Startup Ecosystem Toolkit 2.0 | Benelux
Last year X-Europe published three ecosystem toolkits; this is an updated version to reflect the changes undergone in 2021. As highlighted in the last Ecosystem Toolkit, due to the presence of leading tech cities, wealthy countries, strong governance presence, and a well-connected, well-educated workforce, the Benelux remains a strong tech region in Europe. The combination of EU institutional presence in Belgium; a wealthy, educated, high-skilled migrant economy and thriving finance sector in Luxembourg; a thriving tech and business ecosystem in the Netherlands; and an international outlook make the region one of the strongest cosmopolitan hubs of finance, governance, and technology in Europe.
NB! Before you continue reading, please note that there are many similar reports regarding specific countries and/or regions published every year. One thing that these reports have in common is that the numbers presented always differ. We have indicated all our information sources to keep it as transparent as possible. If you feel that your country/ecosystem has been misrepresented, please, let us know by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make sure to adjust the information for everyone's benefit.
The population has seen modest growth in all Benelux countries over the last year. Luxembourg remains the second smallest country in the EU, behind Malta. However, with a growth of 1.37%, it boasts the highest growth in the Benelux from 2020-2021. GDP per capita, however, tells a different story, with over double the GDP of other Benelux countries and a growth of 25.9% YOY, likely a result of Covid stimulus. As a result, Luxembourg remains the leader in the EU on GDP per Capita and a leader worldwide. Luxembourg is also amongst the leaders in the Human Development Index, coming in at 23m but behind its Benelux neighbors.
Across the Benelux, we see high levels of entrepreneurial activity and innovation, with all in the top 25. All is not fully well, however, with the organization Techleap warning about falling behind in key transition sectors (source). Despite this, we have seen record VC investment in the country, a rapidly growing tech sector, and strong ease of access to services and business setup.
The Benelux nonetheless remains a leader in the world on Entrepreneurship, all within the top 20 and Netherlands climbing 3 spots. Luxembourg does struggle behind when it comes to all metrics, coming in at 72nd for doing business, 76th for starting a business, and a mere 1.24% of R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, pointing to work to be done in this metric.
The Benelux remains high in the EU on all metrics as a region, and R&D is particularly strong in the Benelux countries.
With a large overall population, highly developed entrepreneurship, and high-level innovation, it is no surprise that the startup ecosystem in Benelux is thriving. The region's startups have access to 35 incubators, 97 accelerators, 406 VC funds, and 635 business angels.
The positive numbers for population, GDP, ease-of-entrepreneurship, innovation, and more leave it no surprise that again the Benelux ranks highly for access to ecosystem support. Across the region, 115 Incubators, 195 Accelerators, 766 Business Angels, and 1009 VCs are there to support startups, with record numbers of international VCs also paying attention (source).
The Netherlands comes out as the winner once again, scoring highest across the board, with a high number of accelerators and angel investors standing out. Luxembourg is the lowest. However, a small population and a large university support network and government-backed support programs mitigate this. Belgium performs reasonably well, also seeing strong growth in all areas compared to last year's figures.
Benelux is home to a total of 55,959 startups as of 2021, a huge number for the continent. Most are located in the Netherlands, followed by Belgium and finally Luxembourg. Furthermore, many crucial ecosystem actors are in the Netherlands, where the tech sector is worth 139 Billion Euros in production (source) and focuses on triple helix cooperation (government, business, and research), as well as being a winning ecosystem from the Brexit fallout, attracting some global brands but also losing a few notable companies this year (Shell and Unilever moving their HQ outside of the Netherlands in particular).
Startup Genome’s Global Ecosystem report ranks Amsterdam as the 13th top ecosystem worldwide in 2021 (down from 12th), with Brussels coming in at 12th on the Top 100 emerging ecosystems and Luxembourg at 81 on the emerging ecosystems list.
Despite the concentration of strength being in capital cities, smaller hubs in the region are emerging as promising tech centers. From Rotterdam to Breda and Antwerp to Leuven, there are smaller nodes of strength that contribute to the strength of the region overall.
