Startup Gateway To The World: Rotterdam

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Co-authors: David Franzén, Geert Wassens. You are thinking of founding your startup in the Netherlands? Check out this guide to start your business successfully in Rotterdam - Holland's secret hub!

In Amsterdam’s shadow lies Rotterdam, home to Europe’s largest port, and thousands of creative, passionate and ambitious entrepreneurs. When the Netherlands come to mind, many think of tulips, windmills or wooden clogs, but others think of artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, great architecture like the Cube Houses in Rotterdam, or the Canals of Amsterdam. The Dutch have always been creative and innovative; 400 years ago they established the Dutch East India Company which revolutionized trade and – some say – gave birth to capitalism. Today, the Dutch boast an extensive range of successful startups; like HousingAnywhere and Dwillo.

Founded in 1340, Rotterdam is the second largest city in Holland. After being heavily bombed during the second World War, Rotterdam vowed to rebuild, including its culture, architecture and unique style. As a result, young, new and creative minds thrive in the city’s adventurous lifestyle. “Out with the old, in with the new”. In short, it has perfect potential to maintain and expand its entrepreneurial culture, and to possibly become a world entrepreneurial hub, competing against the likes of Silicon Valley or Berlin.

The Modern City: Rotterdam

Now let’s come to why you should start your business in Rotterdam and what you should bear in mind when moving here.

Why Rotterdam?

  • Rotterdam is located in the heart of Holland, not even an hour south of Amsterdam, a “footstep” away from the Belgium border and still really close to other European hubs like London, Paris or Cologne.
  • 90% of the Dutch population are fluent in English. After the UK, this makes the Netherlands the best English speaking country in Europe.
  • Rotterdam is a melting pot of different cultures. The city is young, dynamic, extremely international and fast-moving, making it very easy for foreigners to get familiar with their surroundings and establish new businesses.
  • With more than 50.000 students, the city offers a big pool of young, talented, enthusiastic, job-seeking employees and co-founders.
  • Living expenses and office rents are 15% lower compared to its big sister Amsterdam.
  • The biggest European port brings a lot of opportunities into the city – for the shipping industry, but also for young entrepreneurs.
  • Startup visas put the Netherlands in a really attractive position as they bring advantages like favorable tax regulations and access to capital.

What you should consider:

  • Rotterdam stands a bit in the shadow of Amsterdam. Many founders consider Amsterdam first when they decide on where to establish their business.
  • The city lacks young technical skilled people, as the major Universities focus more on business related subjects (however the Technical University Delft, which is only 15 minutes away, offers plenty of technically averse young talents).
  • The VAT of 21% are relatively high compared to other European countries.
  • The startup scene is a bit hidden, not really visible to the public, yet existent.
  • Many people stay in the city only temporarily.

Rotterdam’s Startup Community Is Waiting For You


When thinking of your startup, there are a few things you need to consider. To know the in’s and out’s of success, you need to know about the entrepreneurial culture of your city. This includes knowing where creative people meet, where to find relevant information and how big the startup scene is. Below are 3 sets of bullet points that you should get involved with to become fully established in Rotterdam.

Information Sources:

  • Dutch Startup Enthusiasts – a Facebook group which aims to connect the greater network of entrepreneurs within the Netherlands. Interesting and relevant articles, opinions, insights and experiences are shared between the members.
  • Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship – well established Rotterdam-based society of entrepreneurs. Has both its own website and Facebook page.
  • Rotterdam Startup Foundation – a society of innovatively inspired people aiming to mutually benefit from each other’s experience and advice.

Regular Local Events & Groups:

  • is an online platform easing the scheduling of group meetings. Rotterdam Startups holds monthly meetings where they share and discuss new entrepreneurial ideas and trends.
  • is a site listing startups per city, making it easier to meet or join people in your area with similar ideas and inspirations.

Major Annual Events & Groups:

  • Get in the Ring – The “Olympics for Startups”, a European based society aimed to improve and drive forward the connectedness, creativity, uniqueness and opportunity of startups. Hosts major pitching events in 64 countries, and growing rapidly. To get an impression you can watch the aftermovie.
  • Founded in Holland – A site supporting Dutch Startups with an extensive database of existing and promising innovators.

If you keep yourself up-to-date through these information channels, establish and maintain relationships with interesting people at these local events, pitch and promote your ideas at these gatherings, you are on the road to establishing a successful start-up in one of the Netherland’s most interesting cities.

