It’s tough being a startup. But one of the easiest decisions we’ve made so far was choosing Eindhoven for what we like to call our “world headquarters.” (Yes, we’re being ironic. We’re a small but hardy band of disrupters.)
We’re methodically building a foundation for a new expat-focused digital-only news platform, corporate services business in Europe. We just launched our website last Friday – Phase I of three phases. So these are the earliest days of Dispatches, which we hope will become the go-to lifestyle brand for expats and techpats.
About a year ago, I started reading more and more about expats and how they’re playing increasingly important roles in tech/innovation hubs such as Berlin, Stockholm, Barcelona and Eindhoven. One thing led to another, and I started thinking our next startup should be an expat-focused business in Europe, part media company, part talent attraction/talent retention firm.
Berlin was the first place my wife/co-CEO Cheryl and I thought we might be able to locate. But in 2015, rents and other costs there rose dramatically as Berlin pulled away from the rest of the pack as an innovation hub. So, we started researching housing costs in other centrally located European cities such as Vienna, Amsterdam, Basel, Rotterdam, Grenoble, Brussels and Luxembourg City.
We quickly realized there was really only one city with all the elements we need: affordable housing, a density of techpats/expats, central location in Europe with access to transportation and a good school for our daughter Lale.
Overall, Eindhoven makes sense on multiple levels:
- It’s relatively affordable. Our family likely will be able to find a largish house or apartment for maybe $1,500 per month, less expensive than our home base of Louisville.
- Local economic development officials are willing to give us free office space, as well as help us connect to talent and even future investors.
- Eindhoven is No. 3 in direct foreign investment behind Helsinki and London.
So off we went last summer to do our primary-source research.
The first few days did not go smoothly. No one ever heard of us, and no one wanted to meet with us. In all honesty, I didn’t know what we could accomplish coming here. But once we started to get access to insiders, it was a no-brainer.
Eindhoven has both an incredible density of PhD-level tech talent and an active economic-development effort, Brainport Development, willing and able to help us build our startup into a business. The Dutch government is deadly serious about creating “Silicon Alleys” in Eindhoven, Utrecht, Amsterdam and other cities. There is an entire Ambitious Entrepreneurship Action Plan in place.
Another huge advantage Eindhoven has is Technology University Eindhoven, one of two national tech universities. (The other is in Delft.) TU/E attracts a steady flow of bright students, who in turn generate a steady flow of really clever innovations. One of the latest is a tiny wireless temperature sensor that can be incorporated into The Internet of Things, most obviously into the digitization of homes. The TU/E sensors can be used, for example, to turn on lights and home heat when people enter a house, then turn everything off after everyone leaves.
Dare I say it, but Eindhoven has the ingredients already in place to become a Silicon Valley, and there are more commonalities than you’d expect between The Valley and this small Dutch town.
They include a big electronics company – Philips rather than Hewlett-Packard – as the technology pioneer, and TU/E playing the role of Stanford University.
What’s missing is startup culture and capital. What Eindhoven has Silicon Valley doesn’t really need is a public economic-development entity working with the private sector.
This summer, I met with Pieter Noodzij, Brainport business development manager, at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven on the edge of town. It took me forever to get a meeting with Brainport execs. In the end, we were fortunate to get Pieter, because he’s supportive of what Dispatches can do for Eindhoven and the Netherlands in general through publicity and a higher visibility.
Campus tenants include the biggest names in tech: Canon, ASML, Intel, IBM and Medtronic, as well as a score of companies I never heard of. The place is just so well organized and appealing, surrounded by a lake and walking and running paths. There’s a strip of restaurants, coffee shops and meeting places in the center called, appropriately, “The Strip.” It includes a Starbucks and even an Albert Heijn supermarket. My take on it is, they created a campus so appealing that no one will ever want to stop work and go home.
He even arranged for me to attend the opening interview sessions of Startup Bootcamp High-Tech XL. We also got a tour of Stipj S, the giant office/retail/residential project coming together in the center of Eindhoven.
Luck has a lot to do with success. But I have to say Eindhoven’s leadership seems pretty good at optimizing their chances by attracting companies such as ASML and NXP, which are the top chip makers in the world.
Everyone here is convinced that in 10 years, this will rival Silicon Valley. I don’t know about that. But generally good things happen where there is vision and unity of purpose.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.