Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and vocal champion of the continent's digital agenda ruffled a few feathers in the Netherlands at the end of last month by saying that when it came to digital technology, this country had few ambitions. She spoke in her native Dutch during a popular programme on public TV (entire programme is above). This is what she said during the interview.
"The Netherlands needs to look much higher up the ladder, with much greater investments needed in research and education. The world is already digital. Europe is investing 41% of the budget in agriculture What a missed opportunity! Why not an injection of 10 billion into the nano and micro-electronics sector? That's a drop in the ocean compared to what we're spending on farm subsidies."
Indeed, it does seem crazy that several US venture capitalists and banks are now popping up more often on European technology parks. They recognise the talent and technology that is growing in places like the HighTech Campus. And that these developments are the lifeblood of the global digital economy. The Netherlands is a leader in many areas. It has a robust digital infrastructure already in place.
Neelie Kroes again "I believe we should be doing a lot more to encourage startups. All the large names, now household words around the globe, all began as an small company in a garage".
" It is incredible hard to start a successful business. There will be difficult steps. And some ventures will fail. But as Europeans we have to get over the continuing fear of failure that prevents many European banks and VCs from investing just at the right moment."
Action speaks louder than wordsShortly after Neelie's interview, came the public launch of the HighTechXL accelerator program. Backed by Dutch Expansion Capital, as well as Ernst & Young, it's a perfect example of a local initiative with international impact. Actually it has taken almost 12 months to get everything in place. But it comes at exactly the right time.
Guus Frericks is the man leading the HightechXL team preparing the program in Eindhoven.
" We know that 70% of the teams we're looking for are outside The Netherlands. We're doing a pitch session in Singapore this Friday June 28th. We're setting up more in places like Bangalore, Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Paris, Graz, Munich & Marseille."
" What we're really doing is tapping into a brilliant ecosystem that already exists here in Western Europe, and especially in this area of the South-East of the Netherlands. Our private equity firm has a long history of working with young high-tech companies. By working closely with Startupbootcamp network, we're able to cherry pick lessons learned from the app and software development & accelerator world."
"Quite often great software startups bootstrap their first few months. But if you're building hardware in the high-tech sector, constructing your prototype or proof of concept can't happen without some seed or so-called Series A investment. The teams we're looking for are working with hardware as well as software, so the earlier they get feedback from the market, the better."
" If a customer tells an app developer he doesn't like one aspect of his app, fixing it is usually a few lines of code. If someone says the design of your 2 metre solar panel doesn't meet their minimum requirements you have a very different scale of problem. It could take months to fix it. "
" As we launch HightechXL, we'd love to invite Neelie Kroes to have a look at what we're doing with high-tech. We don't have mountains in Eindhoven. So no physical valleys. But we're bursting with talent and ambition. And we're inviting the world to share. "