Across Europe, Accelerators offer a broad range of opportunities to help startups grow. Whether they focus on a particular industry, funding stage, or technology there is a lot of choices. In the Benelux, we see a range of offerings provided by the multitude of programs available:
EIT Digital Accelerator (BE) Focus: European Tech Scaleups Portfolio: 400+ Benefits: Access to market and finance (300+ VC funds) Digital Attraxion (BE) Focus: Early-Stage and Seed companies in Belgium Portfolio: 100+ Benefits: Investment up to 50,000 EUR, coaching, and growth plan The Faktory (BE) Focus: Early stage B2B startups Portfolio: 15 Benefits: Investment from 250,000 to EUR 1,000,000 Rockstart (NL) Focus: Early-Stage Energy, AgriFood, and Emerging Tech startups Portfolio: 260 Benefits: A 100,000 EUR convertible loan investment InnoEnergy (BENELUX) Focus: Sustainability startups and scaleups Portfolio: 380+ Benefits: Access to market and finance (300+ VC funds) Startupbootcamp Commerce Amsterdam (NL) Focus: B2B and B2B2C startups Portfolio: 8 Benefits: 15 000 EUR coverage for living expenses, investor matchmaking, co-working nfinitiv (LU) Focus: Early and Late-stage startups Portfolio: n/a Benefits: Pitch deck analysis, growth, expansion, and maturity solutions
CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa (LU) Focus: FinTech startups Portfolio: 13 Benefits: Funding and business development PwC's Accelerator (LU) Focus: FinTech and Big Data startups Portfolio: 10 Benefits: Access to markets, funding, and talent
Source: Crunchbase, F6S & Startupblink
With huge levels of internal and international investment in the region, it's been the best year in history to be a startup in the Benelux. Below covers some of the most active funds in the region:
Gimv (BE) Focus: Early and Late-stage Healthcare and Smart City startups Portfolio: 60 Most recent investments: Anjarium Biosciences (CH), Topas Therapeutics (DE), Klotter (DE) S.R.I.W. (BE) Focus: Early-Stage Portfolio: n/a Most recent investments: Aerospacelab (BE), EyeD Pharma (BE), PDC*line Pharma (FR)
Capricorn Partners (BE) Focus: Early Portfolio: 40+ Most recent investments: DMC Biotechnologies (US), Black Bear Carbon (NL) Rockstart (NL) Focus: Early-Stage startups Portfolio: 260 Most recent investments: FIELDSENSE (DK), MoooFarm (IN), GreenPod Labs (IN) BOM Brabant Ventures (NL) Focus: Seed, Early-Stage Portfolio: 154 Most recent investments: VitalFluid (NL), LionVolt (NL), Travis Road Services (NL) Forbion Capital Partners (NL) Focus: Early and Late-Stage HealthTech startups Portfolio: 33 Most recent investments: Complement Therapeutics (UK), ARMGO (US) HOWZAT Partners (LU) Focus: Seed and Early-Stage Fintech and SaaS Portfolio: 92 Most recent investments: Mymoria (DE), Handiscover (SE) Cipio Partners (LU) Focus: Late-Stage, Secondary Market Portfolio: 16 Most recent investments: Microoled (FR), Whisbi (ES), AgoraPulse (FR) Adara Ventures (LU) Focus: Early-Stage, Seed Portfolio: 29 Most recent investments: Bigle Legal (ES), Seedtag (ES), caravelo (ES)
The Biggest deals in 2020/2021
Worldwide, we have seen an explosion in the investment of startup companies. The size and number of investment rounds have grown now more so than ever. We see a huge amount of capital flowing into the region in larger-than-average rounds. As expected, we see a lower amount of funding for Luxembourg, but still a huge amount of money.
Benelux startups have received the largest funding rounds in 2019/2020, with two Dutch startups attracting 200 M USD funds each. The funding rounds attracted by startups in Luxembourg are considerably lower than those of the Northern neighbors; however, in general, out of the three regions under consideration, Benelux is the clear winner in terms of startup funding.
