Twice now, thanks to the efforts of The Economic Board (TEB), I’ve been able to meet and counsel with leadership teams of young companies with great ideas in the Arnhem – Nijmegen region. I live in Boston and am surrounded by the energy of innovative companies especially in the MIT/Kendall Square area. The excitement in the air is palpable. I spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley with my Sage Partners and that same ‘great ideas’ energy permeates the atmosphere. And it is here in the Dutch Health Valley!
We’ve met with more than twenty mostly early stage companies. All of them would fit into the aura of Silicon Valley or Boston. Each of them came armed with a great idea, e.g. The Play Nice Institute with a video game designed to help children 8-12 learn how to manage the social pressures they face as they endeavor to grow up. All pre-teen children can benefit but especially the nearly one-third of them diagnosed with anxiety and depression. How did a video game designer and an academic researcher connect? It’s because ‘something is happening here’ to inspire creative connections and encourage non-traditional alliances. It happens all the time in successful entrepreneurial cultures. Nijmegen is the latest to capture the magic.
The Economic Board and its partners, e.g. OOST NL, and the Novio Tech Campus have triggered a burst of entrepreneurial activity. To maintain this early momentum the TEB should take lessons from Silicon Valley, Boston and the other leaders of entrepreneurial energy. For example, even before there are a lot of results to point to, celebrate activity. We know that input precedes output. For decades young companies and their leaders have enjoyed exalted status in Boston and the Valley. Further, understand the risks involved in the pursuit of great ideas. Not all of the twenty plus companies we’ve seen will emerge as winners. A true entrepreneurial culture accepts failure and allows those who came up short to have another try with another great idea. That last point is a peculiar American contribution to entrepreneurship. Leaders and teams who try and miss once will often get a second chance, as long as they understand why they failed and how this time will be different. Finally, the academic-business-public partnership must be nurtured. The centers of entrepreneurship have strong, technical and business colleges and universities nearby. See Stanford in Silicon Valley and MIT, Harvard and Babson College (leader in entrepreneurial studies) in Boston. Each of these institutions has reached out to the business community to bring research ideas to the market to teach entrepreneurship, e.g., Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Design Institute (the d.school), and in general encourage young companies. These elements are present here in the Nijmegen region as well.
During our next visit to Nijmegen to follow up with the teams we’ve already met, we’ll set aside time to discuss at greater length the lessons TEB, the Novio Tech Campus and the Health Valley leaders should adopt to make the most of this great start. There is, indeed, something happening here and it needs to continue.