Where does innovation come from? Who will hold the key to change? From the 1st of July Slovakia will hold the EU Presidency and will succeed the Netherlands. Slovakia is a small country in the heart of Europe with over 5 million people. Slovakia will put two priorities on the agenda: #innovation and #startups. The Slovak Ministry of Economy has asked the European Commission to organise an expert group consisting of several experts from Finland, Portugal and the Netherlands to give advice on how to strengthen their startup ecosystem. And over the last couple of days Sigrid was there to meet and talk to all the stakeholders of the Slovakian ecosystem. From universities to founders, from investors to all the layers of governmental organisations. They all shared their wishes and challenges.
The Slovak Ministry insisted to invite StartupDelta, so we could reflect on their building blocks for innovation and to share our ideas and experiences. They admire the model and take inspiration from Dutch financial instruments like the Seed capital arrangement and innovative concepts like Startups in Residence in Amsterdam.
Slovakia has an emerging startup Ecosystem and that has its advantages. Amongst the younger generation there exists this fantastic enthusiasm to change the country and to improve life. Full of ideas, many of them have seen the world and are open to inspiration, change and ambition. About 8 % of the whole population (mostly youngsters) has gone abroad and a good part of them have returned. Just like in our country, in every co-working space or incubator "The Lean Startup" and "From Zero to One" was on the table. They work together with the Pioneer festival in Vienna and have also established a couple of great scale-ups in the past five years. For example ESET, a producer for cybersecurity products for 90 million customers in 180 countries and R&D centers in Bratislava, San Diego and Singapore. Or Sygic, a provider of car navigation products with a 150 million users. Within the ecosystem organisations like @neulogy are the lubricant in the machinery for investments, networking and creative ideas. And this is only the beginning.
Every ecosystem has to build on their own strengths and identify their own opportunities. Copying sounds as the easy way forward, is mostly not productive. Ecosystems require a tailor made approach, or better "tailors made", because it is a multi-stakeholder approach.
Inviting people to describe their own strengths is not only a challenge in the Netherlands, but also abroad. The unfair advantage of Slovakia is definitely the small size (everyone really knows everyone); the abundance of (IT) talent they have and the cost-efficiency because of low wages and a good technology base. The culture, however, in general, is partly still under the influence of once state-owned and state-steered assets and progress. Over decades "Entrepreneurship" was seen as the equivalent of corruption. Just try and advocate to become a founder in this context! …How am I going to tell my parents… This is just to give you an impression that there is no "One size fits all" approach to startup ecosystems. In May we will present our draft recommendations to the Slovakian government.
And what about the Homefront of Europe's Westcoast for Startups? We are now in our final stage and turning all our efforts into concrete results with our partners. StartupDelta in the present setting has about three more months to go. During the last couple of months many Dutch stakeholders have requested the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs that StartupDelta should be continued. The Ministry has asked for our input on what parts of StartupDelta should be continued and what our vision for the future would be. One of our principles, however, is that StartupDelta should act within a limited timeframe and should not institutionalize or become another bureaucratic layer in society. The concept is based on systemic changes and energising and dynamising others in order to boost the climate for startups: from industry to investors, from startups to scale-ups and from academia to government. The stakeholders should take responsibility, act and invest. So we asked the regional innovation hubs to take the lead and connect with their stakeholders and come up with a plan.
On top of that we wrote our own document, which is part legacy as well as a form of national and international ecosystem crowd sourcing on how to improve the climate in the Netherlands. We also used the comments of the Circle of Influencers and advisors provided over the last year. In addition, we tried to learn from our many missions. Both documents have been send to the Ministry. The Minister of Economic Affairs will then write a letter to Parliament about the future of StartupDelta, just before the EU-Startup Fest in May.
To us, and to the work achieved by our team and all the others who have contributed so much to the startup vibe this is of course a great compliment. At the same time we think that the stakeholders in the startup ecosystem should set the example and take over from us. A strong and sustainable startup ecosystem is based on the limitless ambitions, energising activity, crazy creativity and unconditional commitment of founders, investors, corporates, universities, government and many others. We feel that many of our partners only have set foot on the doorstep and they could do much more!
Blueprints don't exist. A startup ecosystem is like a positive anarchy of forces challenging each other, of sharing and joining and keeping each other sharp. It is about adding value to each other. Tapping into trends and raising the ambition level. And…being fast and responsive: the startup state of mind is influencing many societal- and business models in a bottom-up approach. They are influencing many policy fields, such as the labour market, capital markets, healthcare, mobility and energy efficiency. We are only at the beginning. This vibe should be continued and enlarged!
If we have a quick look at who is active in changing the Dutch ecosystem at the moment, and who is setting the example we can think of many people. For instance: Jan Kees de Jager, the CFO of KPN, who is advocating and funding the impact of startups on corporate business models and the Internet of Things. Or Janneke Niessen, who actively involves thousands of young girls in IT and entrepreneurship. Or Peter Wennink with the MakeNext Platform. Or Ray Quintana of Cottonwood who inspires the Netherlands with his experience of changing the investor climate. But also our advisors like Serena Scholten who connects and changes the thinking of the conventional building sector to completely new ways of working with innovative materials. Initiatives like Venture Cafe in Rotterdam and Startup Haarlem. The great interviews Steven Schuurman is giving about his experiences how to build a global scale-up like Elastic. These people blow the oxygen into the Dutch startup ecosystem. They make it work! They are the change agents. They connect the dots.
What does connectivity look like?
At Booking.com, in the hall near the reception, they have a map of the globe. On this map little lights flicker from one side of the world to the other, representing actions and transactions. People booking hotels and preparing their journeys. We should have something like this to show which initiatives are being taken in the Netherlands to strengthen our startup world. Not only representing contacts and actions within the country, but also internationally. We would be astounded by all the activity that is going on. Inspiring, energising each other and being ambitious. Big and small.
The countdown has begun and we call for even more action and examples of role models in the next coming months towards StartupDelta 2.0. Give 2.0 the stepping stone to make an even bigger leap into the startup future. Write us, on [email protected] if you have any ideas which you would like to contribute to improving the Dutch startup ecosystem and share with us to making it world class!
Neelie Kroes, Special Envoy for Startups
Sigrid Johannisse, Director StartupDelta