Why the Netherlands is the new Silicon Valley: Groningen

Located at the very north of the country, the relatively small city of Groningen has cultivated an exceptional ecosystem of fast-growing startups, innovation, and sustainability. Too many things happen here, however, the city’s progress and achievements are often left unnoticed. Thus, it is high time to dig into this “City of Talent” and understand that it is one of the factors why the Netherlands is “the new Silicon Valley.”

As I have previously said, I believe there are many factors which make the Netherlands surpass the scientific and tech achievements of the current high-tech backbone – San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. Hence, in the sequel “Why the Netherlands is the new Silicon Valley” I will introduce you to all the places in the country – from its smallest towns to its biggest cities in the Randstad, that contribute to its disruptive innovation and development in technology, science, and entrepreneurship and that make it a worthy bearer of the name” the new Silicon Valley.” In Part I, I want to tell you all about the “City of Talent” – Groningen.

Fastest growing startups

Groningen has developed a fast-growing startup ecosystem which is home to the largest number of successful startups coming second only to Amsterdam. Two weeks ago, Deloitte 50 announced its annual ranking of the 50 fastest growing Dutch technology companies and Groningen ranked with three startups in Top 10 – just as many as Amsterdam.

VoIPGRID – the progressive telecommunications platform which provides customized telephone solutions to telecom providers,  ranked at #3.

VoiPGRID at Deloitte Fast 50. Photo: Mark Vletter, Twitter.

Athleteshop – “the number one webshop in sporting goods” which ships to most European countries and the US, reached #7. Gadero – the online shop which provides the largest assortment of wooden garden furniture and wood and decorative pavement, ranked at #9.

The other four fastest growing startups are as follows: the online fashion store for watches, jewellery, and other accessories Brandfield at #20, the social business software platform which helps organizations with their internal communications Embrace SBS at #21, the DYI webshop Haxo at #37, and the online marketing consultancy agency AdResults at #38.

Besides, Groningen is home not only to some of the fastest growing startups in the country but also to companies which have reached global recognition. One example is Chordify – the online music service which automatically converts any music or song into simple chords. It already has more than 4 million monthly users from the US, Northwest Europe, and Asia and it has generated chords for 6.5 million songs.

In addition, HackerOne – one of the world’s top 30 tech companies run by entrepreneurs under 30 according to Forbes, was founded in Groningen by two Hanzehogeschool students. Now, a venture-backed company with headquarters in San Francisco, HackerOne has raised a total investment of $34 million.

Jobert Abma and Michiel Prins, co-founders of HackerOne. Photo: Reyer Boxem.

Founded in Groningen

However, not many people are aware of Groningen’s dynamic startup scene because of its far-north location. “Historically and culturally, the city of Groningen has always been a bit isolated so a lot of people think that nothing happens here, but this is absolutely not true,” Richard Kootstra from Founded in Groningen said. “There are so many successful companies and young and talented people here but everyone is humble and they just do not brag about that.”

He added that two years ago when Neelie Kroes, the former Startup Delta Special Envoy, came to Groningen, she was impressed by the staggering entrepreneurial environment of the city. However, she also said no one knew all these things were happening here.

This is how Founded in Groningen came into being. With a current number of 453 companies already Founded In Groningen, the online platform wants to showcase all innovations and developments the city can offer.

Progressive and sustainable hub

Groningen region fosters not only a booming startup ecosystem but also a progressive and sustainable environment. The largest solar energy park in the Netherlands opened in Delfzijl at the beginning of the year. The solar park is as big as approximately 65 football fields and has 120,000 solar panels which can provide enough green energy to 7,000-8,000 households annually.

The solar energy park also powers the second Google Data Centre in Eemshaven. According to Google’s European energy manager Marc Oman, the solar deal between Delfzijl solar park and Google Data Centre is very important: “Although it is not our biggest deal, it is a special one: it is our first solar energy contract in Europe.”

The largest sun solar park in the Netherlands, located in Delfzijl. Photo: Eemsdeltadrones.

In addition, the municipality of Groningen is working hard to achieve its goal to make Groningen energy neutral by 2035. It began the construction of a heating network powered by deep geothermal energy. The hot groundwater will be pumped from about 3-km depth and used to provide heating to more than 10,000 households in Paddepoel and Selwerd areas. The geothermal heating network is expected to be put into use at the beginning of 2018.

The project aims to provide sustainable and affordable heat for companies and private customers and is suitable for both already existing buildings and for new constructions. The households connected to the new heating network will not need natural gas anymore which will contribute to a staggering reduction of CO2 emissions. 

The first pipes being laid into the ground in July. Photo: Corné Sparidaens.

Moreover, recently Groningen was selected as one of the two Dutch cities where the Global Climate Adaptation Centre will be accommodated. The building of the Centre is a joint initiative between Japan, UN Environment, and the Netherlands to address the growing need for support among countries for dealing with climate change adaptation issues, such as natural disasters and social and economic disruptions.

Rotterdam and Groningen were selected on the basis of their location, expertise on climate change, and innovative office buildings. The Centre in Groningen will be accommodated in the “most sustainable education building in the Netherlands” – the Energy Academy Europe building. The Centre is expected to open by the end of the year.

Energy Academy Europe building – “the most sustainable education building in the Netherlands.” Photo: Egbert de Boer.

Groningen – the City of Talent

Often referred to as the “City of Talent”, Groningen has the highest student population density in the Netherlands – approximately 25% of the people in the city are students. At the same time, the University of Groningen and Hanze University of Applied Sciences cultivate groundbreaking research in energy, healthy ageing, and sustainable society as well as top quality education.

Moreover, not many Dutch cities can speak proudly of having a Nobel laureate. Well, Groningen can! The University of Groningen’s researcher Ben Feringa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. He received it together with Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Sir James Fraser Stoddart for their work on “the design and synthesis of molecular machines.”

To sum it up, the far-north city of Groningen has formed a staggering ecosystem of fast-growing startups, sustainable development, and vibrant city life attracting an annual pool of young creative minds and this all makes Groningen an indispensable factor why the Netherlands is “the new Silicon Valley.”


If you have any ideas or suggestions for places in the Netherlands that should be featured in the sequel, please, shoot me a message or write a comment below. Next to come is the home to the smartest square kilometre in Europe”: Eindhoven.

Featured image: Groningen by Chris Combe

Leave your comment here