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How Startups are Creating a Future-Proof Economy in Rotterdam
Home to Europe’s largest port and an extensive network of waterways, roads, and rail lines, Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands, has earned the nicknames “gateway to Europe” and “gateway to the world.”
The city of Rotterdam is part of the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam the Hague (MRDH), an entrepreneurial hotbed of 23 municipalities. This combined startup ecosystem employs 25,000 people — one fifth of all startup jobs in the Netherlands — and has a market value of over $3.6 billion. Rotterdam is also closely connected to nearby Amsterdam and the rest of the thriving Dutch business community.
Thanks to strategic regional and national partnerships, the region hosts a thriving community of over 1,600 active startups with prominent clusters in Smart Logistics, Life Sciences, and Cleantech.
With the support of a variety of programs, initiatives, and organizations, Rotterdam’s startup scene is driving a transition toward a future-proof economy — one that is digital, circular, carbon-neutral, and diverse. In Rotterdam, actions speak louder than words, and a spirit of “make it happen” permeates the diverse population of 600,000 people, which represents 170 nationalities.
Unparalleled Digital Connectivity
Stijn Koster, Vice President Hosting Services at Ubisoft and founder of i3D.net, highlights digital connectivity as the primary driver for being based in Rotterdam. “The city of Rotterdam is internationally well positioned and connects directly to all major internet hubs in Europe through various sea and land cables,” he says. “Within the city, a high diversity of fiber and wireless connectivity allows us to work from home, the office or anywhere else. Perfect digital connectivity is an essential condition for a hosting company like i3D.net to be able to operate successfully.”
i3D.net, a gaming-industry network solutions provider acquired by Ubisoft — along with NightBalance, a digital health scaleup acquired by Philips — is just one example of the high-profile exits and acquisitions produced by Rotterdam’s dynamic startup ecosystem.
A Serious Playground for Innovation
When it comes to size, Rotterdam hits the sweet spot: large enough to test and validate ideas at scale yet small enough to minimize the distance between startups and their consumers. The city contains several “serious playgrounds,” such as BlueCity, a former water park resort that is now a bustling waterfront business park. A poster child project for the circular economy, BlueCity houses over 30 startups that are experimenting and innovating toward a sustainable future.
The Makers District is another ideal waterfront location for forward-thinking founders. Here, startups can launch new ideas in concert with established corporations that are experimenting with new products and processes. A window into Rotterdam’s vision of a future-proof economy, the Makers District is more than an innovative physical location — it fosters the encouraging and collaborative business environment that thriving entrepreneurs need.
Innovation hubs, coworking spaces, and additional startup support services can be found throughout Rotterdam. Founders are never far from knowledge resources and stimulating environments where innovation, talent, and funding coalesce. Up!Rotterdam, a public-private partnership to support founders in scaling up, launched in 2019. Working with over 50 co-creation parties, including the cities of Delft and Schiedam, Up!Rotterdam helps local startups access talent, capital, and international markets. The annual Upstream festival — a multi-day, region-wide event that promotes sustainable growth — made headlines by attracting more than 2,200 visitors and 90 investors with over $36.5 billion in assets under management (AUM) in 2021.
A Collaborative Core of Universities, Incubators, and Alumni Networks
Innovation in the greater Rotterdam metropolitan area is powered by world-class education and research institutions, including Erasmus University Rotterdam — which ranks in the top 3% of the best universities in the world — Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, and nearby Delft University of Technology.
The Rotterdam School of Management (Erasmus University) and Delft University of Technology share a powerful collaboration that fuses the worlds of business and technology — the perfect recipe for producing future founders. Between the two universities, nearly 30% of the student body is enrolled in STEM programs and coursework. Both universities have business incubators, and UBI Global ranks the YES!Delft incubator, which also operates in Rotterdam, among the top five business incubators in the world. YES!Delft serves over 200 startups, providing them with access to an exclusive ecosystem of mentors, experts, investors, and corporate partners.
The Graduate Entrepreneur Fund ensures that Rotterdam’s collective entrepreneurial acumen and capital transcends generations. Established by influential alumni from Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Erasmus Medical Center, and the Delft University of Technology, the fund has raised nearly $60 million to support founders in early stages.
Rotterdam Startups Make It Happen
American-Dutch scholar and economist Jan de Vries credits the Netherlands for giving rise to the first modern economy in the 16th and 17th centuries. That historic entrepreneurial spirit is imbued within Rotterdam’s DNA and lives on today, serving a new purpose of creating a future-proof society that is digital, circular, and sustainable. Rotterdam is a city of frontrunners and pioneers who continuously drive change. Start your business in Rotterdam and be a part of the “make it happen” culture that makes true innovation possible.
The opinions expressed in this sponsored article do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Startup Genome.