Assisting entrepreneurs as teachers and heroes

Assisting entrepreneurs as teachers and heroes

NOM is a household name in the northern Netherlands. Yet it remains important to explain the significance of this regional development agency. Director Siem Jansen stepped down as director on June 1, but here he outlines once again what the NOM stands for.

The reason for Siem's conversation was the 2018 annual report and the realization that numbers always require context. Especially with NOM, which works on the basis of a value creation model that was recently misinterpreted by the media. For example, the headline 'NOM: 718 million euros for 512 new jobs' led to a letter to the editor about these extremely expensive jobs. Siem emphasizes it well again: 'Last year we as NOM actively participated in 74 projects involving 81 companies that together invested 781 million and generated 512 new jobs. Those jobs are measurable, but investments are of course also made by companies to keep developing and innovating.'

NOM itself invests in the Northern Netherlands business community, doesn't it?

'Certainly, we invested over 21 million in 83 companies in 2018. The point is just that we are much more than just a provider of funding. To better express that, we have been using the value creation model for several years. We want to show that through a variety of projects we are also a driver of investments and developments within the business community. NOM is primarily a service provider that helps companies move forward where they would otherwise get stuck. Ultimately, they do it themselves, but we help make it possible. By giving a push here and there, a snowball effect can be created. That is difficult to express in results, but we try to make that impact transparent with the value creation model.'

What other "moves" do you give, besides concrete funding?

'We are matchmakers, driving innovation and business development and helping with establishment and expansion. Moreover, we answer small and large questions from entrepreneurs. We are there specifically for the challenges they cannot find support for within the existing market or could use a helicopter view. For example, if they are looking for a partner to come up with new ideas together. Or if they want to link up with social issues and are looking for a suitable translation for their products or services. We work specifically for and with entrepreneurs. We understand their questions and are there to help them move forward.

NOM as a low-threshold counter?

'We are not there for the baker around the corner, unless they come up with an innovative product that goes beyond the local scope and thus has a greater economic impact for the region. At our core, we are a driver of economic growth and innovation in the Northern Netherlands, and any entrepreneur willing to contribute to that can come to us. In that sense, we are easily accessible. Even though we sometimes say no or refer: everyone gets an answer. Visibility can always be improved, but NOM has certainly become more accessible. In the twelve years that I worked here as director, I really saw the organization open up. From a rather aloof ivory tower, NOM has developed into an easily approachable club where entrepreneurs feel seen and heard.'

And that visibility in the region?

'Even though not every entrepreneur knows where to find us yet, we have certainly built a name for ourselves over the years. A name that opens doors, we hear from entrepreneurs. Our size - around fifty employees - is relatively small and yet you come across NOM everywhere in the Northern Netherlands. Our network is large, we have access everywhere and make connections between business, knowledge institutions and government agencies. We know what is going on in the Northern Netherlands. We ourselves are rarely in the foreground, but we are always at the table when it comes to growth and innovation. And you can also find us where social issues and the economy meet.

Is the focus increasingly on mission-driven innovation?

'The economy in the Northern Netherlands is emphatically developing on a number of interrelated themes: strengthening manufacturing industry, sustainability, more efficient use of raw materials, CO2 reduction, smart and digital. This is in line with the choices made by the Ministry of Economic Affairs: mission-driven innovation focused on social challenges and key technologies. NOM is also moving with this development. In doing so, we are also doing justice to our sustainable development goals, which are based on a number of Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: strengthening the economic structure, creating sustainable employment and contributing to a circular economy. This is another way we want to create value.'

But economic development and innovation remains the starting point....

'That is indeed our right to exist. We remain focused on opportunities, just like an entrepreneur who sees new business in making the economy more sustainable. A clever merchant knows how to link his solutions to social issues; he literally and figuratively makes work of them. And that is where we come in, by thinking along with entrepreneurs in a critical and involved way from an independent role and by helping to make the next step possible. Powered by NOM.

Can that NOM power always be expressed in numbers?

'To a certain extent, we succeed through our value creation model and we also make that strength visible with concrete examples in our annual report, this magazine and on our website. It is an ongoing challenge to explain how we, as a connecting link, influence economic developments in the Northern Netherlands. In that respect, the results of a recent branding session very aptly typify who we are as NOM. Two archetypes stood out: the teacher and the hero. These perhaps best express our role and meaning.'

Why exactly the teacher and the hero?

'The teacher is always developing, accumulates knowledge and wisdom in the search for cohesion, likes to find innovative solutions to complex issues, is knowledgeable, has a coaching role and naturally shares knowledge. The hero always raises the bar a little higher, aims for results and does not give up. The hero also understands the challenges you face and inspires others to be a little braver, stronger and bigger themselves. These descriptions cover the scope of our work surprisingly well. We make companies grow by providing concrete funding, but also by assisting them as a teacher and as a hero.

Assisting entrepreneurs as teachers and heroes