Israeli start-ups seeking a home in Europe might want to have a look at the Netherlands — specifically, in the southern Brabant area of the country. There, start-ups will find a good location and infrastructure, motivated partners and maybe some working capital, according to Ben Engel of BOM Foreign Investments, a government-sponsored venture capital firm dedicated to attracting business to the region.
“We are finalizing a program that will invest 125 million euros in high-tech companies in our region,” Engel told The Times of Israel. “This is Dutch government money, and for the first time these funds will be available to foreign companies that establish themselves in our region.”
Brabant is already home to the local offices and research centers of more than 1,400 non-Dutch companies, mostly from the rest of Europe but also from the Americas and Asia, including powerhouses like Acer, Apple, IBM, GE, Dell, Sony. There are a few Israeli companies there as well, but Engel would like to see many more, especially in the life sciences area.
“We have a very well-developed high-tech and life sciences ecosystem, so any company that locates its European offices here will benefit from extensive knowledge and assistance, as well as the guidance we can give them in getting set up, finding customers and contacts, and financial assistance as well,” he said.
“Brabant is a good steppingstone for Israeli companies seeking European markets,” added Engel. “We’re very centrally located, in close proximity to Germany and Belgium, and a steppingstone from the big ports in Holland, like Amsterdam.”
BOM is only now sending its first official delegation to Israel, and as such the region is a latecomer to the courting of Israel by European countries and US states. It seems as if not a week goes by that a delegation sent by trade groups to find Israeli start-ups or established companies to partner or work with comes to meet with companies and government officials.
But despite the competition, Engel believes that his group has a good opportunity to attract Israeli companies to Brabant.
“There are now about 170 science and high-tech parks throughout Europe (Brabant has two of them — Eindhoven and the Hoist Center), and they all claim to be the best and the brightest,” said Engel. “Each one is certainly excellent in its own particular niche. As far as Brabant is concerned, we can offer an excellent infrastructure into which companies can easily integrate, a healthy mix of large and small companies, and an individualized process that will help each company make the most of its European offices.”
And, of course, there’s the financial incentive: “We’re looking for companies in various stages of growth, and are willing to fund companies from seed to more advanced funding rounds.”
BOM is likely to make minority investments in the companies it enrolls in the program — up to 2.5 million euros in each company, explained Engel.
Engel, along with other officials from BOM, will meet with Israeli investors, government officials, and companies in a special get-together this week, in order to introduce the program to prospective Israeli companies.
Trade between Israel and Holland in 2012 was about $5 billion, with Dutch exports to Israel $2.84 billion, and imports by Holland from Israel $2.3 billion. That was slightly better than the $4.46 billion in trade between the two countries in 2011, and Engel and Israeli officials hope the new program will give trade a more significant boost.
Engel is quite enthusiastic about potential deals between Brabant and Israeli companies. Possible interference by supporters of the BDS — boycott, divestment and sanction — movement against Israel doesn’t disturb him a bit. “I am not a politician, but I can say that every deal we make gets the explicit approval of our provincial government, and we have expressly chosen to set up a long-term cooperation agreement with Israel.
“This move will strengthen our economy, as it will that of Israel,” continued Engel, adding that any resident of Brabant would understand that the arrangement was a plus not only for the region, but for Holland in general.
“I do not foresee any problems from the boycott, divest, and sanction groups,” he added. “But if they do ask, I would sit them down and explain to them, very rationally and firmly, that we intend to do business with Israel.”