A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better” – Richard Branson.
So you’ve got an idea, an idea worth pursuing, an idea which will solve a problem and you’ve decided to take a deep breath and dive into the unknown world of entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. What do you do first? Where do you need to go? What paperwork do you need to do? What do you need to know? Well these questions can be rather complicated and confusing to answer (as I found out the hard way).
As an international student in the Netherlands, there were not many options for me to start a company and be allowed to stay here to run it. Registering a business in the Netherlands is actually rather simple but obtaining the permit to stay in the country to operate it is a different story. With this article, I would like to share with you my personal experience which I learned from my journey of building up my company SendByShare Solutions B.V: crowdshipping platform and Efoodmarkt: the first marketplace for food and beverages. Also, tips that helped me to get a Dutch recognized facilitator and successfully receive recommendations from them to sustain my entrepreneurial journey in the Netherlands.
In this article I will take you by the hand and guide you step by step through starting a business in the Netherlands. I will explain what resources and websites to look for, what visa to apply for, where you can network and grow closer with a community of entrepreneurs and how to raise funds for your start-up.
Equip Yourself with Necessary Information
First and foremost, you need to check some important websites to know how to start a business in the Netherlands. The Dutch government has a lot of initiatives to build and support their start-up ecosystem. As such, they provide a lot of public resources on how to start a company in the Netherlands. Notable websites include:
- Kvk.nl: Kvk is the Chamber of Commerce where your company is registered. Kvk will provide you your company KvK number as an identify number for your customers to recognize you and verify your legit. After you have your company KvK number, your VAT number will be issued by the Tax Office and your company is legal to do business in the Netherlands.
- RvO.nl: RvO is Netherlands Enterprise Agency from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. In this platform, you will find all related information about business in different sectors. And they also provide information about Grants and Subsidies of different organizations in the Netherlands.
- Your own city hall’s (Gemeente)website: you can get all updates about events, projects and city’s policies at your business location.
- Ind.nl: the most important website is IND for all related information about self-employment which you can apply to stay in the Netherlands by doing your own business.
Getting a Visa
After you know the big picture of how to start a company in the Netherlands, you can get started by choosing which road for getting a visa. Based on my experience, there are two roads that you can choose:
- Start-up visa: you need to find a recognized facilitator from RVO. https://english.rvo.nl/find-facilitator. With this visa, you will get 1 year to stay and after that you will need to apply for Self-employment visa through your facilitator’s recommendation to have enough 90 points without go to normal point system. If you cannot get this recommendation, you must apply Self-employment visa as a normal scheme with the point system.
- Self-employment visa: Eligibility is assessed based on a point system. You must have 30 points for each of the following 3 sections, or total of 90 points: (1) personal experience, (2) your business plan (3) added value of your company’s activities for the Dutch economy.
In September 2018, I chose to apply for a start-up visa because of two reasons. The first motivation was to get further support from Dutch facilitators for my business idea, which had gained initial validation through a startup competition. Secondly, a start-up visa is one of the best ways to get guidance from experienced coaches who not only have valuable knowledge and networks, but also provide a gateway to the Dutch market. So, if your idea is approved by a Dutch organization, this is already your first achievement. An entrepreneur not only builds a product or service but also needs to have a vision to build a strategy for the business and for yourself.
Knowing your possibilities and entry strategy is just the first step. A thorough plan is the next step to “get you in”. In my case, once I decided on applying for a start-up visa, I started to prepare my business portfolio: a business plan and a pitch deck to send to 30 facilitators at that time. You can find them in the link that I mentioned in point 5 (https://english.rvo.nl/find-facilitator). Your business plan and pitch deck should clearly show what your idea is, what is unique or innovative about it, how you plan to monetize it and how it can grow.
If a facilitator likes your portfolio, they will invite you for an interview. So you should prepare for all the questions that they could ask about your business: how do you build the product/ service? Why do you think it is innovative? how many people are there in your team? and many more questions related to your business and motivation.
