The ​​Dutch entrepreneurship paradox: why does the Dutch scaleup ecosystem succeed less than it could?

We have seen the Netherlands become one of the best startup ecosystems in the world. Nevertheless, only a few startups turn into scaleups - why is that? While there are multiple factors that might act as scaling barriers, a culture that enables the growth of startups seems to be missing in the Netherlands. In our latest report - Thinking Bigger: How ambitious is the Dutch entrepreneur?, created in partnership with Utrecht University School of Economics, we explore the level of ambition of Dutch entrepreneurs and the phenomenon of the Dutch entrepreneurship paradox. The paradox implies that we build strong innovative businesses, but we don’t focus on growth for businesses to become scaleups and unicorns and create large economic and societal value.


Download the full report

To learn how the entrepreneurial culture differs in demographics and how we can kickstart an ambitious culture in the Dutch ecosystem, we encourage you to download the full report for free!

What are some of the key takeaways from the report, you might ask? We’ve summarised them in 4 points.

The Dutch place higher value on starting their own business than growing it successfully.

Most entrepreneurs are not focused on scaling their business models. This is especially the case for the Netherlands. Data from the Global Entrepreneurship

Monitor (GEM) shows that compared internationally the Dutch place higher value on self-employment and starting your own business than growing it successfully.

This is referred to as the Dutch Entrepreneurship Paradox. The Dutch have a relatively low fear of failure paired with a high appreciation of entrepreneurship as a career choice, but their appreciation for successful entrepreneurship has not reached similar enabling levels. This suggests that there is still untapped potential to leverage the benefits of scaling up.

We must transcend the culture of ‘Just act normal, that is crazy enough as it is’ and give entrepreneurs the possibilities to set their ambitions high.

Women participate less in the ‘unicorn-rich’ innovation and technology sectors. However, this gender gap is smaller in innovative businesses than tech-driven businesses.

Another challenge in translating ambition levels to success is the industry in which entrepreneurs are active. The biggest and fastest-growing companies today are tech-driven companies. Dutch female entrepreneurs, however, are less frequently involved in technology- or innovation-related activities than male entrepreneurs. Figure 1 highlights this gender difference in tech- and innovation-driven entrepreneurship.


Women entrepreneurship is growing, but society can help them aim higher

There is clearly a lot of untapped potential in the Netherlands when it comes to female ambitious entrepreneurship. Even though the number of women entrepreneurs is growing, those aiming for substantial growth are still rare. That becomes especially evident when comparing the growth-oriented entrepreneurship of Dutch women with Israeli or American (see Figure 2).  

Even though solving this issue is far from straightforward, ecosystem support should probably focus more on facilitating ambitious female entrepreneurship to enhance their ability to attract venture capital and grow large, valuable businesses.


We call out to Dutch role models: Speak up and encourage big ambitions

Through our research, we saw that the self-perceived confidence to start and run a business differs per previous entrepreneurial experience and gender. This way, if a founder has had previous entrepreneurial experience (good or bad), he or she is more confident in the success of their next startup launch. In fact, as Figure 3 showcases, the percentage of entrepreneurs who believe they can build a startup doubled for men and tripled for women.

Therefore, it is crucially important to encourage big ambitions and pay more positive attention to entrepreneurs who have discontinued their first entrepreneurial ventures. This way serial entrepreneurs might be better incentivised to share and build upon their learnings. Another way to do it is by fostering a culture of sharing and paying it forward between experienced and first-time founders. The experience of failure, an essential part of the entrepreneurial process can be very important in future (fruitful) attempts at ambitious entrepreneurship.


Curious to learn more? Download the full Thinking Bigger Report: How ambitious is the Dutch entrepreneur

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