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

Enable early-stage funding access to startups

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Policy recommendations from the Western Balkans Startup Council address key challenges, offer guidance and suggest actions all connected to funding early-stage startups.

One of the most significant challenges for Western Balkan start-ups is the scarcity of seed capital. For many start-ups, getting the initial funding they need to develop and launch their product could be a significant challenge. This could be a severe barrier to growth, preventing some startups from getting off the ground.

Another challenge that Western Balkan start-ups face is a lack of assistance and mentoring. In comparison to more developed start-up ecosystems, the region lacks a strong network of experienced entrepreneurs who can give direction and assistance to young startup entrepreneurs. Without proper guidance, it can be challenging for new entrepreneurs to navigate the early phases of their growth and gain access to the resources they need to expand and prosper.

Nevertheless, there are many possibilities accessible for Western Balkan entrepreneurs seeking early-stage funding. One alternative is to seek grants or other types of funding assistance from government agencies and other groups.

Start-up founders seek out angel investors and venture capital firms to provide alternative funding. Countries in the Western Balkans are becoming a hotspot for a growing number of investors ready to invest their capital and expertise in emerging ventures. Additionally, there is an increasing number of incubators and accelerators in the region with a set of support programs and activities to provide funding and guidance to entrepreneurs which is a great source of funding for new enterprises. Crowdfunding is an option for additional funding for Western Balkan startups to showcase the startup’s product to a great audience of possible investors.

Furthermore, members of the Western Balkans Startup Council in the Policy recommendation paper proposed actions for this section:

  1. Prioritise Business angel activities.  Additional actions include:

·     Quality Angel Groups Supported by Government Funding Programs

·      Pre-Seed Grant Funding Through Angel Groups

·      Sidecar Fund to Amplify Angel Investment

  1. Introduction of tax benefits for companies or investor investment into start-ups, innovation, and R&D
  2. Co-investment fund
  3. Convertible loan
  4. Continuous support of the programs for start-ups. Additional actions include:

·    Use a funding program to support two quality Seed Accelerators

·    Funding Requirements and Structure

In conclusion, the Western Balkans faces significant challenges when it comes to early-stage funding for start-ups. However, there are also signs of progress, and with continued support from the government, investors, and other stakeholders, we can expect to see more growth and development in the start-up ecosystem in the future.