Rotterdam benefits from the international recognition of Invest in Holland

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‘Regions have to collaborate nationally to be attractive internationally’

Invest in Holland promotes the Netherlands abroad, with the aim of attracting foreign companies to invest in our country. In the field of life sciences & health, the Invest in Holland organisation is doing this so well, that they won a prestigious award from the United Nations in October 2021. This recognition also reflects well on Rotterdam, says Sharon Mullen of Rotterdam Partners and Invest in Holland. 

Sharon Mullen recently started wearing two hats. She has been wearing the hat of Business Manager for Life Science & Health at Rotterdam Partners for almost five years. The organisation’s goal is to make Rotterdam attractive for international companies and build sustainable growth into the Rotterdam economy. She recently added the Invest in Holland hat for two days a week. Invest in Holland is a collaborative partnership between the government entity The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, regional economic development agencies (including Rotterdam Partners), several large cities and the Holland International Distribution Council.

Promoting the Netherlands as a whole

Invest in Holland does the same as Rotterdam Partners, but for the whole of the Netherlands. You have to promote the Netherlands as a whole to foreign companies,’ says Sharon, who was born in England and has lived and worked in the Netherlands for twenty years. ‘We are a small country, so it makes little sense to present yourself on a regional basis. Regions must collaborate nationally to be attractive internationally. If we all present the same vision and show how well everything in the Netherlands is connected, it comes across much stronger.’

Award from the United Nations

This is evident from the international recognition Invest in Holland received in October 2021. The organisation received an Investment Promotion Award from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). From 188 submissions received, the Dutch initiative was judged to be the best. According to the jury, Invest in Holland was recognised for its “online promotional activities which present the Netherlands as a connected life sciences metropolis and the information presented on the favourable ecosystem for investment in health, including policy, research and human talent”.

Mapping connections

‘It’s a great honour when such a renowned international organisation gives you this recognition,’ says Sharon. She was co-responsible for the development of so-called ‘tube maps’. The national tube map illustrates the connections in the Netherlands between university medical centres, technical universities and LSH organisations. Another map was developed for the Rotterdam-Den Haag region, showing four ‘lines’: knowledge, facilities, innovation and network.

Rotterdam map final version 2021

Rolling out the ‘orange’ carpet

‘It was partly because of these maps that we stood out at the United Nations election,’ says Sharon. ‘They enable foreign companies to clearly see at a glance how the eco systems connections work in the Netherlands. We have a high density of knowledge institutes, which are well connected and easily accessible. As a foreign company, you could easily make several visits a day, because the distances are so small. Moreover, Belgium, Germany, France and the rest of Europe can all be reached quickly from the Netherlands. It’s not for nothing that we promote the Netherlands as the best connected LSH metropolis. Furthermore, the Netherlands has a good infrastructure, almost everyone speaks English well and the business climate is favourable. On top of that, Invest in Holland rolls out the ‘orange’ carpet for companies. By helping them to start up, roll out and expand their business activities.’

Rotterdam benefits

Sharon says that Rotterdam also benefits from the efforts of Invest in Holland. ‘I literally give Rotterdam a voice in the national network that Invest in Holland forms. In fact, it’s not really necessary, Rotterdam sells itself through all the knowledge institutions located here, such as the Erasmus MC, the Erasmus University, the Universities of applied sciences and the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship. But also because of the strong LSH ecosystem and the connections that already exist with, for example, the TU Delft and the LUMC in Leiden. This doesn’t mean that we try to attract every foreign company to Rotterdam. We look carefully at a company’s situation and find the location that best fits their needs. Rotterdam still stands to benefit if a company eventually establishes itself in Enschede or Eindhoven, due to the lines being so short and the Netherlands being relatively small, everyone can connect and work together.’

Close ties with government departments

Indirectly, the Rotterdam LSH ecosystem also benefits from Sharon’s position within Invest in Holland. ‘I get even more insights into developments in the market,’ she says. ‘I also work more on a strategic level and have closer ties with, for example, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Change and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. But also, with other knowledge and network organisations, such as the Health Holland and Task Force Health Care. This can be a great advantage to make it easier for us to connect Rotterdam-based start-ups to interesting national international parties in the eco system.’

Erasmus MC offers opportunities

Sharon has ideas on how the Rotterdam LSH ecosystem can be promoted even more effectively. With the Erasmus MC, we have a knowledge institute that is highly regarded internationally. We could benefit even more from its status. Especially given the new campus in Rotterdam where the Erasmus University and TU Delft are going to be collaborating. This is very good for positioning Rotterdam and the Netherlands in the field of life sciences. Many companies are watching with great interest to see what is happening on that campus. By working together, they have the opportunity to share more data and work more closely with s patients. Through collaboration and innovation, we can find more improved ways to deliver healthcare regionally, nationally and internationally, all from a base in Rotterdam.’

Working together with the Port of Rotterdam

‘I also think that the life sciences industry could cooperate even better with other sectors,’ Sharon continues. ‘Consider the Port of Rotterdam, where they are trying to become more sustainable through all kinds of interesting innovations. Hospitals and other care providers have the very same mission. We can, therefore, take a broader view so that we can learn from each other and together tackle the challenges of our time. In Rotterdam, we like to do that from the perspective of develop, design, deliver. In short: we want to think up the solutions, but also make them and deliver them. That is truly possible here and that’s what makes us attractive to foreign companies.’

Objective opinion

It won’t be up to Sharon. Wearing two hats, she is committed to promoting the Dutch life sciences & health sector. ‘I’d like to make as much impact as possible to help improve healthcare. It’s an amazing challenge that I’m very passionate about.’ And, she says with a wink: ‘As an Englishwoman, I can give an objective opinion about the Netherlands. I hope that helps in persuading companies to invest here.’

Sharon Mullen

Want to know more about Invest in Holland? Visit the website: Do you want to collaborate with Rotterdam Partners and/or Invest in Holland? Connect with Sharon Mullen via LinkedIn or mail her at:

Date: 24 January 2022