Where will the Young Business Award (YBA) be in a few years? It will be a Netflix format of a European scale-up contest with a first prize of 100 to 150 million euros, watched by more than millions of people. In English, of course.
Niels Palmers does not mince words when he tells his ambitions about the startup competition that started in 2014 as a public event in FC Emmen's canteen. If he manages to continue the upward trend of recent years, this future scenario he dreams of is anything but a pipe dream.
More than half a billion euros on stage
For example, at the recently concluded YBA 2022, there were already twelve semi-finalists on stage who had collectively raised 516 million euros in investment money. And during those sessions, BOTS (winner YBA 2022) also announced it will soon be raking in 100 to 150 million. The YBA has become an event of seriously big numbers. "The change requires adjustments," knows Niels Palmers, founder of the first hour together with Stef Brandsema and Roy Rocks. For example, Emmen native Thomas Nauw, with a network in the film and TV world, has joined the organization as director of the TV program, which was created more or less by accident in corona time. Nauw is one of the "adaptations. Otherwise, the YBA runs largely on Palmers' network. Palmers plays a prominent role in the national world of startups and scale-ups; among other things, he is an analyst for BNR News radio and supervises startups at TU Twente.
'Our luck is that enough parties want us in the house'
The YBA is - partly forced - into its next phase of development: from public event to TV format, from Drenthe to European event, from hundreds of euros in prize money to more than a hundred million and from regional to international sponsors. 'This year the choice still turned out in Drenthe's favor,' says Niels Palmers. But in preparation, the budget was minimized by the province and the YBA was forced to look wider and more forward. Palmers: 'And our luck is that there are plenty of parties who want us in house.'
The YBA limped along for a long time. It was a public event initially streamed on RTV Drenthe and Podium TV (NDC Media Group). The event relied heavily on the dynamics of Jort Kelder, but when RTL Z expressed an interest in broadcasting it, Kelder, as an NPO person (presenter Op1), was an inconvenient factor. That's where Covid came in and Palmer and his bunch decided to change tack and tinker with the format.
Plans were accelerated by Covid
Thomas Nauw briefly joined the conversation. 'We already had all kinds of plans, of course, but because of Covid we basically had to accelerate what we had in mind,' he says. 'And because there was budget, we had no doubts. RTL's interest also came in handy.' And Palmers then unfolds his visions: a prize pool toward 150 million euros and a hit with Netflix, Disney, Videoland or whoever. 'It's a competition all about entrepreneurial value of a startup or scale-up and money, lots of money. You show how all that money is raised. The whole thing could be a little more lighthearted, because the series just shown was maybe too serious.'
More than 135,000 people watched weekly
It should not be just another program, Nauw concurs. It has to be thought-provoking, more focused on the entrepreneurial experience. Consumers with a business profile should be the target audience, Palmers argues; B2B2C, business to business to consumer, it sounds. In recent weeks, the new version of the YBA was broadcast via RTL Z and Videoland. More than 135,000 people watched it every week. Both men see a lot of room for improvement. Thomas Nauw: "In previous years, Jort Kelder provided his own show. Now we have less time for a broadcast and no audience.'
Palmers adds, "That's why there's a big cut in the footage. This was a pilot, a learning process.' Both also note that the atmosphere in the new format is much more detached. Thomas Nauw: "Winning in a room full of audience is very different. Niels Palmers elaborates: 'When the winner is announced now, we coolly state: it's on. With an audience there, you have a standing ovation of 800 people. That's a completely different impact and also takes much longer.' The steps to be taken now come at a cost. Much more money is needed, and Palmers sees little chance of raising that money in the northern Netherlands. 'Because there is more than half a billion euros on the stage, there are parties that would love to have us in,' Palmers notes. 'We are talking about very different amounts now than in past years.' In other words, the YBA is at the limit of what is still possible in Drenthe.
At YBA sowed seeds of cooperation with Hardt
The YBA has already brought much to Drenthe and the Northern Netherlands. It has proven to be an impressive stage for regional startups and scale-ups, which were a new branch of business in 2014. Palmers sits at the table of national organizations and has ensured that the top national startups and scale-ups came to Drenthe. 'We additionally had Hardt Hyperloop on stage in 2017,' Palmers knows. 'That's where the seeds were sown for a collaboration with Hardt, as a result of which there will now be a test center in Groningen. An essential development for the northern Netherlands.'
The YBA can boast a list of fine winners. Media Distillery and Code Sandbox are going like clockwork, and it is expected that we will hear a lot more from the parties that took the stage this year. And this year BOTS joins the list of winners. BOTS - investing through algorithms - consulted exponential growth figures and expects to achieve unicorn status (company worth $1 billion) within a few months.
Soon primetime and winner must be decacorn
Niels Palmers: "And from now on we are going to take big steps. We set the bar ten times higher in ten years. In two to three years I expect us to broadcast around primetime on national TV. And currently we think the winner should be a potential unicorn. In ten years that should be a potential decacorn, a company worth ten billion.'
Winner YBA 2022 already unicorn this fall
The promising scale-ups at the Young Business Award (YBA) all aspire to become unicorns, but what is very special is that this year's winner expects to have reached that status in just a few months. It involves BOTS from Haarlem.
BOTS is a company of big numbers and immense growth: after almost two years, BOTS realized a thick 5000 percent growth and already has more than 7 billion euros in trading volume. It is a crypto investment app on which you can super smartly piggyback on other parties' trading strategies.
Michiel Stokman of BOTS also mentioned in passing that an investment of 100 to 150 million is on the way. All these details add up to a greatness that the other finalists cannot yet match.
Chordify from Groningen (turning existing music into chords with algorithms), GoSharing from Nieuwegein (shared mobility) and Amberscript from Amsterdam (transcription of spoken text) present fantastic credentials, but BOTS is a size too big. When it comes to unicorn ambitions, Chordify in the person of Gijs Bekenkamp is somewhat less emphatic about its own. This elicits the comment from jury member Ineke Kooistra: "I don't think Gijs likes to talk about money. Which Bekenkamp immediately confirms: 'With us it's more about passion.'
Chordify has also been around a bit longer and has raised only 250,000 euros in investment externally. Bekenkamp: "Money buys speed, but we have been able to pay for everything ourselves so far. Chordify therefore aims primarily for organic growth. The Groningen scale-up, which seeks an idiosyncratic path of growth and therefore does not put money and investments first, scores highly within the jury. There is no second prize at the YBA, but had there been one, Chordify would have had a great chance.
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