IBM – Taking initiative and driving change

IBM has built several initiatives in the Netherlands designed to support startups, developers, academic researchers and enterprises. The most recent is the opening of the Innovation Space at B.Amsterdam, 12,000 square metres of space in which to build new companies. IBM shares the 3rd floor of this rapidly growing ecosystem with Startupbootcamp, one of the world’s leading accelerator programs.

IBM also runs the Interactive Experience Design Lab as part of its Services Center in Groningen in the North of The Netherlands. There is also very close collaboration with the Dutch scientific community, through the IBM Center for Advanced Studies. For example, there is close cooperation with Delft Technical University, especially in areas around data science and big data.

Harry van Dorenmalen

IBM is building very powerful active networks

At the recent launch of the new StartupDelta website, Harry van Dorenmalen, Chairman for IBM Europe, explains their involvement in the StartupDelta initiative. “It’s because we can, we want to – and we have to be involved.”

“It's always been my mission to boost IBM's involvement in the Netherlands. And, traditionally we did that through research and development projects together with the scientific community. For instance, we're working with Astron, The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, on the international DOME project. We're helping to design and build the world’s most sensitive radio telescope. When it enters operations in 2024, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will require an extremely high computing performance as well as extremely challenging data-storage requirements. That’s just one example.”

IBM in Dwingeloo

“But we are pleased we can build careers for talented young people. We're doing this in many parts of the Netherlands in a range of new activities closely tied to the StartupDelta initiative. The worlds of social, mobile, big data, “express lane” analytics, are all converging in very interesting but often unpredictable ways. We are only just starting to understand the advantages this brings. As IBM we want to move into a new phase of helping to create this new breed of innovative companies.”

“Corporates like IBM have to adapt even more quickly to changing markets and business models. We've been used to selling our technology – hardware and software – in big bundles. Now we're switching to being a solutions enterprise, where people pay us "per tick". Software has become a service in the cloud. So that explains why we want to understand what's happening, so we can support change. Because we believe that by collaborating, it can be done.”  

michel splint

Michel Splint

What changed recently

But IBM been running competitive events for early-stage entrepreneurs for years – like Smartcamp. So what's changed recently?

Michel Splint is manager of IBM Ecosystem Development for the Benelux. He builds ecosystems between startups corporate, academics and IBM itself.

“A lot has changed and the rate of change is incredibly fast. It has accelerated because computing is moving from local servers to operating entirely in the Cloud. That means it's possible for two entrepreneurs to be sitting in a different Starbucks in different parts of the country, collaborating together to make an app that could disrupt an entire industry. None of this was possible just a few years ago – and the cost of building a business has dropped considerably.”

“It has affected everyone; even our corporate clients are open to dramatic disruption. Let's be honest here. IBM makes most of its revenue from interaction with corporate clients. And many of these clients are being disrupted by smaller companies that have great ideas. We could try help our corporate clients to disrupt on our own. But our heritage is also corporate – big machine thinking. A much better alternative is to team up with startups that have great ideas but often miss the scale, scope and access to launching clients. We do it by building an ecosystem of trust, putting together startups, corporates and IBM to fuel innovation.”

The importance of the Startupdelta initiative

"There is heavy competition in the innovation space. Look at Berlin, London, Tel Aviv, New York and Silicon Valley. The only way for us to compete on a scale that matters is to operate as an innovation nation – where over 17 million live. We’re lucky because there is a strong tradition here of entrepreneurship. If you want to attract talent to the Netherlands and boost economic activity, we need to encourage startups to scale up."

"I think the world today belongs to developers – if you look at the car it is basically a computer on wheels. Innovation is certainly fuelled by developers. That's why my job is to win the hearts and minds of the developer community. Our research tells us there are roughly 80 million developers in the world and approximately 10% of those are working in startups. We know those guys and girls they are riding the crest of a new wave in technology."

What IBM does to accelerate this

“We're doing several things to get this going faster. First of all, we operate all kinds of relevant technologies for companies which we host in the Cloud. We’re are offering startups free access to Cloud technologies with a commercial value of up to US$ 120,000 credits per year.” 

“Secondly, we're introducing them to our corporate clients. This has led to some very interesting collaborations which turn out to be very interesting indeed. There are some more examples of this elsewhere on the Startupdelta website.”

Rene Pronk

René Pronk

“Finally, it is important that we give hands-on, face to face practical help. My team from IBM has a permanent presence in clusters like B-space Amsterdam and in Groningen and our jobs are to actively help startups. My colleague, René Pronk, has been instrumental in designing the new web services we’re offering to the entire startup community in the Netherlands. We want the site to be an active resource for everyone.”

So what role do accelerators play?

“We complement each other very well. If you see what accelerators like Startupbootcamp are doing, they do everything apart from the technology development. Of course, they have sponsors who are helping out with their programs. But our clientele is much broader. Back on April 16 2015, we opened the innovation space in Amsterdam together – because collaboration works.” 

“IBM is also involved in other global cities. For example New York, Berlin and London have announced similar schemes. But frankly, we see these initiatives as colleagues. Our goal is to compete with all the rest.” 

“I agree there tends to be a focus in Europe on looking West across the Atlantic. Yet in the corporate world, I don't think we should underestimate the networks and supply chains that have been built across East and South Asia. Two-Thirds of the world live on the Asian continent. As a trading nation, the Netherlands has everything in place to set up very interesting collaborations there too. I believe it is time to explain it to the world!”