I’m wolfing down lunch in the restaurant at the World Forum Convention Center in Den Haag when I hear the woman down the table say she’s from Tennessee.
I can’t believe it. I’m from Kentucky, the neighboring state in the great American south of bourbon, moonlight and magnolias. (Disruptive tech, not so much.)
What are the chances we end up at a global entrepreneurship event in the Netherlands? Well, pretty good, actually.
Global Entrepreneurship Conference 2019, 4 and 5 June, is far from the biggest (about 2,000 attendees including 500 startups) or the most star-studded tech/startup/entrepreneur event in Europe (though Ivanka Trump and Dutch Queen Maxima are rumored to be here somewhere.)
But GES brings together a wildly interesting group of people from all over the world with nothing in common other than an idea and insane drive. Oh, and the desire to tell you about their startup and to hear about what you’re doing.
My fellow Southerner turns out to be a Vanderbilt University grad with a doctorate in material science. Anna Douglas is here from Nashville pitching her CO2 capture startup, SkyNano Technologies. Douglas was invited by the U.S. State Department, which organizes GES each year in different locales. (As the host, the Dutch government actually funded this free event to the tune of 15 million euros.)
If you read Dispatches’ lists of the best tech/startup events, or our coverage of the startup scene, you might have asked yourself, “So what are these events like?”
A little overpowering, to be honest. There’s so much going on at every tech gathering … so many seminars and workshops. So many talks (often predictably vacuous and cliché). So many pitch contests. At least 400 investors, econ-dev types and corporates all itching to hand out checks.
But just between us, the real action is often in the lobbies, private meeting rooms and hallways where people are chatting nonchalantly, figuring out if they can do business. And that’s true for GES.
If there is anything unique about this event, it’s that it’s better organized than most, and everyone here seems to be relaxed, open and gregarious. It’s amazingly easy to strike up conversations. (Well, there was that potential rumble with a rival accelerator posse, but no blows were struck.)
British expat entrepreneur Julie Hotchkin, co-founder of We Are Eves.com beauty network, came to GES from Amsterdam to connect with other entrepreneurs and investors.
“I came for the knowledge, the messages … about the difference you can make and the social impact,” Hotchkin said.
“The energy and vibe are amazing. Everyone is here with a purpose.”
By mid-morning, she’s met an entrepreneur from the Philippines who is using bamboo to replace wood. A guy from Kenya who’s into water management, a woman using umbilical cords to aid premature babies and a company that connects people in different countries suffering from the same illnesses so they can exchange treatment and clinical information.
Her own We Are Eves.com is an online community with a new approach to beauty and beauty products.
Eves allows women to share opinions, information and tips about authentic beauty and beauty products in one place, Hotchkin said: “Our motto is, ‘Less filters and more honesty.’ ”
The information is authentic “and we’re independent,” she said. “That’s what makes us different.”
The business model is conversion-based, and Eves brands “have shelf space on our platform,” getting in front of consumers, Hotchkins said.
Like all new companies, Eves needs more capital, so we hooked Julie up with Betsy Lindsey, managing director, investor relations at HighTechXL in Eindhoven. Betsy is a former Silicon Valley Bank exec with extensive networks on both sides of the Atlantic … an advocate of building networks as a business fundamental.
Hotchkin is unaffectedly genuine, striking up a conversation as naturally as she pitches her concept. That’s good, because GES is not a place for the timid. Everyone everywhere in the multi-story convention center is either pitching or being pitched.
“SO, WE HAVE THIS TECHNOLOGY ….”
In the lobby on the way into the actual conference, Elliot Kreitenberg launches into an impromptu pitch to a Dutch investor whose fund is backed by the Dutch government. Kreitenberg’s GermFalcon startup makes hardware that disinfects the insides of aircraft, which his business card describes as “international & intergalactic infection prevention.” (We’re pretty sure this is what Capt. Kirk uses on the Enterprise.)
Dilmer needs $5 million but doesn’t get it from the Dutch investor: “Are you based here? Or do you have a Dutch connection? We’re interested in Dutch-based companies only. Or Dutch-based subsidiaries because we have government money,” the investor says.
Then there’s the guy from The Valley who has autonomous tractor tech and pitches us. It’s a good pitch and we even know a company in the Netherlands that might be able to help him.
So we’re having our people call his people.
Global Entrepreneurship Summits are a global series sponsored by a non-profit and funded/hosted by various governments, in this case, the United States and the Netherlands.
The summit, with the theme “The Future Now” included two days of events including:
- 400 investors in water, connectivity, energy, health and agriculture.
- curated matchmaking programs
- solution labs
- pitch stages
- interactive sessions
- secret sessions with introductions to mystery guests in small private sessions
- skill-building sessions honing creative and commercial skills
- in-depth discussions and panel sessions
- keynotes by innovators and subject-matter experts
Epilogue: Dutch Prince Constantijn van Oranje, who promotes Dutch tech and startup efforts, wants to make the Netherlands “a unicorn nation.” Dutch officials at GES announced a government-wide initiative for startups and scale-ups under the new TechLeap.NL.
GES was really well organized and the food was great, with 20-odd food stations in the dining hall of the World Forum offering everything from Asian fusion to vegan specialities. All top-grade.
And no, we never made it to any of the great sessions, opting instead to talk with as many people as possible though we did watch several on the closed-circuit video.
More to follow ….