Be Creative and Fearless! Interview with Neelie Kroes

Neelie Kroes has worked for the European Commission, as one of the 27 Commissioners she seeks to maintain a peaceful and prosperous Europe. From 2004 to 2009, she was Competition Commissioner responsible for ensuring a level playing field for business in Europe, fair prices and consumer choice. In 2010, she became Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe.

This portfolio includes the information and communications technology (ICT) and telecommunications sectors. For example, Kroes has overseen the Commission’s role in ensuring trust and security for the Internet and new technologies; ensuring competitive communications, such as in the mobile roaming market; building European research and innovation; and getting every citizen in Europe up to speed as regards tech by facilitating access to fast broadband and giving them the skills they need to support the European economy and society.


You are currently working as a Special Envoy of StartupDelta for startups in the Netherlands? What is StartupDelta and what does the job entail?

Together with Sigrid Johannisse, the Director of StartupDelta, I formed a team that can tackle obstacles that block the growth path for startups. We are connecting all the players in the Dutch startup ecosystem. The Netherlands is potentially the largest and best connected startup ecosystem in Europe. Many Dutch founders and entrepreneurs know this, but few publicize it. But there is no reason to be modest about this.
It is my ambition for The Netherlands to attain a top 3 position in the European league of startup hubs, on a par with London and Berlin. We already have this position for venture capital, where we are in third position, right after London and Berlin. But the latest benchmark underlines the incredible growth in the Netherlands. For instance, according to the European Digital City Index, Amsterdam is the 2nd best place in Europe for digital startups and the 3rd best for digital scale-ups, ahead of Berlin.
In 90 minutes, I can travel between 10 tech hubs in the Netherlands. Now that we’ve linked up these hubs we 
are creating change. So, the aim of StartupDelta is to make the Netherlands the largest and best-connected startup ecosystem in Europe.

That’s great! But let’s go back to the beginning of this year. What was the impetus behind creating StartupDelta?

When Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, asked me to become Special Envoy for startups in the Netherlands, I was excited because I truly believe in the power and importance of startups. But I was also hesitant. I didn’t want to become the Dutch mascot for startups, selling Dutch startups to the world.
That is just not my cup of tea! When I do things I want to make a difference. Because that is what the startup mindset is all about: making a difference! Creating change, transforming which may involve disrupting.

So, I came up with a proposal. I said to Minister Kamp, I will invest 1.5 years, but on the condition I get a strong team and I can be independent from the ministry. And I need your commitment to deliver change when necessary, so that together we can create the movement, visibility and impact to give the Dutch economy a boost into the 21st century.
Minister Kamp agreed and Amsterdam’s Mayor Eberhard van der Laan offered to host StartupDelta in Amsterdam, from where we represent the whole of The Netherlands.


In 2015, StartupDelta ranks 4th in the EU and 19th in the Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking. How did you achieve this?

It’s important to know that when we launched the StartupDelta initiative at the beginning of this year, we were nowhere on the rankings. I was at an EU/US venture capital meeting in Brussels hosted by the US Embassy. The UK, Germany, Spain, and Estonia were mentioned, but not The Netherlands. So, our first step was to work on our visibility. 
It’s a matter of: ‘profile yourself, or perish’. I am doing this with StartupDelta, nationally and internationally. And it only works if we all do this together. So, we are calling for role models to stand up and inspire others: show us the way, be bold and inform!

We’re also pursuing the adage ‘aim global, cooperate local’. Fragmentation is a killer if we want to create global impact. We have to combine the strengths of the Dutch tech hubs such as Brainport Eindhoven, Amsterdam, Twente, Groningen, and Rotterdam. The idea is to create one single hub. 
Every two weeks, StartupDelta welcomes all the hubs to share their experiences and developments. With the support of IBM and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, we’ve launched the web portal, which offers an overview of all the players and opportunities of the Dutch ecosystem. Together with DutchBasecamp, we are also launching mentoring networks abroad for startups, in Boston, London and San Francisco.

It looks like the entire country 
collaborates with a single goal. How is this possible?

With numerous strong international mentoring networks in place and corporates that share their global networks the Netherlands has quickly become the best launch pad to Europe. If startups can validate their product here, they can scale up to other, bigger economies in Europe and even in the US.
The Dutch are tech-savvy and easily adopt game changers. Our corporates are adopting startups to enhance their innovation. And our governments are open to change. Therefore, in the Netherlands startups grow fast. 
And we can do more. We have a weird habit: the Netherlands is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we love to put our money into saving accounts or invest abroad. Why not mobilize capital and invest in our own economy in our startups and small businesses, which generate most of the new jobs? That way we can create jobs for our children.

