“I am a big believer in Israeli startups, and in the culture and mentality that fosters them,” said Neelie Kroes, a veteran Dutch politician working to promote tech entrepreneurship in the Netherlands through the StartupDelta initiative. Kroes was a guest at DLD the Tel Aviv Innovation Festival held in early September.
Kroes attended the conference get to know the local ecosystem up close and create new avenues of cooperation. In her interview with “Globes”, she said that Israeli culture is a fertile field for innovation and entrepreneurship and that Europeans can actually learn from Israeli blunt speaking.
The 74-year-old Kroes has had a long and distinguished public service career. She served in a variety of government roles over the decades including two terms as the Netherlands’ transportation minister, a 5-year stint as European Commissioner for Competition, and a term as European Commissioner for Digital Agenda and a vice president of the European Commission.
The roles she served in her decades in public service taught her the important of the startup sector.
“The first goal for StartupDelta is to position the Netherlands as a leading European ecosystem for startup growth,” said Kroes, who explained that her country was currently not meeting expectations despite its relative potential.
“We started from a worse position relative to other nations in Europe. When we decided to found StartupDelta when we began this journey in January I asked that we give ourselves a set amount of time: one and a half years. One and a half years is the right amount of time it makes sense because on one hand it is relatively long but it makes it clear to everyone that there is no time to procrastinate.
“In such a short period of time, you cannot waste any on stacking conferences and assignments. And look, nine months after we set out, we proved that you can change the situation and advance Netherlands from its relatively weakened position to a country that is ranked fourth in Europe.”
“It’s not enough”
When you talk about fertile fields for startup growth, the Netherlands is well placed these days behind London, Berlin, and Paris. As a small nation of some 17 million residents, Kroes looks at the whole of the Netherlands as a metropolitan comparable to the European capitals. But it is not enough for her: “Being fourth place is not enough. We want to be in the top three. It’s not easy, but we are pushing the idea.”
StartupDelta’s second goal is to optimize the operations of existing startups and create new partnerships between different tech hubs. “The Netherlands is like Israel,” said Kroes. “It has a small amount of land and a low number of residents, and yet we also have a relatively high number of centers that focus on startups, including some based out of universities and research institutes. Everybody is doing great work, undoubtedly, but you cannot operate independently it is necessary to cooperate and share knowledge and that’s what we, sitting in Amsterdam, work to do.
“We’re the ones that facilitate cooperation between startups based in different hubs because it is very advantageous.” Kroes stressed that the hubs are run independently and not under the sponsorship of an organization, which means StartupDelta’s networking becomes an advantage.
“I know the significant importance of competition, it is necessary,” said Kroes, “But there is also the important tripod of capital, talent, and networking.”
Kroes believes that there is much to learn from Israel, and that the potential from cooperation is mutual, with Israel able to draw many benefits. “I am a big believer in Israeli culture, which refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer. A fear of risks is simply absent from the mindset. The talented people are not afraid to make mistakes, and I love the way you think. People in Israel are direct, they say what they think; it is a trait that also characterizes the Dutch.”
Kroes added that what further distinguishes the Israeli character and its ability to produce startups is the government policy which nurtures them as well as the military service which lends to the entrepreneurial spirit.
The veteran Dutch politician has also been pressing ahead on the topic of tech education, claiming it must begin at the earliest possible age. “It might be traditional to expect from girls to study literature and boys to turn to technology, but it is wrong. Girls are being programmed to think that way. Boys and girls will be better able to make choices about their paths and their careers in the future, if we can implement tech education earlier in the curriculum.”
Kroes believes it is too late by high school and that such education should begin in the early years in order to educate the youth to turn to a tech career. “Kids should learn to program like they learn reading and writing,” she said, “When that is implemented, it will not only lead to growth in entrepreneurship, innovation, and startups, but also encourage quality of opportunity.”
Gateway to Europe
The cooperation between Israel and the Netherlands could and should be mutually beneficial, Kroes said, emphasizing the geographic proximity and the country’s role as a gateway for companies seeking to enter the European market.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 20, 2015
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