Guest blog by our founder and ambassador Rogier Klimbie
You know something special is afoot when the big City Hall in San Francisco is lit up in the colour orange. I was in the ‘Valley’ again: everyone that has any tie to the startup scene feels the urge to make their annual pilgrimage. To be dazzled by the schael, energy, tempo in San Fran and its surroundings, by the innovation of Apple, the Salesforce tower, the mystics of Palantir, chatting with VC’s and hoping for a lucky break as entrepreneur.
But are we Dutch any good at this stuff? Well, we could be better: our success is not automatic and the competition stiff. The renowned accelerator programmes 500 Startups and Y Combinator have seen over 200 startups coming by over the last years: zero Dutch participants… That is one of the reasons behind the Holland in the Valley project, driven by the Dutch Consulate-General. The launch of a strong programme to help Dutch talent and businesses in the US and to connect them to local Dutch techies, VC’s, mentors. A boost for startups, students and scale-ups in the Netherlands to be able to hit the ground running in Silicon Valley. And a great way for my countrymen to give back to their homeland. It’s high time too: success is more than an annual hop to California and – excusez le mot – road-trips by well intentioned startups or corporates.
That said, we must have an idea what startups – and the Dutch ecosystem – can learn if we want to use the Bay Area as a driver for our own success. Now there are many pro’s and con’s to the US system, but my visit again yielded a few insights we need to capture. And push for at home with the DSA. One of the keys is a strong investment climate: no I do not mean venture capital alone. Actually a focus on making possible the next wave of technology. Most of all Artificial Intelligence (AI). Beyond all the hype it’s clear there is a massive effort to use AI as the next stepping stone for growth, scaling etc. The US tech sector invests heavily and works very closely with the academic arena. My second lesson would be academia…European universities lag behind in cooperation with business on the scale of Silicon Valley. While there are caveats to be made on how this works, that the effect is a huge leap in both research and business development is plain to see. If we want to catch up (or on) then we need to drop our squeamishness and be ambitious in our cooperation in the Netherlands and with US institutions. Here too the competition is strong. so let’s act quickly. Last but not least: the regulatory environment for acquiring talent, equity etc is very attractive. What lacks in Europe is a similar environment. We ought to tackle this soon: more open startup/talent visa and why is rewarding vesting shares so hard to sort? The sum of this is a culture that allows founders to get back up fast when they fail and a culture that rewards success quickly, allowing scale.
We need to have more scale in the Netherlands, growth engines like Elastic, Adyen, 3D Hubs. For the ecosystem but also for the Netherlands themselves. In a sense that was the vision we had as founders of the DSA, and something I care deeply about as ambassador. To get there we need an own voice in The Hague and Brussels. Holland in the Valley is a step in the right direction. But to become a true digital frontrunner or ‘The West Coast of Europe’ for innovation, it can’t stop there. A nice orange glow in the downtown SF is not sufficient but we need to chase the dream of coloring the whole Bay Area orange. A great challenge to take on in the coming years!