6. Case examples – Policies for entrepreneurial ecosystems

StartupDelta was founded with the mission to make the Netherlands “the best start-up ecosystem in Europe”. To do so, it aims to support the development of the 14 regional ecosystem initiatives which support start-ups and scale-ups at the sub-national level in the Netherlands. It also seeks to create linkages between these independent regional ecosystem initiatives, break down barriers between actors within and across regional ecosystems and improve access to talent, capital, networks, knowledge and markets for entrepreneurs.

The Netherlands aims to foster start-up creation in an effort to promote growth and innovation in response to global challenges. The rationale behind Startup Delta and TechLeap.NL is that creating linkages between the existing innovation-hubs across the country (ten at the outset) should foster national co-operation rather than competition between regional ecosystems (European Commission, 2015), thereby fostering synergies and improving the overall start-up ecosystem in the Netherlands as well as raising its international profile and promoting international linkages. This would benefit domestic entrepreneurs and attract founders of innovative start-ups and scale-ups from abroad.

StartupDelta is an independent public-private partnership, which brings together all regional entrepreneurial ecosystems in the Netherlands1 into one single hub. It is supported by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Education Culture and Science. StartupDelta was launched in January 2015 under the leadership of a Special Envoy. The programme has been implemented in three phases: StartupDelta 1.0 (mid-2015 – mid-2016), StartupDelta 2.0 (mid-2016 – end-2017), and StartupDelta 3.0 (January 2018 – mid-2019). In July 2019 a new phase has started with the launch of the TechLeap.NL, a four-year programme that continues and replaces StartupDelta.

The StartupDelta/TechLeap initiative includes a wide range of actions involving different actors of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and intervening at different stages of the entrepreneurship process, from building an entrepreneurial culture to supporting existing start-ups.

This includes efforts to create better linkages in the ecosystem and facilitate start-ups’ access to key resources, notably through the launch of the startupdelta.org portal which maps the start-up ecosystem of the Netherlands and offers searchable databases for start-ups and knowledge providers (Startup Finder and Science Finder). Another notable initiative is the COSTA collaboration, which brings together Corporates and Start-ups on a platform called the Corporate Launchpad to create business-to-business linkages and opportunities for innovation partnerships and investment. Efforts also include linkages with knowledge providers: the TekDelta pilot programme provides start-ups with access to knowledge and laboratory space at the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research (TNO), Universities of Technology, the telecom provider KPN and other private companies such as Philips and NXP.

The initiative also works to facilitate interactions between entrepreneurs and public services. Together with the Chamber of Commerce it introduced Startupbox, an instrument guiding start-ups to the most suitable public policy programme. It also successfully advocated for a reduction of the application process time for R&D tax deductions for start-ups: it was reduced from 3 months to 1 month. The programme also operates the Startup Officers Network, composed of representatives of government organisations, which aims to improve access of start-ups to government organisations. It has also established a coalition of government departments and municipalities collaborating in a test lab, encouraging local governments to consider investing in start-up led solutions with the goal to foster broader access to public procurement for start-ups.

StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL seeks to attract and support foreign start-ups settling to the Netherlands together with the Netherlands Point of Entry at the Dutch Enterprise Agency. Efforts include the introduction of the Orange Carpet programme, with simplified steps for installation for foreign start-ups and a single support portal for all foreign start-up related issues. The Netherlands also introduced the Startup Visa, a temporary (one-year) residence permit for foreign start-up founders.

The programme works with the government to support the development of policies that makes it easier for start-ups to attract talent, for example by reducing tax obstacles to using “shares as wages” and to develop new rules for attracting essential personnel from outside the EU. It highlights bottlenecks encountered by start-ups and scale-ups and advocates for their inclusion in the policy agenda. Startup Delta/TechLeap.NL is also often consulted on the development of a range of government policies for issues that may be relevant for start-ups and scale-ups.

