A dutch soccer fan waves the dutch flag as The World Cup soccer team of The Netherlands arrives at the Black Forest Airport Lahr, in Lahr, Germany, Tuesday June 6, 2006. The Netherlands will play against Argentina, Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro in their Group C matches during the upcoming World Cup soccer in Germany.

How the Netherlands Built a Thriving Startup Scene

The country has many advantages invaluable to innovative businesses.

A dutch soccer fan waves the dutch flag as The World Cup soccer team of The Netherlands arrives at the Black Forest Airport Lahr, in Lahr, Germany, Tuesday June 6, 2006. The Netherlands will play against Argentina, Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro in their Group C matches during the upcoming World Cup soccer in Germany.

The Netherlands is friendly to businesses looking to expand into Europe.

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The surge of successful entrepreneurship endeavors in the Netherlands has propelled the region to the forefront of digital startups in Europe. The country hosts a workforce that is comprised of highly qualified multinationals and multilinguals. English speakers are especially welcome since 90 percent of all Dutch people speak English.

“One of the unique benefits entrepreneurs will find in the Netherlands is the Highly Skilled Migrant Visa,” said Jan-Emile van Rossum, executive director of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency. “This is a fast-track immigration process for qualified, highly skilled immigrants from outside the EU. Work permits can be granted in four to six weeks” when skilled workers meet salary requirements of 38,141 euros gross salary for people under 30 and 52,010 euros gross salary for people over 30.

Additionally, the country’s infrastructure is extremely conducive to entrepreneurship. Considered the digital gateway to Europe, the Netherlands boasts Europe’s fastest internet speed and the second-highest broadband penetration. Data hosts and startups would be smart to leverage the high-speed mobile and fixed internet services offered throughout most of the region.

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Plus, an accessible government and open corporate business culture fosters a growing community of founders, hackers and venture capitalists. Much of the effort is spearheaded by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, which is a part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The organization helps North American firms establish and expand their European operations offering services such as:

  • Personalized insight and data for projects
  • Guidance on issues regarding taxes, labor, visas and immigration
  • Introductions to a variety of Dutch networks
  • Customized fact-finding trips to the Netherlands

“We’re moving a lot of data around, powering a lot of games, backing up a lot of servers,” claims Softlayer’s Managing Director, Jonathan Wisler. “The Dutch people are historically innovators, Amsterdam in particular. Part of innovation is creativity; in Amsterdam there’s a vibrant creative network, a vibrant financial network and a vibrant technology community.”

As expected, most of the entrepreneurial startups are located in major cities such as Amsterdam and Utrecht. These creative and entrepreneurial centers attract young students and internationals with their numerous universities and corporations.

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The website WIRED.co.uk describes Amsterdam as “a true port city – international, tolerant and adaptable. These qualities, plus liberal tax laws, make it attractive for foreign companies … The cloud is connecting Amsterdam startups in the way the ocean did in the 15th century.”

If Amsterdam and Utrecht are the creative centers, then Rotterdam, Delft and The Hague are the technology centers with cleantech, aerospace and cybersecurity as the top industries.

Then there’s Eindhoven, which was declared the “world’s smartest region” in 2011 by the Intelligent Community Forum. Eindhoven is home to High Tech Campus, a research and development hot spot for companies like Philips and ASML. The campus hosts a growing number of technology startups and leads the development of Internet-based technologies.

The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency lists Twente, renowned for medtech, nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals, as the final hot spot for entrepreneurs. Startups take advantage of low rent for clean rooms and an extensive community of researchers. MESA+, one of the largest nano labs in the world, is located at the University of Twente.

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Sebastiaan Hooft is an example of a consistently successful Dutch entrepreneur. In 2002, he co-founded the internet retailer known as Central Point. He built the company from the ground up into a market leader in four years. By the end of 2007, Central Point, which sells electronic products such as computers phones, tablets, etc, was generating revenues of more than 29 million euros. Hooft sold Central Point in 2010, made a substantial donation to a charity and spent his time in various mentoring roles, including chairman of the board for a foundation which helps homeless youth.

Hooft’s biggest project at the moment is VentureSpace, which is a working space for students, startups and mobile workers. With major partnerships through HP and Sonos, VentureSpace offers free Wi-Fi, free printing and free coffee. VentureSpace stays running by charging membership dues of 99 euros monthly starting after a free initial month.

Another success story, Adyen, is a payment service provider enabling merchants to accept payments anywhere in the world. Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Amsterdam, it counts offices on six continents and services major international companies like KLM, Greenpeace, Soundcloud and Groupon. In just 2013, Adyen grew 40 percent and processed more than $14 billion in transactions.

“Adyen’s incredible success is the direct result of our singular focus on helping merchants exceed their payments goals – whether by helping them penetrate new markets, expand into new sales channels, increase conversion rates, optimize their payments operations or protect their customer data,” Pieter van der Does, CEO of Adyen, said in a press release. “Our unified, omni-channel payments platform, card acquiring capabilities, extensive global reach and constant innovation will continue to fuel Adyen’s growth in 2014 – especially in key markets such as North America.”

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Adyen’s efforts have not gone unnoticed as the company won the Customer Choice award for “Best E-Commerce Platform/Gateway” and the Judge’s Choice and Customer Choice awards for “Best E-Commerce Program Outside the U.S” at the inaugural 2012 Card Not Present Awards. Adyen was also the 2013 winner of the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 award, which goes to the fastest growing technology company. Adyen earned the award by achieving revenue growth of 14,284 percent.

Much of the Netherlands' surge in entrepreneurship and business can be attributed to the country’s competitive and attractive tax regime. Some key examples are an effective tax rate of 5 percent compared to other European nations, and a research and development allowance for companies conducting R&D work.

A more detailed account of the Netherlands’ tax structure can be found here. In 2013, a government report entitled “Focus on Research and Development” indicated 22,220 businesses made use of the tax break in 2012.

“The Netherlands has many advantages that entrepreneurs will find invaluable to launching European operations,” van Rossum said. “Exceptional digital access, a flexible, English-speaking workforce and innovative hot-spot locales are among the unique benefits of the Netherlands.”