Today, we express our sincere gratitude to Thomas Vles for his inspirational leadership, tireless dedication and stellar work over the past 12 months as the Dutch Startup Association's rotating Managing Director.
Thomas is embarking on a new journey as Tellow's CEO.
Although he has his hands full transitioning between roles, we caught up with Thomas to reflect on his incredible accomplishments at DSA and his vision for the future of the Dutch startup ecosystem.
After a year as DSA's Managing Director, what are you most proud of?
"It's been an amazing 12 months and there's a lot to be thankful for, but I'm especially proud of:
1. Our voice and visibility. We doubled our members and we more than doubled our social media following. We're 65x more visible in the media thanks to our new PR strategy. We have a much stronger presence in the Hague and we're actively approached by media organisations for our statements on current issues. That cements our position as a leading authority on the startup and scale-up ecosystem in The Netherlands.
2. Our team. When I joined a year ago, work processes were still pretty unstructured, as is often the case with startups. We had a few people working for us but there wasn't a real sense of cohesiveness or team unity. Now we have a full team with a solid structure, a renewed recruitment strategy and much more efficient workflows that allow us to get the most out of everyone's capacities. We've got a strong team, and I couldn't be more proud of our people.
3. Our lobbying achievements. At its core, DSA exists to promote the interests of startups and scale-ups, especially where relevant legislation and policies are concerned. In the past year we've been involved in the establishment of Covid-loans to help small businesses survive the pandemic, the Dutch startup visa and fiscal reform around paying employees in share options. I'm very happy with what we've achieved through our lobbying efforts."
What are the most important issues facing the Dutch entrepreneurship ecosystem to tackle in 2021?
"There's a lot of work to be done on many fronts, but our priorities are:
1. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. These are two highly important legislative proposals by the European Commission that will affect the Dutch ecosystem. It will be key for us to influence the way these pieces of legislation are implemented. We'll be conducting an impact study and channeling efforts towards ensuring that, on a national level and within the startup ecosystem, there is awareness and understanding of the implications of the DSA-DMA package.
2. More investment in startups. In order to grow our startup community and help our startups scale up, we need systematic improvements around funding. The government can help by making investments tax deductible (currently you can only deduct lost investments), for instance, in order to make it more attractive for investors to fund startups and scale-ups in The Netherlands. It's imperative for the Dutch economy of tomorrow to have a competitive investment climate, and DSA is working to bring that message across in the Hague.
3. Diversity and Inclusion. This is obviously crucial on a societal level, but I'm especially passionate about this issue in the startup community. If, as a young startup, you implement D&I as part of your core strategy and cultural DNA at an early stage, this can have an enormous impact years down the road when your company is employing hundreds or thousands of people. I value that enormously, and this is something DSA is working to influence through all three of its pillars: lobbying, research and community."
What is the long-term mission & vision for DSA?
"We're the biggest independent advocacy group for startups and scale-ups in The Netherlands. Our mission is to give entrepreneurs a collective voice and we need to amplify that voice as much as we can.
We need to have even more impact when regulators are creating new policies that affect our startup community, we need to work together with more key partners and allies to get our message across, and we also need to improve the value perception of startups in politics.
Startups are leading drivers of job creation, innovation and economic competitiveness on the global stage. Yet, the value of startups and scale-ups in The Netherlands is not adequately recognised in the political sphere.
This is prioritised in our mission, we need to increase alignment with key stakeholders such as legislators, policy makers and politicians across all ministries. We also need to work together with other advocacy groups such as Techleap, as well as corporate stakeholders, universities, accelerators and investors.
Our unique value is that we can bring our community of startups and scale-ups together with our network of politicians, corporates and other stakeholder groups. Our mission is not one that we need to carry out alone, thanks to all our members and partners.
Ultimately, we want to lift up the entire ecosystem and all the actors that play a role in it."