Supporting New Business in Utrecht
Enter Network’s activities and meetups (such as our Startup Funding Meetup) are mostly revolved around Utrecht. Utrecht is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands, and with 350 thousands inhabitants in the city alone, there’s no wonder new businesses start here every day. Although it may not boast an entrepreneurial community as large as Amsterdam, Utrecht evolved into a force to be reckoned with. From UtrechtInc’s startup incubator to different entrepreneurial communities like Utrecht Community (UCo), there are a number of organizations that actively promote entrepreneurs and startups in and around Utrecht. In this article, we will provide an overview of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that Utrecht offers and discuss some of its startups.
We will go into entrepreneurial organisations and initiatives, as well as providing examples of Utrechts most well-known start-ups. At last we will give a glimpse on startups from Utrecht, which could be the unicorns of tomorrow. Let’s start!
Note: Do you have an initiative or organization that we should mention here? Let us know!
What and who make up Utrecht’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem?
If we look at the startup ecosystem in Utrecht, there are several organizations that come to mind. Initiatives that actively help build startups include UtrechtInc, StartupUtrecht, Holland Startup, the municipality of Utrecht and the Economic Board Utrecht.
In addition, there are a number of office and co-working spaces that currently cater to Utrecht’s startups and entrepreneurs. On the one hand, these include ./Utrecht (‘Dot Slash’), De Stadstuin, the newly opened MindSpace, Tribes and Utrecht Community (UCo). But there are also numerous other coworking spaces that do not have a specific focus on startups. Examples of these are Het Nieuwe Kantoor (HNK), Hooghiemstra, Vondelparc and the new Creative Valley.
In short, there are dozens of organizations and initiatives that help make up the Utrecht entrepreneurial ecosystem. But in this case, we’re particularly interested in organizations that actively contribute to this ecosystem and put Utrecht on the map as a vibrant startup city. We’ll discuss these one by one.
UtrechtInc is a university incubator. The incubator is an initiative from the University of Utrecht, the Utrecht Medical Centre (UMC Utrecht) and the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. As such, it is located at the university campus (de Uithof) just on the East side of the city. UtrechtInc has a strong focus on startups in education, health and environment. A significant part of startups participating in the UtrechtInc incubator are spin-offs from research conducted at one of the affiliated universities.
UtrechtInc offers different programs for aspiring entrepreneurs. From workshops about entrepreneurship (think business model canvas, lean startup, etc.) to specific programs catered to scientists who want to walk the entrepreneurial path. Their main incubation program is called the Pressure Cooker, a 4-month program for people who want to build their idea into a working prototype. UtrechtInc runs this program twice to three times per year, and the fee is currently set at €1850,- per startup. Popular graduates of UtrechtInc’s programs include Distimo (acquired by AppAnnie), unicorn GitLab, MoneyMonk and Stucomm.
Aside from UtrechtInc’s pressure cooker and science venture programs, the incubator also hosts a coworking space called the Garage. The Garage is a co-working space where anyone can rent a desk, both as a freelancer and as a budding entrepreneur. Costs are relatively low and a variety of Utrecht-based entrepreneurs work here 24/7.
StartupUtrecht is a collaboration between different organizations in the city, such as the Economic Board Utrecht, Dot Slash and UtrechtInc. StartupUtrecht’s goal is to promote startups and scale-ups in Utrecht. One of the ways it does this is by organizing events, such as the monthly Startup Scaleup Meetup. In addition, the organization provides a great overview of relevant resources for company founders looking for capital, talent or founding customers.
Despite its name, Holland Startup is based in Utrecht. This venture builder “builds digital companies together with young entrepreneurs”. It actively looks for new startups to join its accelerator program, and so-called ‘Entrepreneurs in Residence’. This means that the company already has a specific idea they want to create, but need the right entrepreneur — which could be you — to create it.
The Municipality of Utrecht
The municipality of Utrecht is also an important stakeholder in the Utrecht startup ecosystem. The municipality actively promotes (and partly funds) different organizations in the region that help startups. Plus they promote entrepreneurship in the city and offer entrepreneurs specific subsidies.
In addition, the municipality has one designated account manager for startups and scaleups. His or her job is to help startups in Utrecht by providing them with interesting contacts for funding, office space, and much more.
The Economic Board Utrecht (EBU)
As stated earlier, the Economic Board Utrecht or EBU funds StartupUtrecht and in this way this organization promotes entrepreneurship in the region. It also has specific funds and subsidies available for entrepreneurs. These range from the national fund for feasibility projects for SMEs (‘MIT-haalbaarheidsprojecten’) to crowdfunding-related loans with very favorable terms.
The EBU also tracks different startups in the region, by providing the Startup Map on their website. This map currently shows over 220 startups from the region Utrecht which have been founded between 1-5 years ago and have less than 20 people on payroll. This helps to track entrepreneurship in the region.
Rabo Bank also plays a role in fostering entrepreneurship in Utrecht. The bank has partnered with several funding and accelerator programs (like Startupbootcamp and Techleap), it offers the Rabo Sustainable Innovation Award. But apart from their entrepreneurial efforts in the whole of the Netherlands they also have a funding program in Utrecht.
The Rabo Pre Seed Fund (in collaboration with Utrecht University, Utrecht Holdings and the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RvO)) is offered by UtrechtInc and provides a loan of up to €68,000 for early stage startups.
