According to start-up Delta director Sigris Johannisse Dutch start-ups are thinking small. They have to develop an attitude or else they will never find a big investor to turn them into world players.
I beg to diiffer. It’s the big companies who could do more to put start-ups on the map. Dutch start-ups are bursting with ambition to go international. What is lacking are big companies with enough guts to work with these ambitious newcomers. As long as they shy away, the big venture capitalists won’t be interested either.
In the past ten years, the Netherlands has changed from an entrepreneurial backwater into a place where ideas and entrepreneurship are thriving. There have been marked improvements in the infrastructure to help small businesses. The figures support this: in 2014, 75 Dutch start-ups raked in a combined €500m in investments.
But Sigris Johannisse is right when she says that the Netherlands has so far failed to achieve an international reputation as a start-up hub, and that this is the reason it has not caught the attention of venture capitalists. This lack of visibility is standing in the way of a start-up’s chances of progressing to the fast growth stage; a stage which requires a far greater investment than smaller, informal investors can provide.
According to Johannisse, it’s the narrow scope of start-ups that is to blame. But the reality is different. In order to appear on the radar of big investors, start-ups need to prove they have potential for growth. And nothing will do that better than bagging a big client.
I know from experience how hard that can be in the Netherlands. Interruption risks or reputational damage in case things go wrong is keeping many big companies from entering into business with start-ups. The same fear is making governments give start-ups a wide berth. And so big investors are not aware of them.
But both big companies and the government are in dire need of innovation and often have a problem generating it. This is where start-ups come in. They are cheap and flexible, have a proper understanding of the internet and have big data at the core of their services.
Our own start-up, Zonline, almost collapsed for lack of investment. After several near-death experiences, we managed to land a big energy company (E.on) as a client and that opened the door for capital investor Sungevity.
This is what it’s all about. The Netherlands has come on in leaps and bounds but if it wants to become a focus for investors, it’s the big companies that have to learn not to think small. Because you never know: another Google could very well be out there already, somewhere in a garage in Appelscha.
This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.