The global economic downturn has provided an impetus for a battle to attract the best startups and, in Europe’s case, to retain them from crossing the Atlantic. Britain and Germany have attracted global attention with London and Berlin as the epicenter of their thriving startup ecosystems.
Now the self-proclaimed ‘startup niece’ of the Netherlands, Anne-Wil Lucas, MP of the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) is set to create a vibrant Dutch startup ecosystem and showcase it as the next global hotspot for the best tech-startups.
Red Carpet For Startups
Lucas wants to roll out the red carpet for Dutch as well as foreign entrepreneurs who want to establish and grow their startups into the next big thing. November 1, last year Lucas launched ‘Agenda StartupNL’, a proposal with over 40 measures to improve the Dutch startup ecosystem.
In laying out the red carpet Lucas’s 40 measures are predominately designed to get rid of red tape. Ranging from special visas for startup teams and tax relief measures for investors to increase the influx of angel and venture capital to innovative startups.
In addition to issuing ‘startup visa’s’ Lucas aims to use the country’s ambassadors-network to attract foreign startups to the Netherlands. “All the Dutch embassies should go on a look-out for promising startups for which they think the Netherlands is a good market”, she says. Lucas mentions Orange Grove as an example. Orange Grove is a startup incubator in the city of Athens initiated by the Dutch Ambassador in Greece, Jan Versteeg.
The motives for creating a thriving startup ecosystem are clear and no other than in France, Britain, Greece or Canada. Startups are the beacons of light for countries in these economic ‘very difficult times’. They Startups create new jobs while large companies lay off proportionately significant numbers of (full time) employees.
But according to Lucas the Netherlands also has a competitive advantage. Lucas: “The Netherlands is very good in producing scientific knowledge, but we are not very good yet in using that scientific knowledge to build companies and let them grow.” Arguing that past innovation policies have been focused too much on solely fostering R&D at large companies. “We don’t look at what startup companies need and how we can help them to overcome barriers so they can actually grow.”
One of these ‘barriers’ is the lack of sufficient venture capital. In StartupNL Lucas proposes policy measures that should ease the way for development of credit unions, crowd funding and increased angel investment. The initiatives are nevertheless often primarily suited for early stage funding. However research by KKR shows that a larger problem is attracting growth capital.
Growth capital is a key point, especially if the goal is to retain the successful ‘job creating’ startups on Dutch soil. It seems that for attracting growth capital Lucas is setting her hopes on the larger Silicon Valley based investment funds: “I think if you improve the ecosystem and improve the quality of the startups the investors will come. But we cannot force them to come, yet we have to seduce them to come”, she says with a smile.
Startups make up for a lot of jobs
The VVD has often been called the ‘entrepreneurs party’. Therefore, back in 2010, the hopes were high when the party delivered its first liberal Prime Minister in more than 90 years. Many entrepreneurs however think that the party did not deliver, since the Dutch dismissal law was not really simplified and no tax relief was offered for entrepreneurs.
However, it seems that the party is getting its act together, profiling itself again as the go-to party for entrepreneurs. Eurocommissionar and party member Neelie Kroes – called ‘Startup Mom’ – has since a few years been keen on creating a better nurturing environment for startups in Europe. And more recently, even the Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, opened Startup Campus, the startup incubator of Erasmus University.
Nevertheless, the question easily arises if this ‘renewed’ interest in entrepreneurship is real or convenient lip service during the current local elections times.
Lucas argues that StartupNL is not just lip service as she proposes ‘actionable’ measures to improve the Dutch startup ecosystem. “Startups make up for a lot of jobs, 60 % percent of the job growth comes from companies that didn’t exist five years ago. It’s only normal that we focus on those companies that can bring growth and job growth to the Netherlands.”
On the question when the proposals will turn into rules or legislation Lucas says the she expects within one or two weeks a letter from the cabinet. In this letter the Minister of Economic Affaires will outline which of the 40 measures will be turned into government policy.
StartupJuncture partnered with Hit & Run Media Productions for this interview. Hit & Run Media Productions is our media production partner in the many more interesting (and fun) video interviews that will follow for StartupJuncture TV.