The programme supports internationalisation of Dutch start-ups through international missions for groups of Dutch start-ups. Missions are frequently organised together with the Dutch Enterprise Agency to global network events (e.g. Consumer Electronics Show, Computex, WebSummit, Slush, SouthbySouthWest, and Hannover Messe), globally known entrepreneurial ecosystems (e.g. the Silicon Valley, Seattle, Tel Aviv, Berlin, London) and promising destinations for Dutch start-ups (e.g. China and South Korea).

A recent initiative is the creation of a community of “start-up diplomats” at embassies and consulates in priority countries to raise the profile of start-up support in the embassy network of the Netherlands. The programme also manages mentor networks, including international peers (start-ups abroad) who provide advice and support to entrepreneurs seeking to expand their activities in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Singapore, London and Berlin and Paris.

Finally, the programme aims to build capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship in society at large through programmes such as Codepact which offers software programming lessons in primary education.

StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL is part of the national entrepreneurship policy and is one of the policy instruments in the national programme Ambitious Entrepreneurship, which targets start-ups and scale-ups. Moreover the programme links to National Innovation System Policy (which is a joint effort of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science).

The programme has informal connections with a variety of actors in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, including policy makers, investors, service providers (incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces etc.), corporates, start-ups and scale-ups in the regional ecosystems. For example, the programme organises regular central meetings of the incubators and accelerators in the regions. While regional ecosystem programmes are fully independent from StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL (both in governance and in finance), StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL serves as a platform and meeting place for regional programmes to align with one another. Moreover it aims to connect different regional ecosystems within the Netherlands as well as accelerate their development and connect them to the world. Thereby StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL is used as a platform for “advertising” the regions abroad.

The initiative also has some linkages to other sub-national programmes, such as the City Deals (City Deal Warm Welkom Talent) and Region Deals. City Deals and Region Deals are local coalitions of multiple public and some private partners aiming to tackle local societal challenges innovatively, co-financed by the national government. These deals are not formally connected to StartupDelta/TechLeap, but the programme publicises them and provides a context of informal alignment and collaboration.

The initiative aims to achieve two overarching targets. A series of sub-goals were also set.

The StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL programme is evaluated every 1.5 years for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, with informal intermediate progress reports provided in between. The evaluations are not publicly available. The targets change in each period. In the first period (StartupDelta 1.0), the focus was on increasing interest in start-ups among politicians, the ministries and the general public. During its second period (StartupDelta 2.0), StartupDelta focused more on stimulating and accelerating structural changes in national and regional policy to support start-ups. StartupDelta 3.0 had four focus areas: (i) the creation of “One Single Hub” (linking the whole Netherlands start-up and scale-up ecosystem through acting like a network of networks) and reinforcing Dutch tech networks within and outside the Netherlands; (ii) helping start-ups scale up, notably by organising missions abroad; (iii) encouraging breakthrough technologies and academic start-ups; (iv) making the ecosystem more transparent with better (accessible) data.

Some objectives are not foreseen to be achieved in one 1.5 year period and objectives have evolved over times. Some goals have been cancelled or transferred to other governmental bodies. For example, the goal to “Remove barriers for start-ups and increase access for start-ups to EU markets” was foreseen to be achieved through the creation of sandboxes for testing of new business models. However, the programme managers judged that this could better be managed by the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Foreign Affairs, to which the responsibility for the objective was transferred.

StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL includes so-called action programmes of 1.5 years, which are evaluated. This includes self-evaluations, which are public, as well as several informal evaluations by external entities, whose reports are not public. The key conclusions of these evaluations are provided in letters to parliament. The first period (StartupDelta 1.0) was assessed favourably by the Ministry of Economy which estimated that it helped: “[put] The Netherlands […] on the map as a start-up-country” (Ministerie van Economische Zaken 2016a). The subsequent periods (StartupDelta 2.0 and StartupDelta 3.0) have been evaluated in more detail. The short term of these action programmes makes the overall programme adaptive to the needs of the players in the start-up ecosystem.

StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL aims to reinforce the national entrepreneurial ecosystem, understood as a national network of regional networks. It focuses on co-ordinating regional interests and aims to provide benefits for all participating regions and limit unproductive competition. In the absence of public information on the results of the evaluation of the programme, it is difficult to identify specific lessons for similar initiatives. Nonetheless, three potential success factors can be identified:

  • A potential strength of the initiative is its holistic approach: the programme targets all actors in the ecosystem and extends support to different types of firms at various stages of development, as well as potential entrepreneurs.

  • A reported strength of the programme is its flexible short-term agendas, allowing for rapid experimentation.

  • An initiative seeking to coordinate different regional ecosystems within a country would be particularly suited to contexts where regions have distinct sectoral specialisations. A possible success factor for this programme is that the different Dutch regions specialise in distinctive R&D areas, which is conducive to co-operation and complementarity.


Ministry of Economic Affairs (2016a), “Vooruitgang door vernieuwing”, Rapportage bedrijvenbeleid 2016”, Ministerie van Economische Zaken.

Ministry of Economic Affairs (2016b), “Bedrijfslevenbeleid”, kst-32637-241, Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat.

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (2018), “Bedrijfslevenbeleid”, kst-32637-312, Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat.

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (2018), “Bedrijfslevenbeleid,” kst-33009-63, Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat.

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (2018), “Bedrijfslevenbeleid”, kst-32637-343, Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat.

StartupDelta (2015), “StartUpdelta’s resultaten van het eerste half jaar en vooruitblik”, StartupDelta.

StartupDelta (2017), “Paving the way for startups”, StartupDelta, Amsterdam.

StartupDelta (2017), “Verantwoording StartupDelta 2.0 en doorkijk naar StartupDelta 3.0”, StartupDelta, Amsterdam.

Tweede Kamer (2016), “StartupDelta 2020. Kamerbrief DGBI-O / 16073917”, StartupDelta, Amsterdam.

Startup Estonia aims to develop and strengthen the start-up ecosystem in Estonia and increase the number of active start-ups, both by incentivising local entrepreneurship and attracting non-EU entrepreneurs to start and grow their business in Estonia.

It aims to support the development of knowledge and skills within the start-up community as well as facilitate access to finance for entrepreneurs. Startup Estonia also seeks to monitor the Estonian tech start-up landscape and its development (investments, funding, and exits).

The long-term objective of the programme is for the Estonian start-up ecosystem to become self-sustaining and the role of Startup Estonia to be transitory.

While Estonia performs well in terms of entrepreneurship development and access to finance for SMEs (second in Europe in 2018 according to the Small Business Act for Europe implementation process), Estonia is below the European Union average in skills and innovation and environment for entrepreneurs and SMEs. Moreover, Enterprise Estonia’s lacked an adapted policy offer for technology-oriented start-ups. Startup Estonia aims to correct that gap by fostering the development of an internationally recognised supportive environment for start-ups which will encourage the development of local ventures and attract foreign entrepreneurs.

Start-up Estonia is a governmental initiative currently implemented by Enterprise Estonia and KredEx. Enterprise Estonia is a government agency that promotes business and regional policy in Estonia and has a technical and administrative role in the programme. KredEx is a government foundation that provides financing to Estonian enterprises in the form of loans, state guarantees and credit insurance, and assists operations of the Startup Estonia programme.

Startup Estonia’s current activities are organised around four strands of action:

  • Supporting the development of the Estonian ecosystem through various community building activities and facilitating its promotion internationally through a branding strategy;

  • Providing training programmes for start-ups;

  • Educating local investors to promote better investments and help them attract foreign capital;

  • Eliminating regulatory barriers and promoting start-up friendly regulation.

