The future of the Netherlands is on stage at YBA
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The future of the Netherlands is on stage at YBA

What is the significance of the Young Business Award (YBA) for the Northern Netherlands? Niels Palmers smiles and says, "This is what it's often about, this is the eternal discussion. The added value of the YBA is mainly in acquisition of companies that join us
participate. The future of the Netherlands is on stage with us.'

Niels Palmers started the forerunner of the YBA in 2014 with his companions Stef Brandsema and Roy Rocks. It was a competition for startups that was supposed to produce a potential main sponsor of FC Emmen for the future. In the years that followed, the YBA grew into a national supercompetition for startups. This year's twelve semi-finalists already raised more than 60 million euros in investments. So of that level is the YBA.

'Our value? Hardt will soon provide 400 jobs'

Palmers also illustrates the significance of the YBA by looking back. We go briefly to 2017, when the men from Hardt - or the Dutch Hyperloop - competed. They didn't even make it to the finals, because at the time they were still more concerned with technology than with a business plan.

Palmers: 'That's when contacts arose between the northern Dutch authorities and Hardt about a test track for a hyperloop in the northern Netherlands. Three years later, Hardt is building a test center in the region. The province of Groningen and Bureau Berenschot expect 400 jobs from it. Our value may be clear.'


The future of the Netherlands is on stage at YBA

National participants hold up mirror to us

Compared to those early days, a lot has changed. It went from XXXS to XXXL. 'Maybe the stage is a little too national now,' Palmers observes. 'But the national contestants do hold up a mirror to us. I can remember that in 2018, during the semifinals in Friesland, Invoice Finance stated that money made new money. And because we have money, we are 10 to 20 times more efficient than Rabobank, it was said.

That directness unleashed a lot, parties recognized that they have to change.' But no matter how national, the story of the Northern Netherlands has to come across at the YBA. The YBA attracts a lot of media attention in Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen. 'If you look at the acquisition opportunities and image, it is now worth the few euros the YBA costs,' Palmers states confidently. For an even more complete picture of acquisition opportunities: one of the participants (sleep robot Somnox) already had stuff made at the production site of the future, Technologies Added in Emmen.

The future of the Netherlands is on stage at YBA

YBA became market-wide interesting by Sprout and BNR

Over the years, Palmers has made every effort to grow the YBA. For example, Sprout (magazine for startups) came on board and Palmers was recognized as an expert, after which he himself was invited as a startup specialist on BNR radio. "We became market-wide interesting that way," he believes. The YBA was even in talks with an acquisition party at the end of 2018, but they dropped out at a late stage, forcing the 2019 edition to be canceled. 'That was only two years ago and I would have liked confirmation that we had things on track.' Currently, the coronavirus is throwing sand in the YBA wheels.

At gamechanger sessions with Prince Constantine

"At least we are taken seriously in the country," Palmers notes. For example, he was allowed to participate in gamechanger sessions at the home of startup envoy Prince Constantijn. And he knows that the YBA is scouting for candidates to accompany the Netherlands to the CES technology fair in Las Vegas. 'But because of all the hassle in recent years, we feel a bit like Ronaldo going from Real Madrid to Juventus and then not being able to play for a year and a half,' he says. 'Everyone knows he's good, but yes, he can't prove it. The consequence is also that now you only look at the past. Whereas I prefer to prove myself now.'

The future of the Netherlands is on stage at YBA

'Groningen next to Amsterdam when it comes to digital talent'

To the present for a moment. The Randstad has always been a more professional environment for the startup. But is that still true? "Why does Facebook choose Silicon Valley and Booking choose Amsterdam?" is Palmers' counter-question. 'That has to do with the talent pool locally. It's those kinds of considerations that TVM also had in terms of possibly relocating. Surely, when it comes to digital talent, Groningen is right next to Amsterdam.' And Palmers adds that Drenthe and Friesland are in full swing and have grown with it. This year, the YBA is teaming up with a new presenter. Jort Kelder had an important input, as the final evening was undeniably also an 'evening of Jort.' Sander Schimmelpenninck, editor-in-chief of Quote and presenter at Op1, will take over.

'Jort Kelder lifted YBA to higher level'

'Jort Kelder took the finals of the YBA to the next level,' Palmers believes. 'He also got me on my toes. Jort comments on everything and you don't want to be ticked off by him.'

The future of the Netherlands is on stage at YBA

Northern startups hunt for larger network

Three northern startups are in the semifinals of the YBA. They are CodeSandbox (Assen, now relocated to Amsterdam), Klippa (Groningen) and Flow Money Automation (Tijnje). What would they like to achieve in those semifinals?

Yeelen Knegtering wants to become Europe's largest document processor with "his" Klippa anyway. But during the semifinals he wants only one thing, and that is to build authority. 'By participating in these kinds of competitions you are taken more seriously,' is his experience. 'We are a group of all people under 30 and if you want to do business with a party like ING, you need authority. Decision makers are
not abundant in your network.'

Niels Mulder of Flow Money Automation - a kind of digital budget coach for both consumers and self-employed workers - is particularly keen to raise the company's profile. "There is already a lot of interest in us, including from abroad, and then this is a great stage to showcase it," Mulder believes. Flow Money Automation gives users insight into their money flows and helps them get or keep things in order.

Bas Buursma, founder, together with Ives ten Hoorne, of Code-Sandbox (an open platform on which software can be worked on simultaneously from different locations) sees the YBA as an opportunity to make a name for themselves. "We want more exposure in the Netherlands," says Buursma, "and that can be done on this stage. At the same time, we hope to expand our network with other founders.'