Accelerators and Business Plan Competitions

In my third post on social entrepreneurship in a developed country, I mentioned that there is already an extensive infrastructure in place to support general entrepreneurship in The Netherlands.  This is not too surprising given that The Netherlands was ranked as the most entrepreneurial country in Europe in 2011 according to The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey, with 7.2% of those aged 18-64 who already own or are considering starting their own ventures.[1]

New Ventures

I was at round 2 of the 3 round business plan competition organized by New Ventures.  They are the oldest and first business plan competition in The Netherlands, founded in 1998 by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and McKinsey & Company with a coaching methodology to provide consulting for innovative entrepreneurial ideas.  Round 2 had 20 ventures with 1 minute elevator pitches (each venture had also submitted a more detailed feasibility study in advance), with 10 ventures winning EUR 1000 each.  In the final round, three winners of round 3 will receive EUR 20,000 each.

The round 2 event I attended consisted of ventures across many different sectors (and not restricted to social entrepreneurs):  from a blood test to diagnose heart disorders (Angio Print) to an online music platform that allows you to use visual maps to create playlists (Muzikool).  Of the 20 ventures, there were a number of interesting initiatives with a social or environmental focus:

  • Elemental Water Makers – a desalination system using solar and / or wind energy to transform seawater to drinking water
  • Energy Transformers – using plastic litter to create hybrid solid biofuel
  • One Night’s Tent – a bio-based, compostable two person tent for music festivals available to buy online, pick up on site and leave behind after the event
  • Proov – E-mobility solution allowing electric buses to drive at the cost of a diesel bus
  • Rural Spark – an off-grid energy system in India where a villager rents the renewable energy system and becomes a local entrepreneur by supplying energy at a charge to other villagers.

Of the above, Elemental Water Makers and One Night’s Tent were among the 10 winners of round 2.  Proov won the ANWB Sustainable Mobility Award. A full list of the ventures in round 2 can be found here and press release of the round 2 winners here (both links in Dutch).

Co-existing Competitions

In addition to New Ventures, there are at least 15 other start up competitions / accelerators across the country.  Contrary to what may initially appear as competition among the competitions, it can actually be seen as a positive re-inforcement that there is so much encouragement for entrepreneurs.  In fact, a number of entrepreneurs I have spoken to have already been involved in a number of competitions, which (in addition to the prize money motivation) shows how each competition or accelerator program provides their own unique value.  In terms of Village Capital, two of they key differentiators from other competitions are:

1)      Peer model

Allowing ventures to actively provide real time feedback on each others’ business models and empowering them to sit in the investor’s seat to select who will win investment funding among themselves.

2)      Serving the middle ground

Many business plan competitions take ventures from idea stage to business plan.  Village Capital participants have already established their business plans and are typically post-revenue or at least with a pilot or proof of concept.  The program content and investment funding targets enterprises who want to scale up their ventures and serves as a middle ground between business plan completion and series A funding.

It was very interesting to experience a glimpse of the oldest and largest business plan competition in The Netherlands.  Given that the different competitions and accelerators are all working for the same end goal of fostering entrepreneurship and innovation through a business, it would be very welcome to see more collaboration among a space which is already so active.