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International business: Support for scaling abroad

International business and trade can open exciting, potentially lucrative doors for your startup. Scaling up your company, and specifically expanding abroad, means you can reap the benefits of internationalisation and international investment. Besides tapping into new sources of capital, going beyond the national borders of your headquarters can bring you diversified market demands, additional workers with different skills and new cultural insights that enrich your business.

If your startup already has a solid footing on its home turf and your entrepreneurial spirit is ready to go global, you and your company are in a good location. The Netherlands and in particular the Amsterdam Area have a wealth of resources, programmes and organisations to support your international market entry strategy.

Government funding for entering international markets

First of all, the Netherlands has a government office that exists to serve people precisely like you. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency, known in Dutch as the RVO, provides entrepreneurs and innovation-focused researchers with funding, advice and networking opportunities. To get a detailed lay of the land, start with the RVO subsidies and programmes guide. This valuable resource lets those seeking funding carry out detailed searches according to the type of organisation they belong to, their sector, what the desired financing is for and for which country. The RVO also offers a sponsored coaching programme, which gives SME entrepreneurs up to €1,000 to cover the cost of hiring an individual coach to guide them in doing business in foreign markets. If you’re wondering whether you’ll find someone who knows your sector – there is a fine chance you will. The RVO links mentorship-seeking entrepreneurs to a 33-page list of experts across cities and industries. For additional information and guidance, entrepreneurs can sign up to the RVO’s frequent newsletters to stay up-to-date about upcoming trade missions and events. 

Trade and Innovate NL (TINL) is another government-coordinated initiative whose mission is to help Dutch entrepreneurs in their international business and international trade pursuits. This organisation collaborates with national, regional, provincial and municipal governments while widely sharing its networks, knowledge resources and expertise. And for those in the Amsterdam Area, TINL has a local partner. Amsterdam Trade & Innovate concentrates resources on boosting entrepreneurs and startups in sectors that are deemed innovative and show promising international potential. The current sectors in focus are categorised as: the creative industry (namely, sustainable fashion and textile); the smart city (namely, sustainable building and smart mobility); smart health; agri-food; and tech.

Organisations that coach and mentor on scaling abroad

Whether you need to build your international entry strategy from scratch, have prepared an internationalisation plan and want to validate it or are ready to set up shop abroad, the Netherlands has a plethora of organisations that can support you.

An RVO-recommended expert meriting mention is DutchBasecamp. “Scaling internationally is tough, risky and expensive,” the not-for-profit social enterprise acknowledges upfront on its website. To succeed in new markets, DutchBasecamp offers coaching, trade missions, masterclasses and access to its international networks. Working towards similar goals is WeGrow. Specialists in internationalisation strategies, WeGrow helps businesses, both startups and scaleups, to grow quickly and sustainability within Europe. Another RVO-recommended expert, also based in Amsterdam, is Handelsroute. This organisation coaches Dutch-registered companies on international growth and, in particular, export strategies.

You can also get good guidance on international expansion via Amsterdam’s extensive network of accelerators, many of which offer sector-specific support for startups wanting to scale. For fast-growing tech-companies, TechLeap taps its strong ties with scale-ups, investors and local government to offer resources and programmes of use to promising Dutch startups. Additionally, ScaleNL supports Dutch tech startups who have the potential to make an impact by offering them a launchpad to the US. Through ScaleNL’s online platform, initiatives and events, entrepreneurs can connect with mentors and experts who can support their growth journey. Similarly, the DutchTechSF also offers information and advice for those wishing to start or scale up a business by helping entrepreneurs join Ycombinator, a tech startup accelerator that helps companies to expand and flourish in the US market.  

Funding from international and local investors

Scaling up always requires capital. Even more so if your expansion requires travel, transfer and translation of your business for new markets and cultures. Seeking funding, you are faced with the choice of attracting investors abroad or locally. That decision should largely depend on the type of company or organisation you need financed. As this I amsterdam guide to fundraising explains, subsidies and grants are traditionally awarded by government agencies for research, innovation and sustainability development. Angel investors and venture capitalists tend to invest private equity in companies, including small ones, or even individuals with enterprising ideas. The latter two categories are likelier than the former two to come in the form of foreign investment.

Again, the RVO provides an excellent overview of Dutch and European funding schemes and programmes. The RVO also aggregates information about various levels of funding opportunities. As one remarkable example, the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme – which runs until 2027 and has a €95.5 billion budget – has a call out for “organisations who are internationally active in research, technological development or innovation.” The Dutch government also provides a clear overview of ways to find business capital and project funding on its website. That information comes courtesy of the Financing Desk of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, which in itself serves as an evergreen resource for general business advice, news and developments within the country.

A European ecosystem of startups and scale-ups

One more unmissable institution for scale-ups in or associated with Europe is SCALE.CITIES, an international network working to expand a global city-to-city startup ecosystem. Member cities are represented by local ecosystem builders – comprising civil servants and public officials – who work together, share their networks and exchange insights and best practices. Current members are Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Helsinki, Lisbon, the Madrid region, Munich, Porto, Stockholm and Vienna.

Launched as the Startup City Alliance Europe (SCALE) by StartupAmsterdam and several partners in 2016, SCALE.CITIES facilitates knowledge and network sharing and develops projects that benefit and promote all members’ startup ecosystems. The SCALE.CITIES website is a rich source of startup and scale-up news, opportunities and events. It also hosts a database of best practices from across cities and a handbook that documents learnings and solutions from startups around the world.

Learn more about startups, scale-ups and ways to expand your company – including internationally – on the StartupAmsterdam homepage. Be sure to see the article on recruiting tech and startup talent and the article on enabling a successful scale-up of your startup. For even more information on these subjects and links to events, jobs, resources and more, explore the site.