Opinion: The Netherlands is too small for us not to work together

As StartupUtrecht, we attach great value to discussion and the formation of opinions on current issues that affect our  regional startup-ecosystem. That is why we start with a new section: "StartupUtrecht Opinion". In this section, Heerd Jan Hoogeveen, Director of StartupUtrecht, will frequently post blogs in which he shares his ideas, dreams and experiences. Today he emphasizes how important it is that the different startup regions in the Netherlands start working together.

“It was merely a 1,5 hour drive down south on a sunny afternoon, when the highway suddenly offered me a view on a large complex full of impressive chimney pipes and industrial buildings: I had arrived at Brightlands Chemelot Campus in the south of Limburg. I was there to meet with Leon Klinkers and Patrick van der Meer, two men who are successfully working on supporting the startups at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus. After I had passed the barrier, the Campus appeared to be more than an impressive industrial site, with a couple of fresh, modern looking office buildings. Patrick, Leon and I met in the coffee corner on the ground floor of one of those buildings.

The three of us have in common that in our own region, we all try to create the ideal circumstances for startups and scale-ups to be as successful as possible. Soon we discovered that we not only shared the same goals, but also that we encountered the same problems: high expectations from our stakeholders. For instance: our environments all want to see that ‘fabulous unicorn’ and act disappointed when such a clear success story is not readily available within a year or so. After all, we all see it happen in Silicon Valley, why not here?

People tend to forget for how long investments have been made in Silicon Valley. In line with that we talked about the importance of regional public investments in the startup ecosystem, just like the American government did in Silicon Valley. We are all in the happy circumstance that our local and provincial governments have a very positive attitude towards startups, and are willing to invest in the startup ecosystem. A difference between Utrecht and the South of Limburg is that a couple of large corporates that moved to Limburg in the aftermath of the Dutch mining crisis of the 1970-ies, are actively involved and make substantial (financial) contributions. So perhaps the mining crisis is a blessing in disguise for Leon and Patrick.

Time for a good, promising crisis in Utrecht? Maybe not… But nevertheless the sense of urgency that is felt by the business community, governments and knowledge institutions to invest collectively and substantially, could be very useful for Utrecht Region. But maybe that’s another thing I have in common with my colleagues in the south of Limburg; even though the startup climate in Utrecht is good, we are not very easily satisfied…

Besides these comparisons and lessons we could learn from each other, we discussed the competition that is felt in the Netherlands between regional organisations such as StartupUtrecht and Brightlands. We all want more and better startups, and some regions offer startups money to move to their region. LIOF in Limburg for example does that, but in Utrecht such incentives are very rare. Patrick, Leon and I came to the conclusion that the main focus should be on the needs of startups, and every startup should be seated there where it has the best opportunities to grow. That is a common interest, since the Netherlands isn’t that big after all. Actually, only a bit larger than Silicon Valley.

On my way back in the car, I pondered about the question if the Netherlands is ready to act accordingly. It will take quite some time, I think. For now, the three of us agreed that we should just try it, achieve a couple of successes and take it from there. Almost like a proper startup. A few phone calls later the A2 highway had taken me back to Utrecht again. Indeed, the Netherlands is too small for us not to work together."