Northern Netherlands bursting with talent

Northern Netherlands bursting with talentNorthern Netherlands bursting with talent
Those who think that successful startups only take place in the Randstad (the Western cities of the Netherlands) are forgetting the Northern Netherlands. Numerous local fast growing companies and big names like Google and IBM have found a place in the North. ‘There is an abundance of suitable personnel here’.

Edwin Kuipers set up the company Crowdynews together with Jeroen Zanen in 2010. Put in simple terms, the company places relevant social media with journalistic content and is a global player with its technology. ‘Our software is fairly complex’, says Kuipers. ‘We use knowledge from computer linguistics and artificial intelligence’. It is no coincidence that these are fields for which Groningen University enjoys worldwide acclaim.

With an office in Groningen, Crowdynews is located far away from the hustle and bustle of the Randstad, but is located close to where the broadband cable of Tyco connects as well the location where Google will be establishing its datacenter. ‘Apart from the infrastructure, which is in no way inferior to that of the Randstad, the Northern Netherlands offers a great quality of life as well as cost benefits and we are able to use the knowledge of the highly qualified staff from Groningen University and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, says Kuipers.

The founders already had global ambitions in 2010. They found investors and in 2014 were employing 50 people internationally, 35 of whom in Groningen, with nine different nationalities. ‘We have 20 agents all over the world’.
Local accountants and lawyers also benefit from the presence of Crowdynews as a larger employer. ‘We operated under the radar for a while, but we’re becoming more and more visible’, says Kuipers. ‘We are leaving a clear footprint: with 600 million page views a month we have a bigger desktop presence than the Netherlands’ biggest publisher.

Northern Fairytales
Oosterwolde in Friesland was also the scene of a small-scale fairytale, that of Jan Bos of JB Besturingstechniek. At the beginning of the nineties he started out as a self-employed maintenance engineer for industrial production robots. He now heads a company employing 45 people all over the world. And then there’s Kiestra Lab Automation, a Friesian family firm that was established at the beginning of the sixties and is now rapidly expanding. It has being growing especially quickly since the takeover by the American BD, under which it now operates as BD Kiestra. ‘During the past three years the company has grown from one hundred to three hundred employees and we expect this to rise to 350 employees next year, says Sander Oosterhof of the Investment and Development Company for the Northern Netherlands (NOM).

NOM finances new (and relaunched) companies and management buy-outs, business development and foreign direct investments. NOM Finance has invested approximately 90 million euros in over a hundred companies. And NOM’s efforts are bearing fruit.  Google is locating in Eemshaven, two huge dairies are being built in Heerenveen, IBM announced last year that it would be creating 350 jobs in Groningen and the chemicals sector is flourishing in Delfzijl.

The image of the impoverished North from which people are moving away is only partly true, says Oosterhof.  That might be the case on the fringes of the province, but the urban regions are doing well’. Oosterhof describes the Fokker establishment in Hoogeveen and Philips in Drachten (800 R&D professionals with a total of 37 nationalities) as pearls of the North. ‘Further, Jet-Stream (streaming video technology), MACCS (film distribution software) and Crowdynews (see above) are either market leaders or otherwise world players in their chosen field. We are also a shareholder of the successful online auction site Catawiki, which we financed when the company first started out’.

Innovative entrepreneurs also form networking groups, such as the Innovation Cluster Drachten and the Northern Online Entrepreneurs (Noorderlijke Online Ondernemers, NOO).  The NOM is also holding talks with educational institutes such as the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and Groningen University to encourage them to adapt their education programs to fit the demand in the business community. ‘Traditional high-tech companies are looking for programmers who are familiar with older systems. The NOO is looking for people who speak modern web language’, says Oosterhof. The talks are set to continue for some time. ‘We have taken on that role, but processes such as these take time’.

Opportunities in the Northern Netherlands
Internet giant Google was attracted to the Northern Netherlands by the prospect of buying a large piece of land at a good price and the presence of an abundant supply of electricity. ‘They were also looking for a moderate climate for the natural air cooling’, explains Oosterhof. The IT sector in the Northern Netherlands was given a boost by the government policy: PTT Post, the current KPN, was sent to the Northern Netherlands. Oosterhof: ‘They brought a lot of research with them. Many people now working for the rapidly growing companies originate from this company. At the Hanze University of Applied sciences five hundred potential candidates are gaining the knowledge and skills needed for northern online companies. The presence of online business has led in turn to the arrival of IBM. The IT scene is very important to them.’

As well as IT, there are also opportunities in the North at dairies which, as a result of the the prospect of the milk quota being abolished, are now expanding. ‘They will be producing more milk. There is strong demand for reliable milk powder in China in particular. Logistically the Northern Netherlands is the best location for this. Not only because we produce a large amount of milk ourselves, but also owing to the supply from Northern Germany. Another factor is that there is an abundance of suitable personnel here.’

According to Oosterhof there are also opportunities in life sciences, energy and water technology. Wetsus is a leading technology institute in Leeuwarden at which high level research is done. This is attractive to companies that collect and develop their technology there’. And a company like FORU-Solution, which has developed a technology to clean oil out of seawater, specifically chose the Northern Netherlands for its knowledge network and the facilities surrounding the Water Campus. ‘For this reason they moved from Amsterdam to Leeuwarden’.

More examples of fast growing companies in the North
Those looking for fast growing companies in the Northern Netherlands do not have to look far: The NOM can trot out a whole list of them. As well as the companies already mentioned, there are: Resato, Paragon and DMT. Oosterhof also highlights Tonalite, which arose from the closed Sony-Ericsson establishment in Emmen which was bought two years ago by the multinational Plantronics. ‘A lot of their R&D is in Emmen. Tonalite is the inventor of the Bluetooth technology’. The mobile order and payment service MyOrder, which has now been taken over by Rabobank, originates from and has offices in Groningen.

Source Intermediair (Original article in Dutch)