By Linda van Rooij
Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco

International trade and collaboration are vital to thriving economies and solutions to global problems. The US welcomes dozens of trade delegations from the Netherlands each year. Entrepreneurs travel across the world to meet US West Coast partners, build connections, gain knowledge and share ideas, bringing together the best of two like-minded and business-oriented countries.

The emergence of COVID-19, however, has put an immediate halt to such missions, leaving behind an even stronger need for trade during difficult economic times.

That’s why the Consulate General in San Francisco is hosting the first virtual trade mission this week, with about 100 companies in smart and e-mobility. Through online sessions and networking, they will make new connections and possible partnerships, all from the comfort of their own home.

The virtual mission will be opened by the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag and California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis.

The virtual events will also feature State Secretary of Infrastructure and Water Management Stientje van Veldhoven, Commissioner Patty Monahan of the California Energy Commission, and Dutch Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Roald Lapperre, among others.

“The coronavirus is stopping all of our usual missions in their tracks at a crucial moment in time,” said Consul General Gerbert Kunst. “Many businesses are impacted by the pandemic and are looking for new ways to innovate and connect right now. This is especially true for the field of smart and e-mobility, as COVID-19 has completely changed the way we look at travel and commuting worldwide. You already see a stronger need for bicycle infrastructure. What will public transportation look like while social distancing?”

A new approach

This is where the virtual mission comes in. The pandemic is stopping experts and companies from physically meeting, but through this mission the consulate is offering them a new way to tackle these mobility challenges together.

“Our interactive program connects the best Dutch and American companies in the field, and is uniquely tailored to their needs. Our close partnership with the state of California and Forth allows us to tap into a strong American network, helping to establish and maintain our strong transatlantic connections, but online this time,” said Consul General Kunst.

In the Netherlands, many mobility companies feel the impact of the coronavirus, especially in their international departments.

“Our local companies were, of course, impacted by COVID-19 as they are international players with integrated and international supply chains,” said Johann Beelen, business development manager at Brainport, an economic development agency that supports companies in the Southeast of the Netherlands. “It influenced and slowed down the growth activities of a lot of high-potential startups and SMEs. For our own organization, this called for immediate action in order to help the companies through these tough times.”

A virtual format

The inaugural Dutch virtual trade mission is aimed at fostering international cooperation from afar, replacing the usual mission format with an interactive platform that allows companies to network and innovate from a distance. It is divided into sections, granting participants the power to pick and choose, compiling their own personally tailored program.

Individual matchmaking, policy dialogues, thematic breakout sessions and networking moments, as well as pitch- and US business preparation assisted by the Holland in the Valley network, are all part of the mission.

The mission format, therefore, transcends the more basic webinar format, as its interactive nature allows participating delegation members to not just listen to renowned guest speakers, but to ask questions, network, and approach other organizations in the online platform. This platform will remain operable until the end of 2020, allowing users to continue to connect and make optimal use of their mission participation.

“Elaad is looking forward to this mission,” said Baerte de Brey, chief international officer at ElaadNL, the collaboration of Dutch grid operators. “A digital mission shows that both California and the Netherlands are highly focused on the long-term goals of the mobility and energy transition. Adopting to the corona crisis by organizing the exchange of thoughts and plans in a digital way is an example of the innovative spirit we both have.”

With over 100 companies participating, the mission has a large and well-rounded delegation, which is great news considering the unexpected change of format, making this virtual event a Dutch first.

“I think this virtual mission really represents the Netherlands, showcasing the smart Dutch approach to problem solving,” said Consul General Kunst. “Although the cancellations of our original missions is disappointing, our quick adaptation to a virtual format exemplifies Dutch innovation and flexibility at its best. I’m therefore very proud to support this first virtual mission, and am looking forward to meeting you all virtually.”

Sessions will be live-streamed on the Twitter account of Consul General Gerbert Kunst, @NLinSF.