Dutch minister Kamp on the Dutch Start-up climate

‘The Dutch startup climate’, keynote speech by minister Kamp at the University of California, Berkeley, 9 January 2017

Ladies, gentlemen,

When you think of the Netherlands, you may think of cheese, tulips and windmills.

Or maybe those images belong to a previous generation, and you have different associations with my country, the same as my children: our DJs, perhaps, like Afrojack and Martin Garrix, who top the international charts. And frequent the USA. Or you think about the Amsterdam Dance Event, which this year attracted 375.000 visitors from all around the world.

Today, however, I would like to tell you why the Netherlands is also the land of startups.

But first, since I have the honor of speaking at a world-class university: let me teach you something about my country that may not be as well-known as the associations I just mentioned. In fact, I think many of my own countrymen don’t even realize that the following is true.

The Netherlands is the third-largest direct foreign investor in the USA. And the number 1 trade partner for California. Dutch commerce and trade create 740.000 jobs in USA.

Did you know, ladies and gentlemen, that the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products? Not per capita, but in total. It is true. Only the United States exports more. And not just because of Rotterdam, as you may think, but also in services. The Netherlands has a production 5 times as high as the European average.

One of the innovations we owe this top position to is our greenhouses. They allow us to grow our crops in the optimal climate, year round, efficiently. Nowadays, our greenhouses even generate energy instead of using it. In the same way that we fine tune the climate in our greenhouses, my Ministry of Economic Affairs aims to create the most favourable business climate for growing startups.

We attach great value to startups. They contribute significantly to our economy. More than 40 percent of new jobs are with companies that didn’t exist five years ago. Startups drive innovation and give young, talented people, like you, the chance to develop. Startups challenge existing companies to innovate. And they boost our economy and prosperity.

Our startup ecosystem is growing fast. Dutch startups are relatively successful: over 65% of them survive the first five years. In other countries, that’s only around 44 percent. Many of you may know the website Booking.com, which started as Booking.nl in the Netherlands in 1996. And now, it is a good example of how startups can grow into big companies in the Netherlands.

And big companies like to come to the Netherlands as well. The last two years, big companies like Microsoft Netherlands invested 750 million dollars in Dutch startups. 

I can think of three elements that make the Netherlands so interesting for startups:

  • our infrastructure;
  • our Startup Delta organisation;
  • and our love for innovation.

When I speak of infrastructure, I mean connectedness in the broadest sense.

Our national airport, Schiphol, has the second largest number of connections in the world. We have excellent road and rail networks. In short, we are the gateway to and from Europe. But at least as important is the quality of online connectedness.

Internet and IT are the driving forces behind the Dutch economic growth of the future. And our digital infrastructure is excellent.

The digital density in the Netherlands is number 1 in the world. That is why, for example, Google and Microsoft just opened huge data centers in the Netherlands - a 1.4 billion dollar investment.

An important proof of the high quality of our IT infrastructure is the Amsterdam Internet Exchange. This is where the internet connection between the US and Europe reaches our continent before branching out. It is the world’s biggest exchange measured by the number of connected peers, and makes our broadband connection as fast as possible. To illustrate: nearly all the Dutch households have a fast internet connection. Most of them have a sevenfold choice: three fixed and four mobile networks.

All this makes the Netherlands an interesting place for a large number of IT-related businesses: data centers, cyber security companies, cloud providers, new media providers, and telecom providers. They make sure that in the Netherlands data can be transferred quickly, safely and privately.

That brings me to the second feature that makes the Netherlands interesting: our StartupDelta program.

I initiated StartupDelta almost two years ago. Its aim is to make the Netherlands the most well-connected and largest ecosystem for startups in Europe. We are now number 4. The basics are there: the Netherlands have more than ten technology hubs connected to our universities and knowledge institutes - all no more than 90 minutes apart. In your American eyes: just one city away. We are home to Europe’s largest business incubators, Rockstart and Startupbootcamp. Add that more than 90% of our country speaks English, and you will understand the big potential for companies from outside.

