrepreneurs accumulate experience and no one will tag you as a “loser”.  Thirdly, “Failure is temporary”.

The original intention of starting a business is often not to make money, but rather the enthusiasm of “I can do it, and I can make it better”. With that goal in mind, people care less about the loss at hand and are motivated to move on in the long run.

Prins Constantijn van Oranje, the younger brother of the Dutch King Willem Alexander van Oranje, is a national ambassador for entrepreneurship. He guides local innovation accelerators and is involved with multinational companies and the EU’s digital innovation. The EU provides new incentives, tutoring new ventures and hosting entrepreneurial competitions. Simultaneously, European countries incubate new ventures, not only to compete for capital gains, but also to consolidate national identity and to push local industries to a more visible international stage. By building up a startup ecosystem, European countries are like playing a multicultural “Entrepreneurship Europe Cup”, not only thrive to achieve new KPIs, but also cultivate new DNA.

In the Netherlands, the global ranking of newly-created industrial ecosystems has risen significantly in recent years. One of the main reasons is that people have an open mind and can communicate with people almost at any time, sharing knowledge, ideas, experiences and skills.

 Originally published on the Apple Daily in Taiwan – by Weihsuan Su – 2019/08/05

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