What international missions can do for your startup

“You don't have to go to Helsinki to meet Dutch people, but it does help.”

What international missions can do for your startup

When you are first starting out with your spinoff, you’re unlikely to be thinking much about international expansion. Nevertheless, it can be worth your while to look beyond our country’s borders at an early stage in your business’ development. International missions can help with that. Last November, RVO’s Rik Roeske and Maurits Burgering of Wageningen University & Research visited Slush in Helsinki. In this article, they share their experiences and discuss the value of international missions.

RVO frequently organizes foreign trade missions with the goal of helping Dutch startups grow. These missions are all about validation, attracting investors and internationalization. Rik Roeske works at RVO as project leader missions. In his own words, he has “the best job in the world.” He says: “I am responsible for every aspect of organizing foreign missions. My work begins as soon as we decide to go somewhere and doesn’t end until we get back. We often organize our missions to coincide with existing trade shows, such as Slush in Helsinki or Collision in Toronto. Besides attending these major events, we organize whatever side events are most helpful to the startups joining us on our trip. One side event we always organize revolves around giving the members of the delegation the opportunity to get to know each other. After all, you can also find relevant connections within the delegation itself. You don’t have to go to Helsinki to meet Dutch people, but it does help.”

Collaboration with regional parties

Every November, a mission departs for Slush in Helsinki; one of the largest startup fairs in the world with circa 12,000 attendees. Rik: “Besides startups, Slush also attracts investors and potential clients. That makes this a great event for startups looking to meet investors. Although startups have to meet certain criteria to take part, our collaboration with the 4TU also gives startups in an earlier stage of development a chance to come along. For example, there are startups that can win a wild card that earns them a spot in the finals of the Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge, which is one of the side events we host. For those startups, this is a wonderful opportunity to expand their network. In other words, our partnership with the 4TU and other regional parties in the Netherlands is invaluable to us. It enriches our mission far beyond what RVO could achieve by itself.”

Largest Dutch delegation

Last year, the mission to Slush had the largest Dutch delegation to date: over 180 participants and 72 enthusiastic Dutch startups traveled to Finland together. Among those 72 startups where circa fifteen entrepreneurs from the TTT network. Maurits Burgering joined the mission as a representative of TTT. “It is wonderful to see regional organizations such as Founded in Groningen and Founded in Friesland come on the mission together with TTT,” he says. “Bringing all those different parties together creates real clout and it is amazing to see how well TTT fits in. My job was to help startups achieve their goals, whether that was to attract a suitable investor or find the right collaboration partner. What really impressed me, however, is the fact that virtually all these entrepreneurs want to make an impact. That resonated very well with the podium presentations at Slush, where many investors are looking to make green investments with real impact. It is not just about making money, but also about doing something good for the world.”

Doing your homework

Although this mission might sound like a fun trip, it actually involves a lot of hard work – and not just during the mission itself.   Maurits: “You have to be well prepared before going on a mission. It is important to have a clear goal in mind, so you know where to go.” Rik agrees. “Entrepreneurs who wait until they get to the airport to open their laptop and start working on their planning often have no idea where to begin and are completely overwhelmed. That is why we organize preliminary get-togethers to help startups with their preparations. We make sure the startups have prepared a strong pitch, are able to find the right investors and understand the culture. Simply put, it is about doing your homework. Only then can these missions truly help Dutch startups grow.”


Smart Industry

Nico Nijenhuis


Circular Technology

Maurits Burgering



Esther Rodijk


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