As a thriving cultural hub, the Benelux is no stranger to large-scale events, with global festivals like lowlands, tomorrowland, and Rock Wercher, to carnivals, parades, and more. Despite a quiet year due to covid, there was the opportunity for some key events to be held in person, a welcome return to normality for much of the tech community, albeit at a smaller scale and in the Autumn months after a covid-restriction heavy summer. Hybrid events were still the norm, accommodating a global audience and the couch attendance we have all gotten so used to. In both cases, an opportunity to meet with people, engage in serendipitous conversations, and do business over beers.
TNW Conference (NL) TNW returned in person in 2021, taking place at the end of September to an audience of international, mostly European, attendees. With glowing praise like “TNW Conference is like Woodstock for innovators”, “The most intimate B2B technology festival on the planet” and more, TNW serves startups and corporates alike with an enjoyable forum to connect, do business, and be inspired by the thought leadership centered event.
Arch Summit (LX)
Arch Summit is hosted by Tomorrow Street, Vodafone, and Technoport and connects 5000 attendees with over 90 corporate exhibitors, 200 startups, over 200 Vodafone executives, and more. Hosted in October 2021. “Founders, industry leaders, investors, policymakers and tech experts once again [came] together to discuss and interact with leading-edge technology, and explore new partnership opportunities.”
The numbers and the top-level insights into ecosystems can only provide so much insight - we reached out to a number of players in the Benelux tech scene to get a better understanding of the region.
Tanguy Vanderlinden| CEO at Ubiz | LinkedIn
On strengths: “The greatest strengths of the Belgian ecosystem is that it is small, and therefore offers plenty of room to test new products. When you lock your position in Belgium, it becomes a pretty nice target for other acquirers elsewhere. From an incubation, it is a great location (since not that many competitors interested in this small market).”
On challenges: “The issue for very ambitious unicorn-to-be startups is to stay in Belgium since legislation is not that entrepreneur-friendly (great to be subsidized, but after when you start making money...) - yes many decided to grow elsewhere, not giving back to the local community. Amsterdam is becoming a real startup hub though, gathering many successful unicorns. Dutch Legislation sounds very entrepreneur-friendly. For instance, the notice period is very short, welcoming entrepreneurs to take risks & grow. The previous years were about Digital only, the coming ones will be about hardware coming back - robotics is the next BIG thing because you won't be fighting climate change with just data & Apple apps.”
Frederik Tibau | Project Lead Scale-up Programs at Agoria | Linkedin
On Strengths: “In recent years, the Belgian start-up ecosystem has become much more mature. The number of scale-ups has at least quadrupled, as has the number of companies that are making a stand abroad. More and more capital is flowing into our digital growth companies, and more and more experienced tech entrepreneurs invest their time and money in the ecosystem.
With a total amount of 1.003 billion euros invested in Belgian tech companies (biotech not included), 2020 was an undisputed record year. It’s not only a significant increase from 701 million euros in 2019, it is even 10 times more compared to only eight years ago (97 million euros in 2013).
Belgium’s fast-growing start-up and the scale-up scene is still a bit under the radar in Europe, but this could rapidly change as Brussels is emerging as one of the continent’s most exciting creative centres, and Belgian tech hubs such as Brussels, Antwerpen, Gent, Leuven, and Louvain-La-Neuve are much less expensive than London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Cologne, while they are very accessible and perfectly located in the heart of Europe.
Belgians have a very open mindset, and the country boasts a strong IT-sector with the European headquarters of many international tech corporates. The presence of the European Union and institutions such as NATO make Brussels one of the most important political powerhouses on the planet, resulting in a very international and easily accessible business and expat community.
Belgians have a very strong reputation and tons of expertise in R&D and innovation, due to the high-quality education and the high density of research facilities, the availability of highly skilled workers, and the fiscal incentives for R&D ventures. The country is among the top players in the world in biotech, digital health, manufacturing tech, and logistics and supply chain tech.”