At the head of StartupDelta is a special envoy, put in that position by the government. The first was Neelie Kroes, former European Commissioner for Competition and for the Digital Agenda. She has since moved onto the management board of Salesforce and the advisory board of Uber.

In the year and a half she led StartupDelta, she brought together government, startups, corporations, universities, research centres and investors. After her term of leading StartupDelta, his royal highness, Constantijn van Oranje, followed her. He has been in charge for the last half year.

So what does StartupDelta do concretely? First of all, it ensures that startups from abroad feel as welcome as possible and run into no obstacles to establish themselves in our country.

To name a few:

StartupDelta introduced the startup visa. It enables entrepreneurs from abroad to start an innovative company in the Netherlands. Also, StartupDelta introduced a so-called corporate launchpad, an online platform for finding possible collaborations between corporations and startups. And with the Startupbox, companies from abroad gain insight into what public sector support programs can help them grow.

Startups sometimes turn out to be fast growers, and move up to be scale-ups. That’s why StartupDelta will broaden its activities: to not only take away obstacles for startups, but also for scale-ups. Such a move will help data tech company Elastic, the auction website Catawiki, and payment provider Adyen gain access to talent, networks and capital.

The third reason the Netherlands is a land of startups is because innovation is always buzzing.

The European Commission has ranked the Netherlands as one of Europe’s innovation leaders. Innovation is deeply rooted in our DNA. I told you about our greenhouses, and I’ll tell you something else. We have always battled the sea, protecting our low lying lands, our “nether” lands. In fact, the most densely populated part of our country is below sea level.

We protect our land with a sophisticated system of dykes. It made us world experts. After hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, our engineers were called on to help make the city “waterproof”. Innovation has been a necessity for us for centuries – and it still is. These days, innovation is aimed at battling other challenges, too.

At Delft Technical University, QuTech is developing a high speed quantum computer. That will eventually guarantee 100% safe data traffic. You must know: now, we have silicium chips; the future is fotonics; and the future of the future is quantum. In 2015, chipmaker Intel invested 50 million dollars in QuTech; and recently, Microsoft announced it would invest in QuTech for the next 10 years.

The Dutch company ASML is the world’s largest supplier of photolithography systems – highly sophisticated machines, more than 100 million dollars each, that are used for the production of computer chips. Thanks to supreme research and development, ASML has had a global market share of over 80%, if not 90%, for the last five years. It is very likely that all of you carry computer chips produced by ASML machines with you – in your phones and in your laptops.

And one of our advanced research centres, the Chemical Building Blocks Consortium, is trying to harness CO2 in new building materials or as a source of energy. These are global challenges, adressed by Dutch innovation. Or, as we call it: global challenges, met by Dutch solutions.

If you’re looking to be a part of the world’s latest developments, the Netherlands is not a bad place to be. The Dutch are experts at creating favorable conditions: through dykes, through greenhouses, and also through the way we treat our startups. The 2016 Startup Nations Monitor ranked the Netherlands as number one for implementing policies aimed at boosting startup growth.

We favor startups, and startups favor us. That’s why, from 2017, the Dutch government will be giving 50 million dollars annually to boost startup growth - structurally. Part of these resources will go toward stimulating investment in startups and scale-ups. The rest will go into lowering wage costs for startup founders. This will ensure that startups can spend their money first and foremost on growing their business.

We will continue to invest in making connections between key networks: linking startups with universities, corporates, government, and local and international investors. These public-private partnerships form the basis of Dutch startup policy.

Together, we work hard to give even more space to innovation and entrepreneurship in our delta. Making it the best place to start a company, to grow, and to expand across borders. If you are a big company in the Netherlands, you have an excellent basis to grow further.

In all this, the government acts in a certain way – the way of public-private partnerships. The Dutch way. With that, I mean that the government listens to what companies need, and helps them gain access to talent, networks and capital. We believe in the power and creativity of startups, and the people behind them – bright, young minds such as yourselves.

The Netherlands and startups - we help each other grow.

I wish you all the best in pursuing your careers – whether they are academic or corporate, regardless of what you decide to start up.

Thank you for your attention.


Also watch: prince Constantijn on startups in the Netherlands