Western Balkan Startup Alliance Visits the Netherlands

Western Balkan Startup Alliance visits the Netherlands

From 7-9 March a delegation of 14 organizations from the Western Balkan had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands. They were invited by GIZ to enter into a dialogue with representatives of the startup ecosystems in Amsterdam and The Hague. Within this ecosystem discovery visit, the lessons learned by the Dutch ecosystem were shared from city, regional and national point of view focusing on the 4 common startup ecosystem challenges: access to technology, talent, capital and markets.

The Netherlands Ecosystem

About fifteen years ago the Netherlands became very aware of the fact that it was not meeting its business potential. Regional and national initiatives were competing and reinventing ways to support tech companies to grow. However, on many levels these initiatives were lacking the historic Dutch collaborative approach. This resulted in the inability of startups to reach their growth potential.The fragmented approach was counterproductive. A radical change was required, identifying opportunities, amplifying growth by collaboration and institutionalizing this approach with policy and funding. In 2015 this resulted in TechLeap (formerly known as Startup Delta) a public-private partnership that collaborates with the Netherlands’ primary innovation hubs to speed up innovation, attract startups, corporates, and investors to the Netherlands, and serve as an advocate for the startup community to policy makers.

Now, almost a decade later The Netherlands benefits from a favorable startup business climate. The countries’ thriving startup ecosystem has produced several successful startups, including Adyen, Booking.com, and TomTom. These companies have helped to put the Netherlands on the map as a hub for innovation and technology,and have attracted significant investment from both domestic and international investors.



Day one

The first day the delegation visited The Next Web (TNW). This private organization in the ecosystem (in 2019 purchased by Financial Times) explained their activities, role, and collaborations. Also a representative from Startup Amsterdam and several corporate partners like KPMG explained how different private and municipal organizations collaborate.

After a tour of the TNW-facilities and a lunch, the delegation proceeded to Science Park Amsterdam where the  university incubator program ACE and co-working location Startup Village was visited. One of their startups in the program explained their experience and benefits from the entrepreneurs’ perspective.

The day really reflected how events, co-working spaces and public -private collaboration and universities are driving the Amsterdam ecosystem.


Day two

The next day we traveled to The Hague, the political and administrative capital of the Netherlands. The Hague started to develop its ecosystem later then Amsterdam and has a different focus.  The Hague Tech and ImpactCity hosted the delegation at their premises. Organizations like ImpactCityYoung Digitals, and Futurepreneurs WorldStartupFactory explained how they’re not pursuing the unicorn status, but are impact driven. The Dutch Government (Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO)) explained how they create a favorable framework for startups through taxes, subsidized international activities and work/residence permits for talent, startups and entrepreneurs.

Day Three

The last day of the visit a very valuable session was offered by Innoleaps and Startup Boothcamp.  In depth information was exchanged on how successful accelerator programs are effectively functioning, including scouting, selection, program set up, valuation and financing. After lunch Dealroom gave a presentation on the importance of data.

We concluded the day with a debriefing session and social activity to digest all inspiring information, meetings and people the group connected with during this short but productive visit.

Joining the visit: Innovation Centre Kosovo Business & Innovation Center Business Accelerator UKIM (BAU) Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center Tehnopolis Makerspace Innovation Center Prizren ICT Hub INTERA Technology Park Startup Macedonia Oficina Digital Serbia Initiative Foundation for Sustainable Economic development Preda Plus Albiz Foundation Prime Blue ESG Institute GIZ

Visit hosted by: Handelsroute.nl

Advocate for Policy Change

Advocate for Policy Change

The Western Balkans region advances over the years in terms of economic development and technological progression. North Macedonia and Serbia have been particularly successful in this regard. This development has been helped along in part by the expansion of the startup sector, which has seen a rise in the number of innovative companies that seek to innovate and disrupt more established industries.

However, despite this progress, the region still faces many challenges when it comes to fostering innovation and supporting the growth of startups. One of the key challenges is the lack of a supportive policy environment, which can make it difficult for startups to access the resources and support they need to succeed.

Policy advocacy refers to the process of influencing public policy to support innovation and the growth of start-ups. There are several key areas where policy advocacy can make a difference in terms of supporting innovation and start-ups in the Western Balkans. Governments may best keep up with market changes and demands by collaborating via expert working groups and ecosystem associations.

Additionally, policymakers can create a more conducive environment for innovation by providing tax incentives for investors, as well as supporting the development of incubators and accelerators to run start-up programs. Some economies in Western Balkans provide access to affordable capital and other resources for start-ups, as well as promote collaboration and networking within the start-up community.

Furthermore, policy advocacy can play a crucial role in raising awareness of the potential of innovation and start-ups to drive economic growth and development in the region. By highlighting the successes and potential of the start-up sector, policymakers can help to build support for policies that will enable innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive. Many good examples came from the top governments that put innovation and entrepreneurship on the high priority of their agenda.

Members of the Western Balkans Start-up Council in the Policy recommendation paper proposed actions for this section:

  1. Working groups with field experts
  2. Education of policymakers on start-ups
  3. Comparative analysis
  4. Donor engagement
  5. Regional association of startup-related organisations

In conclusion, policy advocacy is an important tool for supporting innovation and start-ups in the Western Balkans. By working together with policymakers, investors, and other stakeholders, the region can create a more supportive environment for innovation and drive economic growth and development.

The way forward for a regional entrepreneurship ecosystem

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