Speech by chairman Lucien Burm
January 27th, Zoku, Amsterdam
DSA New Year’s Drinks: Welcome to the Soaring Twenties

Fair warning: The word sh*t will appear quite a few times in this speech. Apologies. Stop reading, if you can’t handle (sh)it.

It is far too late to wish you a happy new year, but it is still early enough to wish you a successful new decade.

A warm welcome from us, the DSA, to all who love startups. DSA people here tonight are my fellow board members Rinske and Ruben, we have our community manager Sabine here and of course our ‘man in The Hague’: Pieter.

Early in the last decade, I was organizing the Amsterdam Startup Week with some fellow entrepreneurs. When we counted the ‘real’ startups in our city, we arrived at only 70 real startups. Fast forward one decade: Apparently, we now have over 5,000 startups in the Netherlands. I hear you thinking: Sure, but what is a startup anyway?

Chairman speech


True, being a startup now is quite different and the meaning of it is changing rapidly.

The term startup is diluting. Ten years ago you were a startup, now you do startup.

Thanks to incubators, accelerators, lean methods, corporates trying to be startups, etc. The principles of startup are widely used now. You could argue that any new initiative, any new company should start up as a startup for increased chances of success. As startups rely on raw truth and clear methods to mitigate risk. Supposedly, you should fail fast and often, but if your runway is short, that has its limitations. So the data and the decisions better be good.

FROM 5 to 50K

If all us can do startup, you can then imagine that I am quite confident about the future. If we can continue the acceleration of Dutch startups, we should have 50,000 startups instead of 5,000 by the end of this decade and the DSA will be the most important organisation for our future economy and society.


Most founders are quite good at what they do and startup methods are reliable, but is not a guaranteed formula for success. Ecosystem development can determine failure or success quite easily, coming from market, technological or political developments. That is why we need to be ever vigilant, and mostly, we need to be ever sharing our, what we at DSA call: The Startup Shit.


In terms of shit (again, apologies), there are a lot of things going on. Every startup has its own shit. Many startups share the same shit. Our approach here is to create small events to discuss… shit.

Diversity was a big one last year. News got out, for example, about how far women-led startups are lagging behind. It is quite clear something needed to be done on the investor side. Thanks to Techleap, they gathered into #FundRight and stated their promises for the future.

This is great news. We support that in full. On the other hand, we instinctively took a step back. We wanted to figure out if we had all our shit together on this topic.  So we gathered a broad set of researchers, founders, professors and several others to debate the topic in detail.


One of the surprising conclusions that evening was that, in general, women are less inclined to raise money as they value autonomy over the speed of growth. A signal for us to start more research here. This might require a need for different entrepreneurial financing. A different look at returns. A different approach to growth. There were many other points, but we will have to share that with you in a later setting.


Startups are about having a completely different perspective. We look at things in many new kinds of ways. When it comes to diversity, we might seem a little behind actually, but again, if you dive a little deeper in the startup shit, you hear stories behind choices that are encouraging.

For example, a story told by Carmen Guillen, from PR.co, your once typical male-dominated startup, tells about how not to give up on hiring the next woman in your startup. That was hard fought and they were about to give up and hire another guy. But, thanks to Carmen’s veto, they waited one more time for the right female applicant. The whole company felt a lot better about it in the end, and business improved. Another thing to learn here is that diversity might not be about the typical male-female discussion but about masculinity and femininity distribution in your startup, completely separated from distribution of man and women. Different powers for different situations, but combined it brings a strong dynamic for sustained growth and serious business practice. We thank Carmen for sharing this shit.

PR.co Carmen Guillen


As said earlier, diversity needs more and thorough research to learn how it contributes to more startup success. All companies can learn from this, but startups will lead the way as they often can still make different decisions easier. This will be one of the main focuses for 2020. Expect first results before summer.

This year we are also going to bring DSA to the members. Together with Fast Moving Targets who are celebrating their 10 year anniversary, we will organize a roadshow to all the hubs, setting up a local studio and record and broadcast great interviews with even greater founders. Next, all founders visiting the event will get a chance to pitch on video professionally. We will then promote you on all our combined channels. Next to the promoting power of our roadshow, it is also a great opportunity to share shit. We will make sure that you do.


In closing, I would like to emphasize that startups are the insurance policy of a state when the economy fails. Or when the incumbents induce a crisis. Of course, that never happens right? The crisis year 2008 produced a great wave of startups that established a new community we still build on. With 50.000 startups in our 10 year future I am not so worried about our opportunities. I am mostly worried about limitations from the ecosystems.

And I am also worried about chasing unicorns. We prefer to have 10.000 fledgeling Dutch startups working together in a great network rather than a 100 unicorns that take the winner takes all approach. We are convinced that that world is changing. Growth will be measured in many ways this decade.


Strategy is mostly about knowing what not to do. So our message to all organisations in the ecosystem of startups is this:

Don’t sit in the entrepreneurial seat. Instead, do what you should do. Remove all friction (from the ecosystem) and leave innovation and growth to the entrepreneurs.

Happy new decade everyone, make the most of this decade of growth. And Soar!