How the Netherlands Built a Thriving Startup Scene

The country has many advantages invaluable to innovative businesses.

This is an abbreviated version of an article written by Lisa Chau and Joshua Schiefelbein for USNews.

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.

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

“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.”

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

The website 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.

A major success story is Adyen, 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 2017, Adyen grew 40 percent and processed more than $90 billion in transactions and is now taking over all payments for E-bay, a deal worth an additional revenue of another $65 billion.

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.”


Lisa Chau is the founder of Alpha Vert, a private consultancy focused on social media and cross–platform marketing. Previously, she spent five years working f or her alma mater Dartmouth College, as assistant director of alumni affairs and assistant director of PR for the Tuck School of Business. She has also taught at MIT, and guest lectured MBA and undergraduate courses in e-business strategy at Baruch College and The New School.

Joshua Schiefelbein is a recent graduate of Dartmouth College.

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