20voor12 podcast: finding and retaining talent

Time to cast some pods! We’ve once again teamed up with 20voor12 for a special episode, this time about talent. How do you find talented employees or (future) entrepreneurs locally and abroad, how can we keep them in Groningen and how big of a challenge is it? Tjarda and temporary co-host Bart Breij (Joshua had a baby, congrats!) spoke with our own Niek Huizenga and Simplicate co-CEO Peter Hager.

If you feel like checking out the entire podcast (in Dutch), just click on the link below. Here are some of the highlights:

Silicon Valley and international talent

Niek is a lecturer in Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Hanze University and, as part of the Founded in Groningen team, is Project Lead Capital and Investment.  Before he became involved in Startup Visa Groningen and co-founded the Launch Cafe in 2012, he worked for the Dutch consulate in San Francisco. “That’s where I came into contact with co-working spaces in Silicon Valley, which was really cool. One of the startups there was working on a concept of renting out houses and rooms, which later became Airbnb. It’s really cool to experience something like that firsthand and to see the value of putting a bunch of different entrepreneurs in the same building.”

But the Valley also taught him another important lesson: “The majority of startups active there have one or multiple founders that aren’t American. I think about 60% to 70% of all the talent in Silicon Valley are immigrants and it’s one of the reasons the region is so successful. Attracting international talent is vital in giving a region an economic boost.”

The current state

So how is Groningen doing on that front? “I think we’re doing pretty well”, says Niek. “Our universities are actively recruiting abroad and when I look at the Startup Visa applications, the majority are internationals who’ve studied here and want to stay here to start a business. But we shouldn’t forget that the Netherlands is a really small country and that for someone from New Delhi for example, Groningen in terms of distance is basically a suburb of Amsterdam and that the Netherlands in general is just an attractive place to live and do business.”

But there is a national change going on too, according to Simplicate co-founder Peter Hager. “We’ve been able to hire some very talented people this year, despite the pandemic. We do business throughout the country and being from Groningen is starting to become a unique selling point too. I think the rest of the country also realizes that there’s plenty of things happening in the startup and scale-up scene here.”

Keeping talent here

“When I was still studying, the perception of Groningen was that of a university town”, Niek says. “You study here, have some fun, graduate and then move to the Amsterdam metropolitan area to find a job. That has changed a little. And 10 years ago, it also wasn’t that common to start working for a startup after you graduate. But now it’s actually a cool thing to do.”

Peter agrees. “Startups are also becoming more professional, so there are plenty of interesting and viable career opportunities in the north. And let’s not forget Groningen is a vibrant city and a great place to live. I think that now that remote work will be far more common, it will only become more attractive to live here, because of the relative space and affordability when you compare it to Amsterdam.” 

What could use some improvement?

“There’s always room for improvement”, Niek says. “If you look at shares, equity and stock options for startup employees, the Dutch tax system is not very ideal. As for the north, I think one thing that’s still missing is large companies that could act as customers for startups. And of course it’s not just about career opportunities, the job itself needs to be fulfilling and meaningful if you want to keep the talent currently working in your company.”

 “That's something we also started doing at Simplicate”, Peter adds. “Just focusing more on the individual and talking about what they need and want and where they would like to be. And how we can help in developing yourself. But at the same time, you also want people to be able to pursue their dreams and find new challenges, even if that means moving on to greener pastures. It’s a journey and it’s cool to travel together for a while, but people move on and that’s fine. But we still have a lot of people working at Simplicate who’ve been there since the beginning six years ago.”

“And speaking of talent”, Peter continues, “We’re trying to sort of widen that perspective of what talent is in our hiring policy. People have soft skills and hard skills. The first is something you have, the second is something you can learn. That’s why we recently hired someone who was working in the hospitality industry and looking for something new. We really try to focus on customer relations and service, so someone who has innate people skills is a very valuable addition. And the rest is something you can teach if someone is willing to learn.”

Want to check out the full episode?

Click here for the audio version: https://www.20voor12.nl/podcast/episode/48d8901d/hoe-vind-behoud-en-bind-je-internationaal-talent

And here for the Youtube version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQnLi-m7C0U&t=2206s&ab_channel=20voor12DePodcast