- “Early-stage finance. Especially since the COVID-crisis, it has become more difficult to attract early-stage capital. Business angels have become more cautious and investors are playing it safe and are freeing up larger amounts of money for portfolio companies that are further in their growth trajectory to ensure they get through the crisis unscathed.
- Internationalization. Although there are more and more examples of inspiring Belgian scale-ups that are making a stand at a global level, the internationalization of our start-ups and scale-ups remains a point of attention. As a market, Belgium is too small to develop a sustainable technology company, which means that our companies must pay sufficient attention to the marketing of their products abroad, and this from the start.
- Lack of clear positioning due to fragmentation and therefore still under the radar internationally. The Belgian startup ecosystem is very fragmented. As a matter of fact, our three regions (Flanders/Brussels/Wallonia) boast different ecosystems, each with its own dynamics. More efforts could be made to market a ‘Belgian tech’ brand abroad, and a clearer focus on the distinctive strengths in our ecosystem (such as digital health, manufacturing tech, and HR tech) is welcome.
- Partly because we’re lacking a clear positioning, Belgium is not yet attractive enough to attract top foreign talent (and to a lesser extent to attract foreign big tech companies)
This is an important point of attention because it is more necessary than ever to attract and retain experienced international top talent to enable our scale-ups to develop into real world-encompassing tech companies.
- Too few large exits, not enough money flows back to the ecosystem
Belgian entrepreneurs remain (too ?) modest because we’re a small country with a small market. And so it often happens that promising companies are sold before they have reached their full potential on their own. There are pros and cons to selling tech companies, but one of the drawbacks of a relatively quick sale is that there are fewer or no major exits. And without major exits, not enough money flows back to the ecosystem.“
On progress during 2021: “Investors injected a record amount of VC money into our digital growth companies in 2021, that’s certainly good news. Our ecosystem is maturing and getting stronger than ever, and more and more companies make a stand abroad. In recent years, quite a few ex-entrepreneurs have emerged as business angels, who invest their money in the startup ecosystem and make it stronger by doing so. Belgium also ranks as an undisputed innovation leader in the EU: we came in 4th out of 27 EU member states in the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) released by the European Commission (after Sweden, Finland and Denmark). That’s something to be proud of. Yet there’s no reason to pat ourselves to the back, because there are still too few ‘second generation’ entrepreneurs to boost our ecosystem and relatively few Belgian later stage scale-ups that raise large rounds of over 100 million euro (like in the rest of Europe). The result is that we only have 4 unicorns in our country so far. Looking from that angle, we’re losing ground compared to most of our neighboring countries, so we need to step up our game. This is important, as we clearly need to better position ‘Belgian tech’ abroad to attract the talent we need to grow our companies, and to convince more Anglo-Saxon and Asian investors to invest more in Belgian tech.
We do have some great assets, like a very strong education and healthcare system, an international mentality, a geographical position in the heart of Europe, lots of money, trilingual people and - as very few people seem to realize - an attractive and competitive (but complicated) stock option scheme.
On Deeptech: “With Belgium being one of Europe’s innovations leaders (4th out of 27 member states, see above), there’s a bright future ahead for Belgian companies that focus on innovations based on fundamental scientific research.
The reasons for Belgium’s leadership in innovation are not hard to find. Our country has some outstanding universities and research institutes, and a strong engineering culture. Add to this a powerful manufacturing sector and a state-of-the-art biotech scene, and you get a very interesting and fertile environment for all things deep tech.
Ryan Young | Head of Market at Talkwalker | Linkedin
On Strengths: “Luxembourg has so many resources for startups! The government runs its own program, sponsoring incubators and providing funding. The country is full of other non and for-profit startup assistance, including kickstart services, classes, and coworking offices. Luxembourg especially caters to fintech companies, expanding on niche payment and investment services, KYT, and data privacy.
There is a rich talent pool from across the globe, drawn here by big finance, consulting, and tech firms. Made up of a majority of immigrants, Luxembourg's international outlook is ideal for starting small and expanding globally.
