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October 31, 2022

Can we celebrate the rise of a new generation of progressive founders?



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Gerrit Jan van 't Veen

Managing Director of WorldStartup Collective

I am not sure whether it’s valuable to qualify many very relevant founders for this aspired future economy as not ambitious enough, simply because they don’t aim for high-growth centralized ownership as their model.

I also dare to argue, looking at mainstream media and politics, that The Netherlands is a country where people prefer to stick to the average. Isn’t this a simplified outdated frame?

What if The Netherlands is actually fostering a very progressive generation of entrepreneurs? A generation that is very openly and consciously challenging the systems they (have to) work in? It’s something you can often hear from founders in communities like BlueCity (010), Noorderwind, Amsterdam Donut Deal, or ImpactCity. Such progressive founders anticipate a new system that is not there yet. They try to be a frontrunner in their industry with radical solutions that require systemic changes to really thrive. You could say they are more ambitious than the system.

I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who are very ambitious to contribute to a better world but reluctant to use a high-risk, centralized high-growth model for various reasons, like:

  • the need for capital creates a high risk for original values;
  • fast growth can have many unwanted negative side effects;
  • well-being is regarded as essential for positive growth and is better accommodated in smaller teams.

They tap into older values of Dutch culture like commons, cooperatives, and nabuur, mixed with suggestions about success from people like Kate Raworth, Bruno Latour, or Yvon Chouinard.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t want their solutions and insights widely adopted. But instead of centralized ownership they often think in terms of sharing as the preferred model for growth.

Their models are qualified as cooperative, decentralized, and open source and have the potential to create a strong foundation for a resilient economy that contributes to a sustainable and equitable future.

What if this is a central part of the systemic change and new culture? What if other communities should gravitate more towards The Netherlands instead of The Netherlands trying to become more like the UK, Sweden, or the US?

I don’t want to start a debate on vocabulary, but yet, especially in a report that puts so much emphasis on the development of culture, it seems important to choose our role models and storytelling carefully.

How about the following starting point for a conversation?

“Hey, we value your ambitions. We notice that you tend to formulate your goals and approach differently than we used to do. We sense that you are reluctant to aim for a unicorn. What is it you prefer? And how could we accommodate your success better? ‘cause perhaps you are on to something important.”

I totally agree with the report that we need to do more. Since the rebranding Techleap has pushed the agenda for a startup ecosystem that produces unicorns. Celebrating a very specific niche in the community. And gradually - probably out of dissatisfaction with what was already happening in the ecosystem - positioned itself as a government-backed scale-up accelerator. I hope it’s okay to work together on a broader and more inclusive approach in the upcoming years.

“What can we do to support a growing community of ambitious entrepreneurs in The Netherlands that help our country transition faster towards a sustainable and equitable future?”

At WorldStartup we would love to work on this, although time is limited while walking the tightrope. We think many people would love to help out. We would like to take part in this conversation with entrepreneurs, Techleap, and ecosystem builders to discuss this. What is success? How do we create better conditions? Who are the role models? Let’s start digging deeper.

ImpactFest or Border Sessions are great events for that.

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