Innovation for Humanity

In my last blog post, I spoke about some of the challenges facing entrepreneurs and the investment gap in the Netherlands, as well as the vision of Prince Constantijn. That leads me to the most important part of the trip – innovation. What are the start-ups doing in the Netherlands that is not happening in the US?

  • Entrepreneurs in the Netherlands prioritize societal impact
  • Social impact can be sustainability, protection of citizens’ rights, or simply giving back

Of course, the Netherlands has very different problems to solve than Silicon Valley, so I saw start-ups that I probably wouldn’t see in Silicon Valley:

  • Software and Hardware for shipping and ports, with applicability outside for ground shipments, such as DHL and FedEx or even airplane construction.
  • Cleaning up port waters
  • Building materials that remove carbon from the air.
  • An incubator for the circular economy called Blue City where literally everything in the building was from recycled material.

In Groningen, I met companies you could find in Silicon Valley, such as blockchain and SaaS solutions. Groningen’s entrepreneurs also had a strong connection to its local university and hospital, making biotech a unique focus for the city.

  • Entrepreneurs creating new antibody-resistant drugs
  • Bio-engineering of common plants to minimize the environmental impact of harvesting and shipping mass amounts of plants and food

Blending the Old and the New

I believe Silicon Valley has a much more robust investment environment for growing startups. However, I think there could be a blend of the Dutch and American styles to come up with an investment strategy that is more appealing to the sustainable and circular economies and that will be more acceptable to Millennials and Gen Z who are showing real resistance to the “grow at any cost” model. They’ve seen the problems hyper growth has created and in no uncertain terms let me know that they’d rather reject the money than answer to shareholders who would force them to give up their morals and values.

On the other hand, many of the ideas I saw in the Netherlands are strong and have clear market potential. They need to grow and expand outside of the Netherlands if not for the entrepreneurs, for the good of the environment, medicines and industry. So, they may have to embrace a faster growth model if they truly want to meet the potential of their promise, as the Prince says.

Going Dutch

So, what’s next for Neal and the Netherlands? A few things:

  • Return soon to spend more time with this fabulous community
  • Offer mentorship to Groningen start-ups and investors to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be
  • I will invite some people to come visit Silicon Valley
  • Attend some upcoming events in Rotterdam
  • Work with the community to sort out options for improving investments

There are many good ideas coming from the Netherlands and I’m excited to see what happens next. Sometimes, mentorship goes beyond the entrepreneurs to the ecosystem around them, like I did in Sasakatoon. A diverse set of ideas and experiences can come together to create an economic strategy that works for the Dutch values and vision. I’m here to help and contribute my experience and knowledge to support these fantastic entrepreneurs.


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