On weaknesses: “The selfsame companies that attract talent to the county also threaten to stifle innovation and crush competition. As big firms like Salesforce buy up Slack, we will have to watch closely as Google moves into town, joining Amazon to dominate the tech scene in Luxembourg. As an international financial hub, Luxembourg is also especially susceptible to global downturns and antiglobalist movements like MAGA and BREXIT.
To remain a fertile ground for startups, Luxembourg must protect startups from the big tech and big financial firms, and be ready with solutions when nationalist financial protections make it hard for them to compete."
Claire Tillekaerts | Flanders Investment & Trade CEO | Linkedin
On Strengths: “Flanders breathes science and technology. Our universities and colleges are among the best in the world and train innovative talent. Our companies and research centers unite in clusters to tackle innovative projects together. Our technology-driven start-ups and companies are conquering the world. The tight ecosystem of private companies and research centers together with a supportive government has created an innovative and vibrant startup ecosystem where starting up your business is easy and funding is widely available. The excellent location of Flanders is attracting increasingly more startups to cities like Antwerp, Leuven, and Ghent. From here you can easily reach the rest of the European market”
No comments on weaknesses were provided.
Philippe Linster | House of Startups CEO | Linkedin
On Strengths: “Luxembourg’s startup ecosystem is booming! Our startup ecosystem is unique in the world as we combine the benefits of being small and international. Here, startups can build a strong network very quickly as it is truly easy to connect with people and organisations that will help unlock their potential. In the meantime, Luxembourg presents so many opportunities for startups to access international markets. For instance, we set up the “EU-TRIBE” The Greater Region’s Innovators Network, to maximise synergies between Belgium’s Wallonia, Luxembourg, France’s Lorraine and Germany’s Saarland and Rhineland-Pfalz which represents a market of 11M consumers.”
On Weaknesses: “Luxembourg’s startup ecosystem is also quite “young”. Within only a few years, the ecosystem has taken major leaps. For instance, the House of Startups, launched three years ago by the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, already counts around 130 startups spread across four key incubators and accelerators. We will most certainly meet many challenges as we progress to a certain kind of maturity. The importance a Tax Shelter program to promote investments towards startups will be key in fostering the ecosystem. However, with local entities such as the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce and the Luxembourg Government backing up our startup ecosystem and with the innovative entrepreneurs you find here, I am quite confident that we are heading in the right direction.”
Jeanet Lin | Food for Gut! CEO | Linkedin
On Strengths: “The greatest strengths of the startup ecosystem in the Netherlands are the different innovation programs and accelerators that exist covering different areas from commerce to technology to health. There seems to also be a lot of focus on helping scale-ups grow and facilitating the connections between the ecosystem players for these companies. There are also a lot of startup communities that help foster connections and networking with talents, experts, and resources such as TNW Coworking spaces, Women in Tech, and others. The collaborations between StartupAmsterdam (The City of Amsterdam) together with partners like TNW, Techleap, and others or programs between corporates and innovation agencies provide a great opportunity for startups and scale-ups to be more visible both nationally and internationally together with expansion and growth.”
On weaknesses: ”As a starting female founder with an Asian ethnicity background in the health, AI, and digital sector I see there’s a lack of resources and support for the early-stage startups and founders here in the Netherlands:
1. Supporting programs for early-stage startups:
a. More incubator programs aimed at starting entrepreneurs that help them with the business model and MVP development.
b. Help to connect the founders with the right experts and organizations from early on for validation 44 X-Europe Ecosystem Toolkit.
c. Help support connecting the right talents with each other, such as co-founders or talents to startups. Currently, almost every single program that has successful startups after “graduation” requires a minimum of 2 people team.
d. Fostering for more diverse and inclusive founders and teams from early on, creating an equal playing field for everyone and not only on white people or men.
