Venture Capital Article
16 Apr 2024

Constantijn van Oranje (Techleap): Startups in the Netherlands need more opportunities to grow

Bouke Marsman
Managing Partner
Prins Constantijn interview marktlink capital

The Netherlands is among the top European countries in entrepreneurship and in the number of startups per capita, Techleap.nl concludes. But only a small proportion of these, unlike startups abroad, manage to grow successfully. And it’s precisely those successful scale-ups that are important for economic growth and the ability to provide our own solutions to major societal challenges. "What’s lacking is ambition and urgency in the Netherlands", states Constantijn van Oranje-Nassau (Special Envoy at TechLeap) in conversation with Bouke Marsman, Managing Partner of Marktlink Capital. "If we invest more in the Dutch startup ecosystem, it could generate up to an additional €400 billion for the Dutch treasury."

Techleap is a non-profit organisation dedicated to developing and accelerating a healthy startup and scale-up ecosystem in the Netherlands. Techleap helps Dutch technology companies with a tech community providing knowledge, content and valuable connections. The Netherlands has more than ten thousand startups.

Bouke: Constantijn, since 2016 you have been the standard bearer of Techleap, formerly Startup Delta. It acts as a centre of expertise and contributes with its programmes to help startups and scale-ups gain faster access to knowledge, capital and connections. What have you achieved in recent years?

Constantijn: "When we started, one of our goals was to make the Netherlands the strongest ecosystem for young companies in Europe. We succeeded in doing that. The biggest gap we closed was capital. There is now much more venture capital available in the Netherlands. In 2019, Dutch tech startups raised a total of about €750 million in venture capital investments; by 2021, that figure was €5.6 billion. This is a great development, to which we have contributed by connecting startups with investors faster."

The Netherlands has relatively many startups. Why is it that we have proportionally far fewer scale-ups compared to other countries?

"This is very simple: Dutch startups do not raise enough capital; too little is invested in the scale-up phase. As a result, most startups don't get the chance to scale up. In many other countries, they dare to think big: scale up, conquer markets, internationalise. But in the Netherlands we tend to think too small, growing with the brakes on; reaching the break-even point is a goal in itself. That makes Dutch startups less attractive for funds to invest in. In America, angel investors are a common phenomenon, wealthy people who invest their own money in startups. That is not really part of the Dutch ecosystem yet. Another bottleneck for us is attracting talent. In particular for startups, which aren’t in a position to offer top salaries yet, attracting the right talent is a huge challenge."


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Why is it so important to invest in startups?

"Startups are essential for many societal challenges in, for example, healthcare, climate and energy. The Dutch startup ecosystem has huge growth potential. If we invest more in this now, as presented in our State of Dutch Tech 2023 report, this could generate an extra €250 to €400 billion for the Dutch treasury in 2030, resulting in 165,000 to 250,000 extra jobs. This is supported by research we did together with McKinsey.* It also makes the Netherlands less dependent on foreign companies, data and services."

Until recently, investing in companies through private equity or venture capital was virtually impossible for private investors or entrepreneurs. Marktlink Capital now gives private individuals access to venture capital and private equity funds. What are your thoughts on that?

"I think this is a very good development; it's great that more and more investors and entrepreneurs are thus gaining access to these kinds of funds and have the opportunity to contribute to the Dutch startup ecosystem. In addition to capital, active entrepreneurs can also contribute a great deal of knowledge and expertise – smart capital – through such a fund, which can give companies a competitive advantage. I do think investors should be well informed; risk and return should always be in proportion to each other. Choosing a good fund where the risk is spread over several funds, as with Marktlink Capital, is important."

Techleap's current mandate is about to end, but it was recently announced that you have been granted another three years; congratulations! What are the plans for this next phase?

"Over the past year, we have mainly been building a community of the best tech founders and entrepreneurs in the Netherlands: Bold. We want to continue to do so. Our ecosystem may be the best in the EU; it does not yet compare to that of Silicon Valley, London or Boston. We still have a lot of room for professionalisation. Create an environment where companies are supported to attract capital and talent, to grow fast, to internationalise. We have a growth fund in the Netherlands, through which the government is investing a total of €20 billion in projects that lead to economic growth, between 2021 and 2025. That is a good start, but it is not enough. That money does need to pay off and produce more successful startups and scale-ups. This requires a much more effective tech transfer policy. What’s lacking is urgency and ambition; in the Netherlands, we do not have a climate of excellence and fast-growing companies. What we should do, is focus more on those potentially successful companies, facilitate them to the maximum, offer more funding – create optimal conditions. That will bring about a climate where not only SaaS and fintech companies, but also, for instance, deep-tech companies from universities can scale up better and faster."

What are your personal ambitions with Techleap?

"The Dutch startup ecosystem still has so much potential to grow. It is important that we recognise startups as the bearers of innovation; it is my ambition to strike that blow. We need to create framework conditions in the Netherlands that encourage fast growth of startups. In this respect, being able to attract and retain talent and the availability of Dutch capital are essential. I hope, with Techleap, to be able to contribute to that."

Finally, do you have any good advice for startups, for example, what can they do to raise more capital to grow?

"Do you have a real ambition to grow fast, to internationalise, to scale up? Then choose an investor that matches that ambition. I recommend potentially successful startups to raise venture capital. It helps you professionalise and step out of your comfort zone. Relatively speaking, with a venture capital investment, the power and control lie mainly with the founder. If you are ambitious, you want an investor who believes in your venture and leaves you in control. The choices you make today will impact your chances for tomorrow."

*This is according to research (Building a world-class Dutch start-up ecosystem, red) that we did together with McKinsey.

Bouke Marsman
Managing Partner
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