So, the economic situation and the early adoption of changes are the reasons why startups and scale-ups choose The Netherlands?

I am convinced The Netherlands has everything it takes to be one of the European top 3 startup ecosystems, because: The Netherlands is the most connected economy worldwide and provides a strategic location to serve markets within Europe and beyond. Leading multinationals are based here 
– providing an easy way to validate ideas across this continent and fast, efficient gateways to the rest of the world.

  • The Netherlands has 2 incubators in the top 10 of the University Business Incubators index, which give top notch growth support for startups
  • StartupDelta is Europe’s 3rd faster growing ecosystem, behind Berlin and London and has the 5th highest growth index of the global top 20.
  • The Netherlands features one of the most highly educated, flexible and motivated workforces in Europe. Our productivity is amongst the highest in the world. Dutch professionals are among the most multilingual in the world, enabling them to successfully operate in companies on every continent in any industry.
  • We have an entrepreneurial mindset; with 1 million entrepreneurs in the Netherlands (#1 in EU) and Europe’s most positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. 

I could go on: We are Europe’s West Coast for startups. We are potentially the largest and the best connected startup ecosystem in Europe.

What are the primary obstacles and what can Central European countries learn from the Dutch and others?

I believe that across Europe we can learn from ecosystems like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv when it comes to our attitude towards taking risk. We need to embrace failure and learn from our mistakes. We need to see failing as part of the learning curve to improve your work. Try, try again and fail better! 
Kaj Hed, the chairman of Rovio Entertainment told me that if you are the No. 2, it means you have lost. This mentality to win is not in the Dutch genes. So, in that sense we still have a lot to learn. If we want to make a difference, we need to aim for pole position and nothing less. By the way Kaj’s motto is: ‘be creative and fearless!’ I am sure, that is the best recipe to become the No. 1. This goes for any European country.

Sometimes you can be motivated 
and have potential but, for example, government procurement procedures can make everything more difficult. We know that entrepreneurs create jobs, not politicians, but how can governments help to nurture startups?

Governments have to create the right conditions for startups to grow and scale-up. An entrepreneurial attitude makes all the difference to how you address challenges and create opportunities. As a politician, I always looked at how we can get things done and asked myself ‘What is the next step?’ Perhaps, this is also the reason why I feel so inspired by the younger generation who are building their startups and finding new ways to do things.

I feel that a lot of creativity and development is blocked by regulations that don’t leave room for startups and solutions for the problems of the 21st century. Governments play a crucial role in creating opportunities. More and more, I encounter good examples of how we should facilitate startups. For instance in the case of Airbnb where the City of Amsterdam was the first city in the world to adopt Airbnb-friendly laws. Governments need to change their procurement procedures and no longer demand that a supplier exists for over three years. This way, startups can apply, contribute, grow and perhaps become the next big tech giant.

How will the startup environment look in five years’ time?

We need to work from our strengths, which I mentioned in the beginning. These strengths are our X-factor, our multiplier. And by working with our strengths, we can overcome our weaknesses. 
In this time of rapid development, I think it’s more important to focus on the near future. That is where I can make a difference. Here’s my dream for The Netherlands: on July 1st, 2016, after we have celebrated StartupFest Europe in May together with thousands of talented young men and women, investors, corporates from across the globe, our corporates will embrace startups as part of their business and innovation models. These corporates then actively open their doors and networks. They will act as launching customers and give credibility to startups.

Our research institutes will have an 
open and shared approach towards intellectual property and knowledge. Students who start a business will get all the space and support to use this knowledge and bring it to the market. This process will be fostered by industry and intelligence driven. And of course, how could I forget: entrepreneurship and coding needs to be part of the curriculum. Children love it!

There will be strong Business Angel networks at universities. Universities will play a leading role in involving the alumni networks to coach startups and open up international networks. We will have identified at least two more unicorns and have attracted triple the amount of venture capital. And the brand StartupDelta will be on everybody’s lips in Silicon Valley and people will be saying: ‘the Dutch have done it!’

Publikované: 08. feb 2016 11:43 | Počet prečítaní: 2369
  • Daniel Grigar

    Online Marketing Specialist

    Dano pracuje v Davinci software ako Online Marketing Specialist. Spravuje naše firemné sociálne siete a stará sa o náš blog. Popri tom strká svoje dlhé prsty aj do grafiky a videa. Vo voľnom čase sa venuje manažovaniu improvizačného divadla 3T. V minulosti dobrovoľničil v mnohých mládežníckych projektoch a je najväčším fanúšikom americkej kapely MUTEMATH. 

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