2. Access to Capital for early-stage startups and founders:
a. Need access to angel investors for early-stage/pre-seed startups to get started quickly or more available grants from the government. This access should be promoted through more facilitation or connection initiatives.
b. More support for female-led or co-founded startups is currently only 2% is invested in female-led startups.
c. More equal investment opportunities to be distributed to other startups than white people, if you look at the Borski Fund or any of the existing VCs and communities such as the Next Women - 99% are all white male/female coming from rich backgrounds and always featured in the news. It does not seem very accessible to get funded or let alone noticed by them if you are not part of the ‘club’.
3. Diversity & Inclusion in both investment and programs for startups and founders
a. Existing programs should be more diverse and inclusive in their selection of startups/scale-ups to their programs. Currently, the selection of the majority of the startups in the Techleap programs, for example, are all led by white men of different ages, the number of female-led or PoC-led startups/scale-ups needs to be higher. If the “reason” is a lack of startups with such founders, that is a big sign that we are not doing well enough from start, hence the point above regarding supporting programs for early-stage startups.
b. Focusing on an even distribution of the ratio of diverse founders and gender equality in the programs for startups and scale-ups, so that we don’t need to have “women-only” or “PoC-only” type of labels/programs, it should just be a natural thing within 5 years from now and no longer be a separate track.
Bottom line what needs to be changed in the Dutch ecosystem is more diversity & inclusion focus when providing opportunities to startups/scale-ups and founders first and foremost to create a more equal playground for everyone. Access to Capital should also be made more available for early-stage startups and more resources and support to be provided too for this stage of startups to help them get started quickly.”
Sebastien Toupy | Linkedin
On strengths: "The dutch ecosystem has a strong support network for founders from a wide range of organisations and spread across various cities. From accelerators and incubators (private and public) as well as governmental agencies focuses on Innovation such as TechLeap and Startups Amsterdam. This support system allows founders to access a wide range of mentors, investors, and partners to help them make their companies successful."
On weaknesses: “I believe that the main challenge is to create more ties and collaborations across the various stakeholders in the ecosystem. While the willingness to help is there, the resources available could be used much more efficiently by leveraging collaborations and partnerships across the country. Each city in the Netherlands seems to have its specialty and this has benefits that need to be more openly shared between founders and local stakeholders.”
Jonas Mercier | Startup Luxembourg Coordinator |Linkedin
On Strengths: “Our three ecosystems have complementary value propositions. There are more and more public and private collaborations between us, which can only benefit startups. The Luxembourg ecosystem is the smallest of the three, but far from being a handicap, I think this is a key advantage. All players know each other, which makes it possible to speed up connections. Not wasting time is crucial to the success of a startup. In addition, our business community is very internationally-minded, which is ideal for building an international team and expanding abroad."
On Challenges: "Funding is crucial for startups. In Luxembourg, there is a very well-developed public funding offering that covers all the needs of startups. But private financing must be facilitated even more. This is undoubtedly the main challenge on which we must now focus."
On Deeptech: "There are many very successful universities and research institutes in the region, which are also very open to the entrepreneurial world. It is now necessary to make substantial funding available to give local technologies a chance to breakthrough. To do this, choices will have to be made and risks are taken."
Guido Muelenaer | Innovation Hubs Manager – City of Antwerp | Linkedin
On Strengths: "The Benelux is a small and open market, which makes it an interesting place for startups to innovate because market access is fast and cheaper than in bigger economies. Moreover, the Benelux is right in the heart of the most prosperous part of Europe. Startups can find here a solid infrastructure, venture capital, incubators & accelerators, and lots of talent."
On Weaknesses: "Since the Benelux is a young ecosystem the growth from startups to scaleups and finally into some unicorns asks special focus. This will require extra local venture capital. We also need to pay attention to internationalization, connection with other ecosystems."
On Deeptech: "Deeptech has a solid base because of the presence of the two biggest ports in Europe, (Rotterdam and Antwerp), and a strong industrial cluster (Antwerp being the 2nd biggest chemical cluster in the world). Startups in IoT/ AI solutions for port & industry or in sustainable chemistry find a fertile breeding ground in the Benelux. This makes a fast growth possible for this kind of startup."
