Slugging It Out in the Netherlands
Jonathan Ortmans @jortmans
Nov 16, 2012
In our work to elevate entrepreneurs in society, we often refer to them as “rock stars” in the startup world. Here in the Netherlands, the GEW team on the ground has taken it to a whole new level.
In Rotterdam, I was in for a treat with the Get in the Ring competition. Nearly 800 people came to a dramatically lit St. Lawrence Church (Laurenskerk) and assembled around a boxing ring with prominent “Champion” angel experts on stage. Each entering team was able to define the style and music for their entrance and the audience loved it. Going toe-to-toe with other startups who entered from 17 countries, the final eight went in the ring in pairs to slug it out. Up to €1 million in early-stage funding was at stake and the startup fever was high. As you will see from this one minute video – the evening was electrifying. Indeed an evening of rock stars!
Especially exciting has been the decision by many GEW Hosts in other countries – especially Africa – to copy the concept. I was able to discuss this in The Hague today where I joined Princess Maxima, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development and future Queen of the Netherlands, for the Growing SMEs. Connect. Exchange. Invest conference. Co-organized by the BiD Network, a Netherlands-based foundation with partners in 16 emerging markets, more than 400 entrepreneurs and experts from emerging markets discussed how to accelerate investment in potential high-growth SMEs in emerging markets. The announced winners of the Fast5 Challenge, Women in Business Challenge and the Business Without Borders Challenge inspired the conversation.
As much as The Netherlands is trying to reach out across boundaries, so are other countries trying to connect with the local startup ecosystem. Following the conference in The Hague, the U.S. Embassy hosted the Partnering for Impact event to introduce Dutch entrepreneurs to programs like the Global Entrepreneurship Program as well as tools like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Enterprise Development Network (EDN) and E-Mentors Corps. This event was representative of the extraordinary contribution the US State Department has been making to advance GEW in dozens of nations this year.
It’s no coincidence that conversations about startups are taking place here both at the policy and investor level. The knowledge, the support networks, the diverse connections across boundaries make the Netherlands a welcoming forum for entrepreneurship. No wonder that the GEW movement feels at home here.
And it is not at all just talk. Successful entrepreneurship is happening here every day. Take the tech hub in Eindhoven, which the Intelligent Community Forum, a non-profit think tank, ranked as the world’s smartest region in 2011. Dubbed “Brainport”, this tech neighborhood is home to more than 100 companies and institutes and some 8,000 researchers, developers, and entrepreneurs who churn out nearly 50% of all Dutch patent applications.
The Dutch economy benefits from a traditional emphasis on the rule of law and an efficient judicial system, which provides strong protection for property rights. It also stands out in the region for embracing the concept of a rather limited government. Globally, it ranks 31st in the Doing Business rank.
The Netherlands remains an epicenter for GEW in Europe. My congratulations to the team on an excellent GEW 2012. Next stop London.