Constantijn van Oranje: "Twente has entrepreneurship in its DNA."

Constantijn van Oranje: “Twente has entrepreneurship in its DNA.”

As a special envoy of Techleap, Constantijn van Oranje is busy with tech entrepreneurs all day long. This was also the case during Next Icons, where he attended the Connections Dinner and played a role in the evening program. But what is his vision on innovative entrepreneurship in the Netherlands? And what is his definition of a Next Icon? We asked him these questions and more.

This article was released earlier in the Next Icons magazine.

Author: Vera Boertien 13 December 2022

As a Special Envoy at Techleap, Constantijn’s goal is the same as many tech startups: to create social impact. “The Netherlands has endless hidden potential. We complain that we’re dominated by American and Chinese tech companies like Amazon and Alibaba, but we let that happen because we didn’t build them ourselves. If you want to join in, you also have to roll up your sleeves. And because we missed opportunities when it comes to major Internet platforms, we now need to look at biotech, medtech, energy, food & agriculture and other areas that aren’t yet disrupted. It’s also not surprising that there’s still much to be gained there, because those areas are very capital and technology intensive. And the necessary capital and knowledge are available in Europe. All impact areas have businesses that can make an impact, the energy transition, cultured meat, health care and new logistics systems. But if we’re unable to market it properly, that impact won’t come.”

A strong system

The Netherlands harbors capital and knowledge. So why aren’t we playing on the world stage like America and China do? “That’s all down to our system. You need a combination of a legislator and a government that create the right frameworks through laws. The legal frameworks must be good. Finland for instance, has a framework for sharing data, and Germany has frameworks that allow you to get reimbursement for digital innovations in health care more quickly. That way, there are all kinds of things that the government can do to create a good climate. But universities also have a decisive role. They must ensure their knowledge reaches the market more effectively and faster and that they don’t block innovations with all kinds of complicated IP regulations. Ultimately, we need to create a system where more entrepreneurs get opportunities. You really have to do that together.”

“Entrepreneurs can help each other better than the government can.”

The power of connecting

Although there’s still much to be gained in the entrepreneurial country of the Netherlands, we can also be proud of the results achieved. “When I look at what Techleap has done over the past three years, I’m proud of the community of 600 entrepreneurs we have brought together. Ultimately, that’s where the power lies. Entrepreneurs can help each other better than the government can. These entrepreneurs didn’t know where to find each other before. We also put them in touch with investors. The one thing we’ve been less successful at is convincing the government to change policy. In stock options, we’ve been pushing and pulling for six years. There’s an arrangement now but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t go far enough. That frustrates me. We are 100% financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, but I don’t think they listen to us 100% on these kinds of issues. All in all, I can say that in recent years we’ve added more knowledge to the ecosystem and that we also have a much better picture of the tech ecosystem. We’ve made sure that startups are much more on the map now. And what I’m also proud of is the corona bridging loan that we devised and co-executed. That also reflects well what we were founded for: to take an independent position and do exactly what the government can’t do.”

Good preconditions

Constantijn played the role of connector in these successes, both nationally and internationally. And with the various innovation regions in the Netherlands, that role is also desperately needed. “Initially, it’s a strength to have so many different regions and subsystems. You have to be where the energy is, so the more local, the better. But at some point, it gets fragmented and starts to work against you. In fact, all those bodies have to work on creating good preconditions, and then make themselves redundant. What you see now is that many parties are institutionalizing themselves. That really needs a good clean-up, so we can work together across provincial borders. You should always be aware of what you’re doing it for and that’s the entrepreneurs. That’s why it’s better to have fewer organizations that are very good at what they do than many organizations that do a mediocre job.”

“One region and university in the Netherlands should simply try to match or surpass MIT and Boston.”

Cradle of tech companies

Twente too sees more and more initiatives to support entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, Twente has a good position in a startup country such as the Netherlands, according to Constantijn. “For me, Twente remains the cradle of some of our largest tech companies, such as Thuisbezorgd and Booking.com. It offers a very good climate for starters. At the University of Twente, the culture of entrepreneurship is more deeply embedded than in most other Dutch universities. That means you have something special in your DNA, especially when you also invest in the facilities and supporting infrastructure. A good example is the TechMed Center, which means you’re no longer dependent on hospitals in terms of facilities. And if you can also build a good tech transfer system around that, MedTech businesses will simply come to Twente. Because you have knowledge, facilities and good support. Investing in that is really a no-brainer win-win situation. One region and university in the Netherlands should simply try to match or surpass MIT and Boston, for example, when it comes to demonstrating that education, research and entrepreneurship can greatly reinforce each other.”

The missing link

Despite the good climate, there still seems to be a lot of untapped potential. Because although startups and spin-offs are drivers of innovation, they must also be able to grow. “The missing link is in the connection between startups and the existing industry. I think that businesses in the Netherlands acquire too little. There are few exits from Dutch startups to Dutch businesses, few collaborations and limited investments. There’s a lot to gain in that sense. But that also goes the other way: we also see few spinouts from large businesses, while you then have a better start as a deep-tech company. The role of the corporates could be much greater. Organizations like Philips do try to work with startups, but that’s not really in their DNA. So that’s quite a challenge and something where a region like Twente with a lot of technologically high-quality SMEs could make a difference.”

“It’s good to be stubborn, but take advice and kill your darlings.”

Good, healthy growth company

And those entrepreneurs who are going to make the difference are of course the Next Icons. We ourselves see a Next Icons as an entrepreneur who has the potential to change the world with his innovation and is already well on his way. “The most important thing for me is that it’s a good and healthy growth company. Of course, the technology should appeal to the imagination but in the end, the business simply has to be successful. In the Netherlands, we tend to look at whether the technology is cool, but you have to be able to get it done economically and not get stuck in the promise.”

Looking beyond technology

And that is also what Constantijn wants to convey to the icons: make sure your business is right. “Read carefully and get advice from experienced entrepreneurs. It sometimes amazes me that the most basic things aren’t known, while there are plenty of books and podcasts on every subject. How many potential icons fail because they didn’t think through share allocation with the co-founders, their team composition and inclusive corporate culture, which investors they brought in, or the IP terms they negotiated with the university? All those things are going to wreck you further down the road. Look beyond the technology behind your product because ultimately, you have to solve a problem that someone is going to pay for. It’s good to be stubborn, but take advice and kill your darlings. That paves the way to a successful business.”



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