To help you prepare, you can join some events in your city about managing startups which will give you a good idea of trends, markets, and networking, and all-in-all to learn more from experienced entrepreneurs. For example, in Rotterdam, Venturecafe is one of the venues I enjoyed or you can join others like KPN start-up network, World start-up events, Forward Incubator, etc.
Once you get into an incubation program, you will go through a training of 3 or more months, depending on the organization. They often have a coaching team covering various aspects to help you to turn your idea to reality. And you should remember that your business will decide your visa status after a 1 – year startup visa. The recommendation for the visa will be decided based on your business performance and progress.
Networking is an important skill to do business in the Netherlands (or anywhere else I believe ☺). To prepare for my startup visa, I joined a lot of networking events in different cities where many facilitators, which I applied to, also presented. Through these events, I gained a better understanding of the market needs and what facilitators were looking for, and to whom my idea was best suited. Each facilitator has their own goals and business model, so you need to fit into their ecosystem to be accepted.
Networking events can lead to investment/funding opportunities. In some events, the organizers will give the opportunity for a 1-minute pitch to tell who you are and what you are doing. This is a great way to get yourself out there and inspire people with your idea. When someone is interested in your idea, it could turn into some real investments from angel investors or invitations from seeding capital firms.
Finance is an important part for your business and your visa. Financial plan is one of criteria for incubators and Immmigration officers to evaluate your business and ensure you have capability to live in the Netherlands. So starting fund raising through your network is a good start to get experiences and feedback to prepare for bigger events.
How to Fund your Business
Fundraising always causes difficulties to entrepreneur at the beginning so understanding how it works and what resources are will increase your chance to achieve it. There are several ways to fund your idea: angel investors, seeding capital, crowdfunding and subsidy.
- Angel investors: friends, family or wealthy individuals who are interested to invest at an early stage of a company. With this type of funding, you will need to ensure that they get to know more about you. Angel investors prefer to invest in an entrepreneur they like rather than an idea they like. https://www.angelinvestmentnetwork.nl/ There are many platforms that you can check a list of angel investors. Ex. Angel.co; Angelinvestmentnetwork; or from your facilitator’s network.
- Crowdfunding: there are many platforms that you can raise money by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people by your idea such as Kickstarter, crowdfunding.nl, gofundme, geldvoorelkaar.nl, etc
- Venture capital: a form of private equity which has the funnel of financing from different funds like well-off investors, investment banks and other financial institutions. There are a lot of venture capitals in the Netherlands. You can check out at the link: https://www.vectrix.nl/
- Subsidy: funds from government or organizations which have budgets to develop solutions to solve problems that they are facing or to support innovation projects. In each city, they will have different programs so you can check your local city website or join Facebook Group “Hoi startup Viet Nam tai Ha Lan” to keep updates from me.
During the process, there are rejects from your business pitch and I also got it all the time. But you should not be upset about it, you can make use of feedback from investors who reject your idea and refine your pitch to prepare better next time.
As a non-EU foreigner you can start your own business with certain conditions that need to be fulfilled in the Netherlands. Preparing yourself with all necessary information helps you better understand how to start your entrepreneur journey in the most open economy in the world.
In summary, there are three things that you need to accomplish to ensure your business is not disrupted. Firstly, your visa is the most important element to stay in the country to manage your business. Start-up visa and self-employment visa are options that you can apply depending on your qualifications toward immigration requirements. Furthermore, events and conferences will bring you updated information and opportunities to connect with Dutch organizations and potential incubators which you can apply for a Start-up Visa program.
Furthermore, blending in with the Dutch business culture helps you keep your business on a good track of growth. And last but not least, finance is a backbone for doing business so raising your business funds is also a key element to ensure your business stabilization. Depending on your business model and size, there are different sources of funding for you to get access: angel investment, crowdfunding, subsidy and venture capital. All this is hardly enough, of course. These points are only for your entry to doing business in the Netherlands.
I hope that my sharing would help you to have a good start and be successful with your idea and business.
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