Rabo Bank is mostly focussing startups active in Food and Agriculture, FinTech and Cybersecurity.
Famous Startups from Utrecht
All these different organizations work together to put Utrecht on the map in terms of entrepreneurship and startups. And while we often talk about Amsterdam being the startup capital of the Netherlands, Utrecht has seen its fair share of startups that were founded here and saw tremendous growth. Here are some of the best examples of famous startups from Utrecht.
GitLab is one of the few unicorn startups (valued at over $1 billion) that has a link with the city of Utrecht. The company offers DevOps lifecycle management tools. It was founded in 2011 and received its first round of funding from the Rabo Pre-Seed Fund of UtrechtInc.
Since then, it has participated in the world’s most famous incubator YCombinator and raised several rounds of funding; it currently is valued at over $1 billion USD. A variety of large tech companies, from IBM to NASA, make use of GitLab’s software.
SnappCar was founded in 2011 and took part in the UtrechtInc incubator. It is a peer-to-peer car-sharing platform that allows the user to rent out their cars privately to other users. With their startup, the founders Pascal Ontijd and Viktor van Tol are aiming to decrease the total amount of owned cars by 5 million till 2022.
So far, Snapp Car is active in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark and has raised around €15 million in funding, from companies like Europcar or Autobinck. As of 2016, SnappCar has 250,000 users and 30,000 vehicles available on its platform.
Blendle has been described as the I-Tunes of news articles. Instead of buying a whole magazine — or starting a magazine subscription — users can buy single articles to read. Recently Blendl announced it was working on a subscription service.
Founded in 2013 by Marten Blankensteijn and Alexander Klöpping, Blendle has acquired over 1 million users and is publishing in German, Dutch and English. Additionally, it raised €7 million in funding from NYT Company and Axel Springer.
Merus is active in the biotech sector. It developed immunotherapies — which activate the natural immune system of the patient — which help to fight cancer. Compared to conventional methods, this new treatment can be more effective and significantly reduce side-effects,.
Founded in 2003 by Ton Logtenberg, Merus has become one of the leading biotech companies in the Netherlands and has raised €149 million in funding.
On United Wardrobe, users can sell and buy second-hand clothing, shoes and accessories. Founded in 2014 by three students from Wageningen, the now Utrecht based scale-up has established itself as the biggest online marketplace of its kind in the Netherlands and Belgium. The marketplace currently boasts over 1.1 million users, and has raised €1 million in funding. It’s working on expanding its operations in France and Germany.
A Sample of Interesting Startups from Utrecht (2019)
These startups are great examples of fast-growing companies from Utrecht. But there are hundreds of companies that will take their place in the future. The people behind them are building the companies of tomorrow, and to showcase these, we’ve selected a few interesting startups from Utrecht to share with you.
Näpp is a platform that connects international babysitters with international families in order to insure a traditional upbringing. The platform was founded by international student Loviisa Vähävuori as a school project. Since the beginning of 2019 it has been part of the UtrechtInc and has become a fast-moving platform for the international community in Utrecht, Amsterdam and increasingly all major cities in the Netherlands.
LALA Land aspires to change fashion advertising. Founded by Michael Musandu, Jeroen Henrix and Ugnius Rimsa, LALA Land is part of UtrechtInc´s pressure cooker since the beginning of 2019. This young start-up creates computer generated ¨models¨ for online fashion stores — with the help of AI. Adding to the reduced cost compared to a model shoot, images of models can change depending on the consumer itself and therefore show more relevant ads – e.g. Indian models for Indian consumers and middle-aged models for middle-aged consumers.
In this way, LALA Land is creating individualised advertisements on a large scale.
Remind2Change is as simple as it is genius. Remind2Change offers a small, portable device, which is vibrating frequently, in order to remember things you normally tend to forget. The use for this device can range from correcting your posture over taking diabetes vaccines to just remembering to drink or take a break.
Founder Steven Streefkerk has been working on Remind2Change for about two years already and since early 2019 it also became part of the UtrechtInc pressure cooker.
Nibblr was founded in 2017 by Yannick Kampschoer and has since developed into one of Utrechts most aspiring startups. A great example of the sharing economy, Nibblr is introducing the concept of ¨social dining¨ by connecting people to eat together, who can in turn save money and have a good conversation.
The HR startup 2DaysMood was founded in 2015 and has recently developed a 15-second survey on employee happiness and fulfillment and work. The company is focussing on increasing employee satisfaction and happiness by tracking the effects of dissatisfaction at work.
Recently (as of July 2019), 2DaysMood has collaborated with the Dutch ProRail (4,500 employees) and raised €360,000 in funding.
Utrecht as a Startup City
Each of the ten startups we introduced may have the potential to change the world — and some of them already did. In recent years, Utrecht has become increasingly attractive to early-stage startups. And seeing it’s no wonder why. With its dynamic entrepreneurial network, its approachable community and vibrant initiatives, it has positioned itself as a competitive startup city in the Netherlands, next to Amsterdam.
It might not have the size as its ‘big brother’, but the city’s close-knit community and different organizations supporting entrepreneurship (such as our own Enter Network), make it an attractive location that can help young startups to flourish — possibly better than in any other city in the Netherlands. Unicorn GitLab or car sharing company SnappCar are proof of this, and we are excited to see which will be the next Utrecht-based that will go on to change the world.