Startup Estonia’s activities in support of the start-up ecosystem include monthly community meet-ups, and marketing the Estonian start-up ecosystem locally and abroad through awareness building and information sharing via social media, monthly newsletters and conferences. Startup Estonia also conducts a mapping of the Estonian ecosystem through surveys and analyses and maintains a database of Estonian start-ups.

Startup Estonia’s current activities in support of entrepreneurs include administrative advice, hackathons, and business plan competitions for entrepreneurs. It also entails training programmes for start-ups in areas where they lack specific knowledge that prevents them from scaling up. This may include, for example, assistance in finding partners for sales and marketing, coaching the founders, helping with the business model and regulatory documents, and supporting product development and design. Follow-up activities for Startup Estonia after 2023 focus on further developing the start-up ecosystem and creating a long-term strategic view within the community. Moreover, the aim is to focus more on technology-intensive start-ups and scale-ups and developing their ecosystem.

In order to attract foreign entrepreneurs and investors, Startup Estonia works to reduce regulatory barriers to start-ups’ operations and investment activities in Estonia. Startup Estonia played an advisory role in amending the Aliens Act and developing a Startup Visa programme to attract foreign entrepreneurs from outside the EU. The Startup Visa programme was launched in 2017 and allows third country nationals to settle in Estonia to establish a start-up. A residence permits programme for working in a start-up is also included in the Startup Visa programme to allow Estonian start-ups to recruit third country nationals with preferential terms. Estonia also has an e-residency status, allowing foreign entrepreneurs to headquarter their business in Estonia without physically relocating. Startup Estonia also worked to amend business regulations so that opening a securities account could be done without a physical presence in Estonia. Finally, Startup Estonia analyses the Estonian tax environment and reports to the Startup Europe online tool, which provides recommendations for entrepreneurship and innovation in European countries.

Startup Estonia also educates local investors to help them invest effectively and attract foreign partners to invest in Estonia. It also helps generate business accelerator funds to bring investments into the local ecosystem by seeking cooperation partners, preparing and conducting tender documents for acceleration services. It also supports business angels through skills development and organising study visits, knowledge sharing, and matchmaking in collaboration with the Estonian Business Angels Network (EstBAN). Startup Estonia also represents EstBAN in the European Business Angels Network (EBAN) and fosters linkages with business angels from other countries in the region.

Startup Estonia focuses on growth sectors (emerging sectors with above-average growth and potential to achieve competitive advantage through R&D investment) to generate activities that help their internationalisation, address sector-specific market issues, and facilitate informal business networking within their target markets.

Startup Estonia sets focus areas to connect different sectors with the start-up community. The Cleantech sector was chosen as a first focus area over 2015-17, as a pilot programme in collaboration with the Estonian Ministry of Environment. In 2017, Startup Estonia expanded the activity’s focus to four areas. The current areas of focus include EdTech, Cyber Tech, Ida-Viru programme, and Accelerate Estonia:

  • EdTech (Educational Technology) is a pilot programme that encourages disruptive education innovation in schools and helps EdTech start-ups in their development and growth.

  • The Cyber Tech programme aims to strengthen and grow the local Cyber Tech ecosystem (i.e. ecosystem around cybersecurity processes, technologies and applications) and help Cyber Tech start-ups in their development.

  • Ida-Viru is a pilot programme seeking to develop a sustainable start-up ecosystem in the Ida-Virumaa County as part of efforts to spur development in the region.

  • Accelerate Estonia’s focus is to explore policy areas were disruptive solutions could be brought about to solve important societal issues while creating new markets. In its pilot phase, Accelerate Estonia aims to select five promising concepts for acceleration in 2020.

Although the main aim of Startup Estonia is to develop the ecosystem spanning all sectors, the aim of the focus areas is to provide additional support to sectors where the start-up community has not been very active, in collaboration with the relevant ministries. Similarly, the Ida-Viru programme aims to develop an entrepreneurial mind-set in the local community and foster the development of new opportunities.

