Is there a tech conference where you can bump into royalty? Sure there is: The Next Web Conference. Prince Constantijn, nonchalantly strolling around the festival, followed in his brother’s (King Willem-Alexander) footsteps by visiting the Westergasfabriek venue. The Dutch “startup Prince” is heading Startupdelta, the private-public initiative to propel the local ecosystem nationally and internationally, for little over a year now. Time to look back, and ahead.
Dutch business attire
Casually dressed in what we like to call the Dutch business attire (tieless, jeans, jacket, shirt, and brown suede loafers), Constantijn van Oranje admitted to becoming a regular to TNW. “It’s my fourth time here already. The first time, it was much much smaller, back in 2013.” Since then, the conference transformed into a full-fledged festival with more than 10.000 visitors.
As a regular, what do you think The Next Web Conference means for the Dutch startup ecosystem?
Constantijn: “It’s imperative to have international tech event like this in the Netherlands, and it could become even more important. The more international our ecosystem get’s, the more value it brings to the community. People will become interested; they happen to hear what’s going on, investors start to notice you. It’s a cool conference in a cool city; people need to come here to experience it for themselves. As an ecosystem, we are moving closer to cities like London, Berlin, and Tel Aviv. We want to be named in that the list of the top places to be because it makes stuff easier. The Next Web Conference is a great platform to meet investors, other founders, and like-minded people.
Here’s an odd question: what is it that you do? How does an average workday look like for you?
It’s not just about what I do, but it’s about what we do as Startupdelta. We’re here to identify the bottlenecks, barriers, and gaps in the whole chain of getting a startup off the ground. From talent development to exiting a company, and everything in between. How do you get all those ins and outs on the right timing, where do I need to look for capital, and who can help me address any barriers I might run into? My role is being the connector. I bring parties together and create a positive movement around entrepreneurship. Of course, much depends on other people’s willingness to engage and to change.
But here’s what I do. My job is very diverse: one day I might speak at an event, I am in meetings the other day to bring various parties together and the next I’m talking to local government officials, employees from universities, or those who run investment funds. But it could also be people who are considering to bring a foreign fund to the Netherlands or startups that are looking into expanding internationally. I’m the one who’s connecting the dots; I’m not actively involved in the operational follow-up.
One thing we also actively do is to go on a ‘Mission’: we bring multiple startups to prestigious events like we did with CES in Las Vegas and SxSW in Austin, Texas. It may seem an odd phrase, not the usual startup language. But as we work with local embassies, that’s usually the term: a trade mission. The whole idea of these missions should be reviewed, but still, we like to offer a lot of value to people considering going there by making their trip more efficient by saving them time. We are actively helping them by making the right connections.
What challenges or hurdles do we, as a startup ecosystem, need to overcome and what’s your role in this – how are you helping? Do you lay your arm on the shoulders of a startup founder?
One thing we’re not is an accelerator. If a startup sends me an e-mail or approaches me with a request for help, we’ll try to help, but it’s not our job. When startups are really specific, we can help. With a generic question like how to raise funding, we ask them to – please – do your homework. Usually, we can help out in a way by providing them with the right contact, or, if they have a problem with the government, we can step in to solve it, or by making a link to someone within a larger company.
Here’s an example of what we did in the US for a Dutch startup that provides content. To them, it was useful to meet ISP’s and telco’s; we made an introduction to someone on the board of a large company. This is what we do: in the Netherlands, people in corporates and banks in general, are not very open in dealing with startups. For us, there’s always an opening to make an introduction.
Could you bring us up to speed on your goals? What is Startupdelta trying to achieve regarding regulations?
Quite recently, we came up with this manifesto in an 11 point plan, geared towards the forming of a new Dutch government. A few of the things we think should be included, are real policy measures, specifically involving our tax regime and how you – as a founder – can reinvest after an exit. We are striving for a system like the ones in Israel or UK where you can reinvest your money in startups without immediately paying taxes, thus creating angels straight after the exit. It’s a comparable to the situation we have in real estate in the Netherland. When you buy a new property within 6 months of selling the previous one, your taxes are postponed. We want this because we need to build an angel investor ecosystem. Taxes on options
There’s a lot of difficulties with the taxation of options and “vermogensrendementsheffing” (investment yield). In essence, you have to pay up for the paper value of your equity. Once the value increases, you have no liquidity left to pay taxes. That system is wrong. These are really tough policy debates, from a political angle as well. Sometimes, it’s difficult to give clear targets, but at least now, we have an action plan where all the missing elements in our ecosystem are. We need to be addressing them through the system, we need to pull the little levers, create momentum in order to make these things happen.
This may lead to results in unexpected ways. For instance, we’ve been attracting more foreign investments. We’ve worked hard on it, but you have to deal with so many different variables. It not just a tax regime, but there should also be sufficient interesting companies to invest in. Are pension funds willing to invest too? And, is foreign talent willing to come over to work here? They’re all parts of a much more complex ecosystem; we need that solved to allow beautiful things to happen downstream.
From your perspective, what’s going well?
The whole thing is going well, all indicators are there that we are doing better than, let’s say, 2, 3, 4, maybe 5 years ago. We have more entrepreneurs, there’s better knowledge transfer from universities, et cetera. We are far from where we want to be, but the trains are on the track. We’ve adapted the mentality of sharing and supporting each other. There’s enough money, we create good technology, and we are better connected internationally. People are recognizing that the Netherlands is actually a pretty cool place.
How would you like to see the Dutch startup ecosystem in the next 5 to 10 years?
I like to see a few more ‘deep tech’ companies scaling up to become the next ASML or Philips, not just online startups. We should be delivering real companies, not just become a front runner in technology. Which Dutch company is going to make that leap in photnocis, same counts for robotics. Are we going to create those world-class companies? I would love to see that happend in the next 5 to 10 years. I also would love for our govermnet to act more strategic concerning startups, they need to prioritize this decision making. Throughout the world, we are known for tulips and windmills. The underlying message is: we don’t choose. We’re a country of only 17 million inhabitants, if we want to be a front runner in any field, we need to make a pick. Helsinki is known for gaming, Berlin for e-commerce. We know we are strong in robotics, AI, fintech, blockhain. We are good, but still at sub-scale. In agriculture, we’re a superpower, but where are the real innovators?”