Text by Triin Ilves
Photos by SME Assembly 2017
Winning the European Enterprise Promotion Award (EEPA), the Innofest director Anna van Nunen said that the Netherlands is a great place for building your own start-up that can gain the global market. Founded in 2016, Innofest helps initiatives like these to test their innovative ideas and solutions and provide controlled environments – festivals – for testing them. As the European Enterprise Promotion Awards rewards those who promote entrepreneurship and small business at the national, regional and local level, the recognition is not only to promote one, but all the initiatives that have grown with the help of Innofest.
Triin Ilves from Orange Magazine talked with Anna van Nunen moments after winning the award.
Orange Magazine: If you’d have to do a quick elevator pitch for me, then what is Innofest about and why do you think you were selected as the winner of this year’s EEPA awards?
Anna van Nunen: I’m gonna try make it short: Innovations fails very often, nine out of ten times and it’s often the case that innovation is not tested enough before it’s brought to market. And that’s where Innofest comes in. We have eight festivals that we work with, well-known Dutch festivals, and we provide them as living labs to entrepreneurs with a prototype. It works really well because a festival is some sort of a temporary city, with end-users as visitors. But also backstage: it has good energy, a controlled system, and anything you have in a real city as well. You can test pretty much anything that you can test in a real society.
OM: What has been the most successful initiative that you have tested so far? Because lets say, when you work together with a music festival, the audience has to be right to test the product, service or idea.
Van Nunen: Well, importantly, the festival is the means not the goal, so we see the festival as a temporary mini-society, but we also test innovations for health care for instance. One of the projects we’ve done this year is an entrepreneur who works with virtual realit for health solutions and one of the things he tested was whether anxiety can be virtually made in virtual reality. And he needed a place where computers with hundreds of thousands of people whether those anxiety symptoms simulations are actually something that people would be afraid of. And that’s something he tested on a festival. He got good results so now he brings it to hospitals and healthcare professionals. That’s one of the examples and that’s not something that the festival users or festival visitors are the clients of. It’s also not something that the festival would buy but the festival has had a huge contribution to the development of this product.
OM: What is the current situation in the Netherlands. Do you see that new and upcoming companies and startups are thriving? Is Amsterdam or maybe Rotterdam competing against big cities like London or Berlin?
Van Nunen: Yes, I do really feel so, although the Netherlands is set on a smaller scale so you can’t watch Amsterdam by itself or Rotterdam by itself. We have to see the Netherlands as a cluster. That is something that has been started in the last couple of years and that’s difficult because there’s a lot of egos and a lot of provinces in the Netherlands but it is really working so the Netherlands as a huge startup hub itself.
We work mostly in the northern Netherlands and there’s very little innovation in the northern Netherlands and that’s why Innofest is based in there actually because we can help starting entrepreneurs to take the next step. So this is strategic location for us.
OM: Do you think that local ideas can grow to global ideas easily in the Netherlands or are there some clear bottlenecks and barriers?
Van Nunen: This is my firm belief that that the Netherlands is actually a great place where to start. It’s small, people are highly educated – you’ve got a lot of talents, it’s big enough to recruit your future programmers and coders and it’s quite scalable to a lot of other countries in Europe. So what you see actually is a lot of companies from the US start enrolling their startup in the Netherlands because it’s a good place to start, it’s scalable, it’s not that big, and then they go to the rest of Europe.
OM: Maybe that’s part of the advantage that Europe has because we have all these countries that can act as hubs.
Van Nunen: Yes, I really think so. And you see quite often that the pilot is conducted in the Netherlands because after they can go to Norway, Sweden. Also France is quite comparable and the UK as well. But it’s not that big. You can conquer an entire market but it’s not as big as France or Germany.
OM: What is the one initiative that have so far done the best or have grown the most?
Van Nunen: There’s a lot that I’m really proud of but keep an eye on GUTS, they’re making a ticketing system on blockchain which makes it impossible to have fraught for ticketing but it’s a lot broader than that. You can use it for any kind of tickets. Right now, they’ve got a lot of investors, they’ve prototyped at Innofest in May and now they’ve actually grown really big so that’s the first one that pops to my mind.
Another startup that I really liked last year was Loratec. They’re making Lora-1 Internet of things sensors and they’ve been testing it throughout the festival season, starting with one node and upscaling it to 100 nodes. They’ve been booking really good results and are scaling up right now.
OM: With the Innofest, are you also targeting international festivals in other countries?
Van Nunen: Not yet, although we are expanding to a couple of other regions by using an EU fund actually. In the UK, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. So that’s going to be a proof of concept that we’re working in similar regions and we believe so that as long as you have some festivals and some innovation hubs, you can just pull it off in any region.