Sven De Cleyn | IMEC.istart Program Director | Linkedin
On strengths: “Belgium is much more than the land of chocolates, beer, and diamonds. It is home to leading research institutes, such as the KU Leuven, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology or imec. Additionally, the country is renowned for its skilled and highly productive workforce, and its multilingualism and cultural diversity (incl. three official languages), which makes it a fertile breeding ground for new innovations.
The startup ecosystem has rather recently taken a high flight, generating four unicorns in the last 5 years, and numerous other successful scale-ups.“
On challenges: “The small size of the home market forces entrepreneurs to think and act global from day one. At the same time, this very same context makes it harder for Belgian companies to attract significant amounts of growth financing from local funds. The (over)heated job market imposes challenges for startups and scale-ups to find enough talent, especially in technology and engineering. However, Belgium has many trump cards in the deeptech scene, including the world-class research facilities, an interesting tax incentive scheme for R&D heavy companies, and a well-structured (public) support system.”
Carlo Duprel | IHead of TTO of the SnT at the University of Luxembourg | Linkedin
On Strengths: “The greatest strength of Luxembourg’s ecosystem is the financial center which is of global relevance in particular for the fund industry, private banking and life insurance. Any Fintech wishing to address these markets at a European scale will find outstanding opportunities to launch business operations and achieve market traction.”
On Challenges: “Early-stage funding is still scarce in the Luxembourg ecosystem. Recently the situation has improved with the professionalization of business angels, seed funding, and public funding instruments but this development needs to go on.”
On Deeptech: “The deeptech eco-system in Luxembourg has developed quickly over the last years, in particular, due to the adoption of state-of-the-art technologies by Fintechs, e.g. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain/DLT. Increased emphasis is put on spinning-off deeptech ventures out of the university and public research centers. Hot technology topics for the near future are “Federated Learning”, “Digital Twin” and “Quantum-safe Communication”.
Thijs Dijkman| Investment Manager - Peak Capital | LinkedIn
On strengths: "The Netherlands is a very international-oriented startup-ecosystem and is known for its high tech adoption. Which makes it the perfect breeding ground for startups testing new products and international companies expanding to Europe. This results in large tech companies headquartering their European office in Amsterdam, which attracts a lot of tech talent.
Whilst the Dutch have been known for their frugality and capital efficiency we’re now seeing a shift in founders and investors being more aggressive, having bolder ambitions, and daring to take the risks. This results in a fast-growing ecosystem, €302B total amount invested in 2021, making it the top 3 European ecosystems.
By producing more and more fast-growing companies and unicorns the ecosystems set great entrepreneurial examples. This raises ambitions, creates talent, and attracts more international talent. Together with an influx of capital by founders reinvesting the ecosystem is a thriving community for early-stage founders with international ambitions.”
On Challenges: “Despite the increase in talent the labor market is extremely tight I don’t expect it to be a short-term problem. We have to focus on initiatives to stimulate the education of tech talent, attract more talent across the borders by easier tax regulation for employee participation and focus on inclusion.”
On Deeptech: “With specialized Tech Universities, the Netherlands is well-positioned to be a leader in deeptech. However, there is still a big funding gap in the early-stage deeptech sector making it difficult to compete on an international playing field. With all the smart people that we have, I expect big things in quantum computing, cleantech, and robotics.”
Tino Zwirs | Board Member – Young Creators | LinkedIn
On Strengths: “One of the biggest strengths of the Benelux startup ecosystem is the large amount of internationally-focused and ambitious talents that make up a vast and diverse talent pool. It offers startups the much-needed human capital to get started and enables them to attract the key talents to set them up for success.”
On Challenges: “One of the biggest challenges for the startup ecosystem is its ability to attract and retain these key talents as they’ve become more impact-oriented. Over the last couple of years, a strong trend has shown that young digital talents would much rather work for a company that matches their intrinsic beliefs than for a company that has the best financial offer. That’s why it is not just crucial for startups and other organisations to understand what market they’re in but also to get a broader understanding of the impact that they’re trying to make and the way that integrates into their company culture.”
