'Rotterdam is the leading centre for start-ups in the Netherlands'

Rotterdam is doing rather well. What am I saying: Rotterdam is doing fantastic! The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Lonely Planet – they’ve all included Rotterdam as one of the world’s “must visit” destinations. The city is praised for its dynamism, its atmosphere, its history and its breath-taking architecture.
But also for its outstanding start-up culture. Because in the Netherlands we often see Amsterdam as the centre of new enterprise, but I’m not afraid to claim that Rotterdam has far, far more to offer.

Rotterdam serves as a springboard for the rest of the world. You’re expected to ‘put your shoulder to the wheel’ here, but if you really want something, you can make it happen.

Mare Straetmans, Managing Director PortXL

The two factors that immediately spring to mind are the lower rents in this city, and the typical Rotterdam focus on “getting the job done’” But there’s more: Rotterdam offers a large number of potential clients. Start-ups start with an idea. But to become a real business, they need a client. The port of Rotterdam serves as a base for dozens of multinationals with a total operational spending power of EUR 12 billion per year. While it might be asking too much to expect all this money to flow to start-ups, they’ll undoubtedly manage to get a piece of the pie.

And otherwise they can also turn to investment funds like the First Dutch Port Fund, which manages a budget of EUR 40 million. Over the past few years, the city has been enriched with a large number of serious start-up initiatives of this kind. This had created a veritable start-up ecosystem new enterprises can take advantage of. Examples include the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, YES!Delft, the Rotterdam Science Tower, Port Innovation Lab and of course PortXL. Most programmes are specifically geared towards the maritime, logistics and industrial sectors. Recently, the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) opened its first local branch outside the US – here in Rotterdam. Over the next five years, CIC intends to establish some 550 innovative companies in the Groot Handelsgebouw. CIC’s new location in Rotterdam is a wonderful addition to the city’s existing facilities for start-ups, and confirms Rotterdam’s status as “the place to be”.

One of the most characteristic locations for Rotterdam’s start-up scene is the RDM site. Every time I visit RDM, I am amazed by its vibrant atmosphere and the innovations that can be seen there. RDM is the world’s production hub. These aren’t my words – it’s what people whom I have taken along tell me. Delegations from all over the world come to Rotterdam to see how we do things here. Which brings me to my final thought.

To be honest, I don’t really want to compare Rotterdam to Amsterdam. There’s no point in competing with Amsterdam – the Netherlands is too small for that. We need to advance together, strengthen each other. I prefer to compare our city with foreign counterparts. Take Singapore, for example: a port that lines up quite nicely with our own. Delegations from Singapore are organising more and more trips to Rotterdam. They love what we’re doing with start-ups here. They visit every corner of our city – to take a look behind the scenes – and we serve as a source of inspiration for them. That says a lot.

On 1 November the PortXL programme will be entering its second year. I am very proud of the results achieved in the first year. Twelve start-ups, of whom five have already signed contracts with a client. Rotterdam serves as a springboard for the rest of the world. You’re expected to “put your shoulder to the wheel” here, but if you really want something, you can make it happen. Or, as one of our American participants put it the other day, in a twist on Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”: “If you can make it in Rotterdam, you can make it anywhere.”’

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