Coming to the Novio Tech Campus in Nijmegen to work with 20 startup and scaleup companies, I was not sure what to expect. From the previous meetings my partners were enthusiastic. But I’m from Silicon Valley, the center of the tech universe and feeding trough for hungry venture capitalists. What could Nijmegen region deliver?
The short answer is that I left with an overwhelmingly positive impression and a desire to return as quickly as possible. The longer answer relates to an analogy we found in building a home. The companies we met in Nijmegen all had very strong foundations. The technology was proven, they had market traction or proof of concept demonstrators, the ideas were tested and sound. Yet in many cases, the focus on building such a firm foundation resulted in some teams not seeing the promise of how many floors their new home would have, or the color of the new roof.
To the opposite, in Silicon Valley an entrepreneur has a germ of an idea and with a mock-up of the technology, shouts, “I’m building the largest and most beautiful home in the area” before the concrete in the foundation is dry. Mostly idea and mostly hype. Okay, perhaps that is a little hyperbolic, but we typically found less optimism about market size and growth rates than we would encounter from their California counterparts. For me, the focus on the fundamentals was refreshing. Typically, in a strategy session we spend a lot of our time finding and plugging holes in the technology or the market assumptions. Perhaps given Dutch roots in building dikes to thwart the North Sea, this focus on firm foundations might have a cultural component.
“I’d like to help a few of these great ideas accelerate growth both in The Netherlands and/or in the US because I’m so confident in the foundations.”
To be fair, for a young, growing company, there is benefit in “American Enthusiasm” in terms of gaining investment, customers, and attention in a crowded market. US VC’s see so many similar companies that the story has to be truly exceptional to stand out. That was another great aspect of the various companies we met: they spanned a such a diverse range of industries, technologies, and markets. One of my partners, Cedric Cocker, pointed out a “sameness” to Silicon Valley tech firms. No two firms we met were alike.
It was inspiring to discover the depth of the preparation of the idea and to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the founders to show them more market potential and access to growth than they realized. That’s why I’m eager to return to Nijmegen. I’d like to help a few of these great ideas accelerate growth both in The Netherlands and/or in the US because I’m so confident in the foundations. The homes we can build together will have both a solid foundation and an exciting market story that will find great success.