Startup Estonia coordinates multiple support programmes and is actively involved with non-governmental actors in the start-up ecosystem. It also plays an advocacy role for the development of start-up friendly legislation and regularly plays an advisory role in developing legislation amendments.

The Startup Estonia initiative has set quantitative targets based on its objectives. The key performance indicators used to monitor progress include:

Startup Estonia prepares quarterly interim and annual reports on its results and how there were achieved, including what activities had the most impact on achieving relevant targets. These reports are not published.

In order to better monitor the ecosystem, Startup Estonia provides statistical overviews of Estonian start-ups including statistics on taxes paid, funds raised, jobs created by start-ups, and growing industries. These statistical overviews started in 2016 and are published biannually on the Startup Estonia website.

An unpublished preliminary analysis of the ecosystem landscape was conducted in 2016. It included an assessment of Startup Estonia’s activities by ecosystem actors. In 2017, Startup Estonia implemented some suggestions from this evaluation, including the renewal of the start-up database and the development of additional activities in relation to the Estonian Startup Visa programme (i.e. promotional activities in target countries) (Michelson, 2018).

The target number of potential and active start-ups that have benefitted from Startup Estonia was achieved by early 2018 with approximately 1 000 potential and current entrepreneurs participating in the training programmes. Between January 2017 (introduction of the Startup Visa programme) and January 2019, 1 108 applications (from 80 countries) were submitted for the Startup Visa programme. As a result, 281 founders received a visa or residence permit and 605 people were granted a visa or residence permit to work in Estonian start-ups. Moreover, 20 enterprises received training for international sales and marketing. The number of enterprises that attract international capital of EUR 1 million within three years of getting support will be assessed starting in 2020 as the indicator was initiated in 2017.

Startup Estonia publishes regular overviews of the Estonian start-up sector. By mid-2019, the programme estimated that 650 start-ups were in operation, among which 35 were established in the first half of 2019. These firms employed an estimated 4 848 people, up from 3 369 a year earlier.

Aside from quantitative indicators, major reported outcomes of the programmes include launching a public procurement programme to create accelerator funds for the provision of venture capital for start-ups/early stage businesses; hosting the world's largest green technology start-up contest (Climate Launchpad European Finals) for 90 start-ups from 30 countries; and creating a start-up database.

The main current challenge for Startup Estonia and participating enterprises seems to be the administrative burden arising from the European Structural and Investment Fund’s (ESIF) requirements.

There is no information available on other major challenges encountered. However, Startup Estonia’s activities have evolved over time:

  • The programme was launched in October 2010 to improve the innovation policy and the framework conditions for private investment in R&D. It started offering financial support to start-ups in 2011 and later developed its other advice and training activities.

  • Initially, The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications of Estonia, Estonian Development Fund, and Enterprise Estonia developed the programme with the Estonian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association being the advisory board. From 2011 to 2013, Startup Estonia was used to finance three business accelerators through Enterprise Estonia, organise a start-up conference and support trips to Silicon Valley for start-ups.

  • In 2013, the Startup Estonia programme identified a need for a bigger team, leading to the Estonian Development Fund taking over as an implementing body in 2014 and the further development of the programme activities as a pilot for the current version of the programme. In 2015, the current Startup Estonia programme (2015-23) was launched and activities expanded, notably towards improving regulations affecting start-ups’ operation, investments and fundraising.

Although evaluations are not published, a case study reports that evaluation results are incorporated in the programme’s development as discussed above (Michelson, 2018).

Startup Estonia is perceived as having been successful in fostering the development of the start-up ecosystem in Estonia and in facilitating entrepreneurship and investment in the country.

The following lessons could inform the development of similar initiatives:

  • A holistic approach, targeting multiple aspects of the ecosystem simultaneously is important to foster the development of start-ups. Start-up Estonia promoted the development of the business development service sector, with an estimated 100 active organisations in 2019.

