Her first startup failed. Victoria Martinez (29) was sixteen when she started an online shop with a friend, where customers could design their own gifts; an idea that was quite revolutionary at the time. Their business failed in the end because she and her co-founder disagreed on why they had started their business in the first place. “For my co-founder it was simply serious business. Whereas for me, the whole process of starting a startup was so much more: it was fun, a passion.” For Victoria, failure was only the beginning of an exciting new future in the world of startups.
I meet Victoria Martinez in her office at the Torenallee, in Eindhoven in a former Philips building. Victoria speaks fast and moves fast, just like the foundation she founded for startups, the Eindhoven Startups Foundation, which is growing fast. Two years ago Victoria, who has her roots in Seville, came to the Netherlands. Today, she is the founder and chairman of “Eindhoven Startups Foundation’ an organisation with more than 500 members (and 80 startups), whose goal is to empower startups in the Eindhoven region with knowledge and network. “When I arrived here I had no network at all, so I decided to sign up at www.meetup.com and organize a get together with startups in Eindhoven,” she explains. “It started with one event per month. Now we organise more than one hundred a year.” The events vary from Q&A’s with founders, drinks with startups, to a startup school that teaches you everything you need to know to start your own startup: from legal matters to accounting and branding. Last year she realised that the foundation was growing really fast. Too fast. Even for Victoria, who ended up working every day until midnight and every weekend. “Fortunately I met Joep Brouwers (Brainport Development), Erik Vermeulen (Tilburg University and Philips) and Peter Weijmarshausen (CEO Shapeways) at that time. With their network and support we could become an official foundation. As a true foundation we now have the power to make faster changes, to make more noise and to give voice to the needs of the entrepreneurs in Eindhoven.”
Yes, Victoria went fast, but this doesn’t mean that all went smoothly. Dealing with the Chamber of Commerce for a non-Dutch speaking entrepreneur was a challenge. She remembers that rainy morning very well when she went to the Chamber of Commerce with a pile of papers that needed to be signed. “The person from the Chamber of Commerce with whom I had an appointment did not speak English.” Victoria used different languages, even some Finnish words she knew to make herself understandable. This way they managed to communicate and at the end of the day all the necessary forms were signed. “In the end registering with the Chamber of Commerce went really fast. In Spain it takes ages!” This was two years ago. Fortunately, progress has been made in making English information available for foreign startups (see: StartupDelta portal). “Maybe StartupDelta could see to it that the whole process with the Chamber of Commerce and also with the tax office and other legal matters are available in English for foreign startups?”
Conquer the World!
Victoria advises foreign startups in the Netherlands to get legal help for their accounting. “It will facilitate your life. You will have enough monkey’s on your back.” She also advises foreign startups in the Netherlands to get in touch with the necessary local institutions, programmes and other startups. “Find out who does what. Other startups can give you neutral advise; sometimes you are so into your product you can’t look beyond it.” Another tip she gives is to be ambitious and to dream big: “You already moved to another country; that was scary, but you conquered it. Now conquer the world!”
Being a foreigner who wants to begin a startup in the Netherlands is not an issue for Victoria. On the contrary, she stresses the advantage of the international business climate and the large variety of tech clusters around the country, which are easily to be reached as it is a small country. Being a female entrepreneur is a bigger issue. When she arrives at a meeting people expect to see a guy in a suit and in a car. “They expect a Victor. Not a young woman coming by bike.” She adapts her clothing to look more mature. “Female entrepreneurs in the Netherlands are not visible enough,” says Victoria. Out of the 70 founders who have joined her Facebook group, only three are women. To change this, more female role models are needed, she says. “There are many female entrepreneurs here in the Netherlands, but they do not act as role models. I think it is a matter of convincing them to become more visible. They need a push. We need more female role models like Elizabeth Holmes. Women like her are getting things done.”
How can startups grow big in the Netherlands? According to Victoria the ingredients for startups to grow are here; we have the expertise but we also need ambition and we need to be fast; we need to look at what the market wants and at the same time be innovative. “Remember that quote? Was it Henry Ford?” Victoria googles fast on her mobile: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” she says enthusiastically. “StartupDelta and her network can empower startups by advising them how to go to the next level, help them to make a connection with interesting parties abroad and to make a connection between similar startups abroad. It would be great if startups in Europe could exchange information and advise each other more easily. By sharing knowledge you are creating a sustainable startup ecosystem. And by helping each other out you stay on top of the latest developments and at the same time you feel a bit like a hero.”
Victoria Martinez is also the organizer of the EHV Summit, a yearly event organized by and for the Eindhoven startup community that will take place on the 22nd October in Eindhoven, see: www.ehvsummit.com. She is also one of the advisors of StartupDelta.