The startup scene in the Northern Netherlands is alive and well, and has more to offer than many had thought. Now is the time to shine a light on the ecosystem and connect with the rest of the world.
Nice and busy, nice and mixed, nice and positive. The Startup Festival of the Northern Netherlands brought out a lot of people. Young entrepreneurs were there, investors, entrepreneurial students, consultants and others who care about the startup world. Event venue EM2 in Groningen is an inspiring place, where you can also have a nice drink. A top combination.
,,What I don't often experience is that everyone sticks around after an event like this to have a drink. That did happen here and that's wonderful. It says something about how enthusiastic people are, how eager they are to get to know each other and learn more.'' So says Alain Le Loux, partner at Cottonwood Technology Fund. Together with NOM and the Investment Fund Groningen, his fund organized the festival. ''And after the festival, ten startups immediately knocked on my door. I haven't seen that before.''
We should do this more often, is one of his conclusions. Ytsen van der Meer, Investment Manager of NOM, agrees. ,,I noticed that there were quite a few unfamiliar faces. Especially student entrepreneurs were well represented, which is very good. We don't see that group everywhere, but it is very interesting. Students regularly have very good ideas. At events like this, they come into contact with people who can give advice or want to invest.''
That very contact proved to be the great success of the event at the Sugar Field. More than one hundred and fifty people from all over the Northern Netherlands, but also from far beyond (up to and including the United States) came to attend. To listen to what startups need to do to succeed, what the pitfalls are. But also what marketing strategies work and how it is possible that Klippa is such a success story.
''Yeelen Knegtering of Klippa is really a top entrepreneur. You just want to listen to that,'' says Ytsen van der Meer, who himself participated in a panel discussion on the strength of the Northern ecosystem. ''You could conclude from that that we are doing quite well here. And we have really made progress in recent years when it comes to connecting talent and capital. But we're not there yet. I would say: now is the time to leap forward. And organizing more events like this is a good start. ''
Alain Le Loux agrees. ,,To strengthen the northern ecosystem, a lot of experiences need to be exchanged. Even from outside the region. I think this is still a bit lacking. Many people in the North know each other, but the links to the outside world are still a bit thin. The connection with the rest of the world is what is needed to make a big leap.
Could be less
Le Loux knows what he's talking about. For 20 years he has supported tech startups, especially in other parts of the Netherlands. ,,We invest ourselves, or know where to find the money. What I occasionally see in the northern Netherlands are gems. A lot of interesting, technical inventions are being made there. But there is no dog who knows it! The potential is great, but so is the unconscious modesty. That's a shame, because that way beautiful products don't reach the market.''
This is not something of late. For years "the North" has been accused of not being good enough at selling its own strengths. Ytsen van de Meer recognizes that too. ,,We need to promote our success stories much more. I always get a little ticklish about the typical Groningen saying 'could do less'. That tells me we are too quickly satisfied here. More publicity for the wonderful things we do, that's what we need.'
Who knows, maybe one of the event's participants will step forward unceremoniously in the near future. It's possible. Van der Meer: ,,We have fertile soil here, but more can grow on it. That should be our common goal in the ecosystem.''