On Deeptech: “I expect a rapid acceleration in the deep tech space in the upcoming years, with key developments being the further advancement and applicability of artificial intelligence, especially in combination with groundbreaking research into quantum computing and its implementation.
Overall, I feel like there’s an incredible amount of potential within the Benelux with current innovations and the growing ambition of key talent.”
The Benelux maintains its position as one of the most vibrant positions in Europe on dynamics of culture, entrepreneurship, and connectivity. With major travel hubs, political centers, a densely populated highly educated workforce, and triple helix approaches to dovetail research, governance, and business; The Benelux is the place to be as an early stage or scaling founder. Companies like Techleap, Agoira, EU tribe, startup village, business Antwerp, Luxinnovation, Young Creators, Codam College, and more continue to thrive, as well as strong university support from Institutions like the University of Amsterdam, IMEC, and the University of Luxembourg providing an early-stage incubator and talent layer.
From a government perspective, there are a number of organizations driving innovation; city governments, business Antwerp, Flanders investment and trade, and many more are adding a funding and governance layer to the ecosystem from a public perspective. Finally, investment has ballooned worldwide and in the region, with record numbers of rounds and ticket sizes. It has been a great time for the region’s capital flow.
In terms of liveability, all the Benelux countries have done reasonably well during the pandemic, with healthy support schemes available, accessibility to nature, and infrastructure for mobility, health, and digitally driven work. Maintaining their strength as producers of highly skilled talent, especially in digital, science, and engineering sectors, as well as magnets for foreign skilled labor, the countries provide plenty of human capital for growing startups.
Whilst many tech companies have a strong presence in the region - notably, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, Uber, and Netflix - some more established corporations have relocated outside of the countries, such as Shell and Unilever. Attracting companies to Luxembourg and Belgium remains an issue and something complicated by tax, entrepreneurship facilitation, and language when compared to their northern counterpart.
Navigating the coming financial turmoil as inflation, post-pandemic reduction of spending programs, and wider geopolitical issues will be an important epoch for the region. As adjustments ripple through the market and capital sources dry up, startups and startup support actors alike must collaborate closely in order to not lose pace with the global strengthening of startup ecosystems. Competition is tough within Europe and outside, in particular with the UK strengthening its propositions to counter Brexit woes.
X-Europe has been able to provide support to startups in the context of the pandemic and difficulties accessing customers, travel, and a very competitive job market. Throughout, lessons have been learned and spread in growing ecosystems, forging connections overseas, and growing your business skills and scope. X-Europe hosting the TNW conference in September 2021 was a welcome opportunity to return to physical networking and event attendance. With 1 final flagship conference event coming up in X-Europe at Techchill in Riga, we’re looking forward to celebrating the end of the X-Europe program and pushing the results of our platform for innovation into the ecosystem, and generating further discussion and learning.
Data sources: Population | Eurostat
GDP per Capita | International Monetary Fund
Human Development Index | International Monetary Fund
Innovation Global Rank | Global Innovation Index
Entrepreneurship Global Rank | Global Entrepreneurship Index
Ease of Doing Business Rank | Doing Business
Ease of Starting a Business Rank | Doing Business
Research and Development (% of GDP) | World Bank
Startup Funding | Dealroom
Number of incubators | Crunchbase, F6S, StartupBlink, Baltic Startup Scene Report
Number of Accelerators | Crunchbase, F6S, StartupBlink, Baltic Startup Scene Report
Most Active Accelerators | Crunchbase
Number of Active VCs | Crunchbase
Most Active VC funds | Crunchbase
Number of Business Angels | Angellist, LatBAN, LitBAN, EstBAN
Number of Startups | Crunchbase, StartupBlink, Baltic Startup Scene Report
Main Startup Cities | StartupBlink
Biggest Deals on 2019/2020 | Crunchbase, Dealroom
Main startup events | Crunchbase