Park At A Cool Place And Get Started In Rotterdam


You have no idea where to set up your working area for you and your team? Then start working at one of Rotterdam’s great co-working spaces. Co-working spaces are usually composed of a creative start-up community and offer affordable shared offices with a nice atmosphere. These are the places to meet other founders, find new colleagues or co-founders, potential investors or customers and get new business know-how. Below you can find the best co-working spaces in Rotterdam’s vibrant city center:

  • The Rotterdam Startup Port is the co-working space of the Rotterdam Startup Foundation. They are a non-profit foundation with the goal to support innovative entrepreneurship. They offer a big entrepreneurial community, good connections, many events and helpful advice.
  • Het Schieblock has originally been an old office block in downtown Rotterdam. An initiative of creative architects changed this old building into creative space with shops, restaurants and bars on the ground floor and big office spaces on the upper floors. A wild mix of all sorts of startups is based here.
  • The Rotterdam Collective – a place to meet, exchange ideas and collaborate with each other.  The entrepreneurs in this open-floor office space focus on environmentally and socially innovative projects. The synergetic team spirit is what makes this community so special. 

You are not looking for collaborative shared office space? Rotterdam has many empty offices – check out the alternatives below:

  • Meetz! – Here you can find offices and “hot desks” on an hourly to monthly basis.
  • ZAPP office – office space that can grow with your business.

Renting these office space start from 5€ per hour, 25€ per day, or 100€ per month.

Take Care Of Your Budget In Rotterdam


Now, you’ve built your startup from scratch and things are going ok. The only thing you want is to get funded. Well, Rotterdam is the right place for you! Rotterdam offers a wide variety of investment opportunities ranging from angels to venture capitalists. Rotterdam is also home to one of the largest crowdfunding platforms of The Netherlands, Symbid. Read all about it in the section below!

Incubators & Accelerators:

  • ECE Campus – The Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE) is home to over 50 startups. It also offers solutions for SME’s and large corporates. Next to that it hosts over 150 events each year creating a vibrant entrepreneurial eco-system.
  • Impact Hub Rotterdam – The Impact Hub Rotterdam is one of many Impact Hubs in the world. The Rotterdam Hub offers a nice and inspiring environment to support sustainable and social entrepreneurs from the region.
  • Dnamo – Dnamo, which is located at the innovative RDM Campus, offers the full package for startups, ranging from legal advice to growth hacking techniques. Dnamo is an incubator for high-tech startups with a sustainable product.
  • Erasmus MC Incubator – The Medical Centre of Rotterdam has its own incubation centre for all medical oriented startups. Startups are being supported by advice, trainings and workshops and are introduced into a wide network of the medical startup scene.
  • Port Innovation Lab/ powered by Port of Rotterdam and YES!Delft – The Port Innovation Lab aims at supporting startups that are focussed on port solutions and/or are based in the port area. The program just started in March 2015 and provides workshops, testing facilities, advice and a network of investors and potential customers for port-related startups!

Funding Opportunities:

  • Symbid – Symbid is the number one crowdfunding platform of the Netherlands. The difference from the normal kind of crowdfunding, is that Symbid funds startups in exchange of equity. It already worked with
    • De Investeerders Club (The Investors Club) – De Investeerders Club is a group of 50 investors. Entrepreneurs can meet them at one of the coffee meetings they organize every month.

Other Investment Opportunities:

  • Equidam – Equidam is a tool for business valuation. It offers the right preparation if you want to do a crowdfunding campaign at Symbid, of whom it is a neighbor.
  • KEADYN – KEADYN is a platform that takes a minority share in your company in exchange of a network of everything a startup needs. It is focussed on five main areas: Real Estate innovations, Fin-Tech solutions High-Tech developments, E-Commerce solutions, E-Health software. KEADYN already invested in a lot of promising startups, including Nestpick.

Rotterdam offers a wide variety of accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces and there’s only coming up more. Rumour has it that the well-known Cambridge Innovation Center is expanding to Rotterdam. These spaces offer a lot of opportunities for all kind of startups, from high-tech startups to online platforms. When you are in need of financing, Rotterdam has lots to offer!

Get More Advice In Rotterdam


In this last section you can find some more general practical and legal advice on setting up your business in the Netherlands.

A good place to go would always be the Erasmus Centre of Entreprneurship which is based in the Rotterdam Science Tower. Here can find a community of people with all sorts of backgrounds and a lot of experience which can help in almost every case. Moreover, starting your own business involves many steps. One of the requirements for starting a legal enterprise in the Netherlands is a detailed business plan. Therefore it is always advisable to start with writing your own specific business plan, tips for content and style can be found here.

Once you have decided to start your business in Rotterdam, further information about the legal forms, taxes, insurances and the registration process can be found on the website of the Kamer van Koophandel (chamber of commerce). In case you are not a EU/EEA citizen you need a special residence permit, which can be obtained from the IND. The Chamber of Commerce also provides a platform called ondernemers plein where you can find further information about networking and finding a co-founder or team member. Finally, you should not miss to check out Startup Juncture to get the latest startup news and Boat Talk Rotterdam to discover the entrepreneurial Rotterdam.

The Willingness of an Entrepreneur to learn is the greatest Predictor for Growth

Rotterdam might not be the biggest startup capital, but it has unique people which make success happen!

Are you ready for this adventure?



Co-author: David FranzénGeert Wassens

Last updated: August 25th, 2016

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