We want to inspire young people to choose entrepreneurship

Lennard Drogendijk is the Director and Founder of Inqubator Leeuwarden. As an expert in the start-up world he is faced with a dilemma: there aren’t really that many start-ups in the Friesland region and so in his view the level of ambition could do with a boost. The network is in place, help is on offer from many quarters, and funds are available too. But how do you inspire more people to get involved in entrepreneurship?

The project Startup Ems-Dollart Region (Startup EDR), based in the region of the same name, is busy expanding the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Lennard explains: ‘The best network is still the face-to-face one: the more parties we can include in the ecosystem and the better the information facilities become, the more people will choose to get involved in entrepreneurship. We’re improving the playing field with good branding and awareness.’

Entrepreneurship is a choice

There are many entrepreneurs in Groningen and Oldenburg, but significantly fewer in Drenthe, Friesland and some parts of Germany. This is despite the fact that Frisian people are quite business-minded. According to Lennard the trick is to get started early: ‘While you’re still young you don’t have so much to lose. You can take more risks. And even if your start-up isn’t successful, then you’ve still gained the experience to try again later. Then probably with more success.’

The idea of choosing entrepreneurship is still relatively new, as Lennard acknowledges: ‘Even the word “start-up” hasn’t been in used in the Netherlands for long: we’ve adopted it from English. Earlier you were simply called a “starter”. But nowadays there’s a much larger body of knowledge regarding entrepreneurship. And things are much more professional. There’s more data, more methodology, more applied knowledge. Also there’s a huge amount of knowledge available about starting a business. The network to support you here is getting better all the time. That makes the whole thing a lot less challenging.’

Brain drain and entrepreneurship lessons

Lennard says it’s especially important in this region to give potential entrepreneurs a boost while they are still young. ‘It can have a big impact on this region. Currently there’s little potential for young graduates finding good jobs here. Many of them leaving for the Randstad, the conurbation in the western Netherlands. This brain drain can be counteracted by encouraging young people to start their own businesses. Then you retain the knowledge in the region and this will in turn attract new knowledge and entrepreneurship.’

‘Education in the region is one of the most important initial steps for getting people out of the standard system,’ believes Lennard. ‘There are countless courses and programmes where entrepreneurship forms part of the curriculum. At MBO (vocational education) level you can see more and more initiatives that aim to encourage young people to put their entrepreneurial skills into practice. At HBO (professional education) level there are programmes such as an Entrepreneurship Top Minor. These programmes aim to help startups to become “scalable”. And the University of Groningen is also contributing with all kinds of programmes for encouraging sustainable entrepreneurship, such as Venture Lab.’

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Developing new creative minds

But knowledge alone is no good if you can’t put your ideas into practice. ‘What could be finer than coming into contact with people who are just as ambitious as you? Digital meetings are a good temporary solution for getting to know each other, but in the long term they aren’t so great. If you really want to develop new creative minds and build teams, then you need to see each other in person. Then you can concentrate more enthusiasm in one place, and give each other a boost.’

Across the border

There are plenty of initiatives in the region aimed at doing just this. ‘In Friesland we have co-working locations where they offer entrepreneurship programmes, such as Inqubator Leeuwarden and BeStart. Or simply places where you can work as a business starter. And here, as a business starter, you’ll find like-minded people. So you can take part in peer-to-peer coaching programmes and give each other feedback. A lot of people improve their abilities in this way. And you can get together for a coffee or a beer, too.’

But a start-up needs to be creative and so you soon need to look further than the Dutch border. ‘These young ambitious business starters need to move across the border, take a good look around and get to know other people. This always results in something useful. In terms of market and size the German market is of course more interesting for us than the Dutch one. On the other hand German business starters can learn from our pragmatic approach.’

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