  • A mapping of the ecosystem is particularly useful to help entrepreneurs and firms navigate the ecosystem. It can also help identify policy intervention needs.

  • A balance should be sought between a bottom-up approach and a co-ordinated top-down approach. Startup Estonia has succeeded in engaging with ecosystem actors in a bottom-up fashion, but better co-ordination with the main national entrepreneurial and R&D policies would be an asset.

  • Development of an initiative to strengthen an ecosystem should include mechanisms to incorporate feedback from different stakeholders. A strong monitoring and evaluation framework should also be set up in order to regularly assess the efficiency of approaches and adapt support over time. Transparency in reporting would be an advantage for the engagement of ecosystem actors.

  • Efforts to improve the regulatory system should be included in efforts to foster a conducive start-up ecosystem.

  • The administrative process for entrepreneurs to apply to and participate in a programme should not be too burdensome and resources should be set aside to ensure that end-user (i.e. entrepreneurs and SMEs) requests can be dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.


EC (2017d), “2018 SBA Fact Sheet – Estonia”, European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/32581/attachments/9/translations/en/renditions/native

European Commission (2010), ERAWATCH Country Reports: Estonia, 2010”, https://rio.jrc.ec.europa.eu/en/

Klingler-Vidra, R. (2018), “Global review of diversity and inclusion in business innovation”, LSE Consulting, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/777640/Global_Review_LSE_Consulting_2019.pdf

Mällo and Sillavee (2019), Deep dive into the Estonian startup sector in 2019, Startup Estonia, https://www.startupestonia.ee/blog/deep-dive-into-the-estonian-startup-sector-in-2019.

Michelson, A. (2018), “Future of manufacturing Startup Estonia – Internationalisation policy measure”, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), https://euagenda.eu/upload/publications/untitled-191856-ea.pdf

Startup Estonia (2017), “Taxes paid, funding raised, popular industries and more -startup statistics from 2016”, www.startupestonia.ee/blog/startup-statistics-from-2016

Startup Estonia (2019), “Two year anniversary of the Estonian Startup Visa, 2019”, www.startupestonia.ee/blog/two-year-anniversary-of-the-estonian-startup-visa

Startup Estonia (2019), “Value for investors”, www.startupestonia.ee/why-estonia/value-for-investors.

The Dutch Centres for Entrepreneurship (DutchCE) aim to stimulate an entrepreneurial society. In practice, the DutchCE network aims to (i) Strengthen entrepreneurship education; (ii) Strengthen entrepreneurship research; (iii) Apply entrepreneurship education and research; (iv) Support policy making and (v) Represent and promote the Dutch ecosystem (DutchCE, n.d.).

The DutchCE programme was created by universities as a way to facilitate co-operation on entrepreneurship education, notably in the context of the organisation of joint events such as the Global Entrepreneurship Week. Indeed, a number of entrepreneurship centres were active in the Netherlands, but they were operating on a small scale, with limited individual capacity. The rationale for DutchCE was that the creation of a network would allow centres to pool capacity to promote joint research and knowledge sharing on entrepreneurship education, at low operational costs. Public support was granted to DutchCE to further this co-operation, as part of a wider agenda to support entrepreneurship education.

Indeed, DutchCE was introduced after the end of the Education and Entrepreneurship programme (Onderwijs en Ondernemen) (2008-15), which supported the development of initiatives on entrepreneurship in education, including regional centres for entrepreneurship, leading to entrepreneurship becoming an important part of many higher education institution (HEI) strategies. The DutchCE programme also has some indirect linkages to the Valorisation programme (Valorisatieprogramma) (2010-18), which offered grants to universities for developing valorisation activities (including the creation of dedicated centres, some of which later became DutchCE centres).

The DutchCE initiative builds on these initiatives with the aim to develop national cooperation between universities’ centres for entrepreneurship as a means to increase the quality of entrepreneurship education and research, foster complementarity and increase the impact of centres by stimulating application of entrepreneurship research and informing policy making.

