Dutch Construction Industry Needs Start-Ups to Innovate

The Dutch construction industry needs a wrecking ball to innovate,” says Serena Scholte (34) advisor of StartupDelta and founder of Startupbouw. “Start-ups can have this impact and bring innovation to the industry.” The construction industry is facing challenges that demand innovative approaches at all levels. One of these challenges is to become more environmentally friendly, as the construction industry is a major source of pollution. “We need to think of eco-friendly materials to use, find ways to recycle the enormous waste the industry produces, and reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. Did you know that the construction industry is responsible for 50%of the total Dutch carbon dioxide emissions? That is huge! The construction industry needs to innovate and we need disruptive start-ups to bring about this change.”

Win-Win Requires Different Mindset

Serena Scholte is no stranger to the construction industry. Ten years ago, when the Dutch construction sector was still licking its wounds after a huge fraud case that had come to light, she was asked to develop a course to stimulate innovation in the industry. Together with partners from the construction industry, she sat around the table to restore communication within the industry, which was heavily damaged as a consequence of the fraud scandal. She knows the sector inside and out.

Today she is founder of Startupbouw, a community of start-ups that wants to innovate the Dutch construction industry. “I want to connect corporations and start-ups; in the end they need each other. If they cooperate, a win-win situation can be achieved. A good example is the cooperation between Virus Free Air (VFA), a start-up that focuses on developing green technologies in the field of indoor air quality and air filtration and Itho Daalderop, a corporation that delivers products that contribute to healthy and energy efficient indoor climate (for example they offer solutions for heating and ventilation). When the CEO of Itho Daalderop got to know VFA, he was intrigued by its products and offered the start-up the opportunity to work at his plant and use his machinery. Itho Daalderop took a minority share in VFA.  For VFA there were several advantages in this collaboration: with the necessary machinery and a network at their disposal the price of the start-up’s product dropped by 70%. In addition, the CEO of the start-up learned the ropes of the industry from the CEO of Itho Daalderop. For Itho Daalderop, collaboration with a start-up meant more innovative ideas and products.

It seems like a simple win-win situation, but it is not easy to make this connection between start-ups and existing corporations. Many start-ups want to change the establishment and rebel against it and are not always eager to cooperate with more traditional corporations. On the other hand, CEO’s of corporations and midsize businesses should not want to take over start-ups; they need to respect the strength of the start-up, otherwise the start-up will lose its innovative spirit. It requires a different mind-set.” Itho Daalderop and VFA met by chance. Others are not that fortunate. To create an opportunity where start-ups and investors can meet Serena organized a Hub on Hub off bus tour.

Hub on Hub off Bus

On the fifth of November, a Hub on Hub off Bus will be going from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and back. The passengers on board will be investors and start-ups in the construction industry. “The start-ups on board will be a diverse group of people, unlike the current construction industry that mainly consists of Dutch men. Men and women of different ages, both Dutch and foreign start-ups, will join the tour. They all have one thing in common: they dream of making the Netherlands a sustainable and beautiful place. Start-ups like Stonecycling, a company that produces bricks from construction waste, and Hillblock, a start-up that developed innovative and environmental friendly dike stones, will be on the bus. “The bus tickets were sold in the blink of an eye, which shows that there is a lot of demand for such meetings.” During the bus tour, start-ups will have the opportunity to talk and do business with the investors and several stops will be made to visit inspiring start-up projects such as GrownDownTown and Zero Energy Hotel. “With this tour we also want to create better understanding between corporations and start-ups. e.g., we want to show corporations on the tour how to become more attractive to start-ups. On the other hand, we want to stimulate start-ups to become entrepreneurs, so they become more attractive to corporations. Most start-up founders have fantastic products but they do not know how to market their ideas. When they pitch them they’ll tell you how wonderful their product is, but they do not know how to convince investors.” Lots of pitching by founders of start-ups and investors will be done during the bus tour and useful tips and tricks will be given. “At the end of the day, the Hub on Hub off Bus will be filled with new experiences, the passengers’ planners will be filled with follow up meetings and hopefully some good busdeals are made!”

International Customers Buy Products First

“I think the government also has a role in stimulating innovation in the construction industry. It fails to do so, for example in its tendering process, it does not ask explicitly for innovation. If the government would do so, bigger corporations would look for collaboration with start-ups, since they are the ones with innovative ideas. Start-ups themselves are often too small to win a tender. It would be good if StartupDelta could urge the government to ask explicitly for innovation in their tendering process. Another hurdle for start-ups is that the government asks for ‘proven technology’ when buying a product, which incidentally is almost a contradiction to the word ‘innovation’. A certificate is required indicating that a product has been tested before the government will buy the product. In order to receive such certificate you need to test your product over and over again. This is very costly and time consuming and most start-ups cannot afford this. The result is that international customers buy innovative products from our start-ups more readily than our own government. To overcome this hurdle I believe we should create an incubator for the construction sector.”

Alternative Construction Industry

“There are hubs in the Netherlands, such as YES!Delft and Rockstart, but there are no incubators specifically for the construction sector and I want to create one. It should not be a place with a closed-door policy, but a place where start-ups can meet investors, partners and mentors, and where they can test their product and receive the necessary certificates, so they can join the tendering process. I found a place in Delft, which may be the perfect location for this incubator since there are so many other places there where you can test your product. Now I need pioneers who are willing to invest. Together with the start-ups, I want to build an alternative Dutch construction industry, an industry that is sustainable, international, and with many more women involved. Together we can make the Netherlands the best place to live and to be an example for the world.”