Created in 2015, DutchCE is the network of Centres for Entrepreneurship in public universities and universities of applied science in the Netherlands. It was created as a bottom-up initiative and involves 20 HEIs, 6 major incubators/accelerators, and 4 key partner organisations over the country. Centres offer entrepreneurship programmes for students, staff, and local entrepreneurs. Notable university centres for entrepreneurship include the founding partners of the DutchCE network: the Amsterdam Centre for Entrepreneurship (ACE), the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE), the Saxion Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Utrecht Centre for Entrepreneurship (UtrechtCE).

The DutchCE network is led by a board which includes representatives from two universities, a university of applied science, an entrepreneurial support organisation and an entrepreneur. The DutchCE network makes use of multiple coordination mechanisms. For example, the Dutch Association for Research in Entrepreneurship (DARE) is used for research co-operation on entrepreneurship. It operates a portal for academic research and education in entrepreneurship in the Netherlands and aims to improve cooperation in this area as well as provide input to long-term research programmes on entrepreneurship and to the Dutch Centres for Entrepreneurship. Several alliances are also in place for education and pedagogy.

To reach its five objectives, the DutchCE and its centres carry out different strands of activities. An important area of work for the DutchCE network is valorisation of research: the Network works to ensure the transfer of the knowledge developed in HEIs to entrepreneurs, businesses and other organisations (including the government). As such, DutchCE promotes technology transfer and commercialisation and supports Dutch entrepreneurs in expanding their exporting capacity.

In the domain of entrepreneurship education, an important activity is Dutch Students for Entrepreneurship (DutchSE), a fast-growing network affiliated with DutchCE. DutchSE is an umbrella organisation gathering major student organisations in the Netherlands to help them promote entrepreneurship and share resources and knowledge on the subjects. The network promotes and facilitates information and knowledge sharing, maps entrepreneurship events and carries out student-led but also student-designed activities.

DutchCE endeavours to effectively use academic research on entrepreneurship to support policymaking. It consults with governments at all levels, from local authorities to the EU and also proposes its advisory services to interest groups. DutchCE also plays an advocacy role to ensure that important topics related to entrepreneurship are on the policy agenda. DutchCE also develops qualitative benchmarks for policy.

Individual centres themselves carry out a range of activities. The ECE for example offers an incubator space and other entrepreneurship support services. It was developed in close collaboration with local partners including the municipality of Rotterdam, faculties from the university, other local HEIs, the Erasmus Medical Centre and Rotterdam based companies. The main goal was to facilitate learning between corporate innovators, knowledge institutions, students and entrepreneurs to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation. ECE currently hosts about 150 companies; mostly start-ups but also supporting organisations (including an expertise centre, a business angel network, a crowdfunding company, investors and subsidy advisors).

The ECE holds around 600 events and programmes a year ranging from entrepreneurship education for students or (aspiring) entrepreneurs to innovation challenges with corporate innovators, start-ups and students. ECE runs a validation programme (Get Started), an incubation programme (Get Business), and collaborates with an accelerator (EO Accelerator NL). It also offers executive entrepreneurship education for SMEs such as the New Business Cycle programme (focused on the ability to innovate and adapt new business models in an existing business) and for larger firms through the Leading Innovation Excellence Programme. ECE also hosts peer-to-peer learning sessions and community networking events. All programmes focus on developing entrepreneurial competences based on individual needs, using an experiential learning methodology (i.e. “learning by doing”).

DutchCE is closely linked to the wider StartupDelta/TechLeap.NL initiative (Case 14: Startup Delta/TechLeap.NL, the Netherlands) that connects regional entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country.

DutchCE collaborates with various public and private sectors partners to further its objectives. Key domestic partners include JongOndernehmenm, a foundation that provides entrepreneurship education programmes and supports young entrepreneurs, the aforementioned DARE initiative, and Handelsroute*NL2, which supports entrepreneurs internationalization.

DutchCE also liaises with international partners including academic organisations (e.g. the Academy of Management, the International Council of Small Business), research organisations (e.g. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor), and entrepreneur support entities (e.g. Global Entrepreneurship Network and Global Entrepreneurship Week).

Each Centre monitors its activities independently. No network-wide evaluation has been conducted. However, many DutchCE participants have shared reports on their activities.

Work on improving metrics and coordination is ongoing. Three of the Centres are also on the advisory board of the European Union-supported Evaluation of Entrepreneurship Education Programmes in Higher Education Institutions and Centres (EEEPHEIC) project, which is developing a toolkit to assess impact of entrepreneurship education programmes.

While there is no published evaluation of DutchCE as a whole, some centres share information on their activities and achievements. ECE for example, estimated that the 150 companies located at its campus have created 850 new jobs since its opening. Over 5 000 students have followed entrepreneurship education or participated in events at the centre. Founders and innovators from around 1 500 companies have also been supported through programmes: about 500 entrepreneurs have followed the validation and incubation programmes, and another 950 participants from SMEs and other firms have followed the New Business Cycle or another entrepreneurship education programme at the ECE.

Similarly, UtrechtCE reports 157 users over 2011-16, of which 63% successful launched a business. The centre estimates that supported firms have collectively generated EUR 84 million in revenues and created 1 125 jobs (Utrecht University, 2017).

A challenge that has been identified by DutchCE members is that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education is not a core mission of universities. As such, it is not embedded in university budgets, which affects long-term planning and makes it more difficult to support entrepreneurship research. In practice, some of the centres initially involved in DutchCE have been closed, and many have shifted activities to focus more on acceleration and technology transfer and less on entrepreneurship education and research activities.

Another challenge that has been identified by centres is a difficulty to select appropriate metrics for evaluating their activities. For example, identifying and assessing the development of entrepreneurship courses across institutions and over time is not straightforward, as entrepreneurship courses vary widely in content and may be given under various names.

The DutchCE Network creates linkages between diverse organisations and is not centrally evaluated, as drawing definitive conclusions on its design and implementation is difficult. However, the network is perceived by participants as filling a need for coordination in the ecosystem. It also has the potential to increase impacts of HEI investments in entrepreneurship teaching and start-up support by co-ordinating activities of different centres: for example, by fostering collaborative research on entrepreneurship and encouraging the development of applied research in this area. Another potential strength of the programme is the ability of local centres to develop partnerships in entrepreneurial communities, locally and at the national and international level and connecting students with the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Potential factors for success in developing a similar initiative include the following:

  • Similar initiatives should consider setting strategic objectives and embedding them in the overall strategic objectives of universities.

  • Setting up a network-wide monitoring and evaluation framework could help similar networks set clear objectives for their network and monitor its progress, as well as facilitate peer learning between centres.


DARE (2019), DARE website, Dutch Association for Research in Entrepreneurship, www.dare-research.nl.

DutchCE (n.d.), Dutch Centres for Entrepreneurship website, www.dutchce.nl/dutchce.

DutchSE (2019), DutchSE website, www.dutchse.nl/.

EC (2017), 2015 SBA Fact Sheet Netherlands, European Commission.

EC (2016), 2016 SBA Fact Sheet Netherlands, European Commission.

EC (2015), 2015 SBA Fact Sheet Netherlands, European Commission.

Krueger, N. (2019), Interview with Professor Hein Roelfsema, Utrecht University, unpublished.

Startup Delta (2019), Startup Delta website, startupdelta.org.

Utrecht University (2016), Eindevaluatie VALP 10008, 2011 – 2016, Utrecht University.


← 1. The Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Leiden, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Groningen, Friesland, Limburg, Eindhoven, Twente, Delft, Wageningen, and Arnhem/Nijmegen regions.

← 2. handelsroute.nl

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