How InnovationQuarter Helps the Dutch Cybersecurity Sector to Internationalise

14 Oct 2021
Author: InnovationQuarter

The most Cybersecurity companies quickly build a customer base. After all, digital services can be scaled up relatively quickly and cyber-attacks do not stop at the border. ‘’But many companies underestimate the move to the foreign market,’’ warns Isabel Barhoorn, project officer Cybersecurity Internationalisation at InnovationQuarter. ‘’It is a sensitive sector: you are dealing with company or state secrets. That requires more caution and trust.’’ She explains how she helps Cybersecurity companies in South-Holland to make the most of their opportunities on the international market. 


The Cybersecurity companies that Isabel accompanies to go abroad, work on digital security in all layers of society. This may include software for the safe storage of passwords, risk management for companies, insight into online threats, the use of drones by the Ministry of Defense and privacy control services of the government, such as DigiD and the CoronaCheck app. ‘’The sector’s sales market is very diverse,’’ says Isabel. ‘’And in all cases, you have to deal with compliance: laws and regulations that security services must adhere to and that differ per market.’’


The added value of internationalization


Cyber-attacks are an increasing threat and can seriously disrupt our digitised society. ‘’In Florida, a water treatment plant was recently hit, which temporarily resulted in a high dose of unhealthy substances ending up in the drinking water,’’ says Isabel. ‘’And a Swedish supermarket chain had to temporarily close 800 stores following an attack. SMEs are also regularly targeted, often with enormous financial consequences. The risk of such an attack and its major consequences are causing a growing worldwide demand for good and innovative security services. This mainly concerns software. The relatively short time with which you can scale it up provides international growth opportunities.’’


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‘’In order to come along, staying up to date is not sufficient. You have to stay ahead of developments.’’

  • Isabel Barnhoorn, project officer Cybersecurity Internationalisation


Competition advantage


The cat-and-mouse game with cyber criminals accelerates innovation in the sector. This results, in combination with new technologies and increasing international competition, in a sector that is developing at lightning speed. ‘’In order to come along, staying up to date is not sufficient’’, says Isabel. ‘’You have to stay ahead of developments.’’ Together with the USA and Israel for example, the Netherlands is far ahead, certainly compared to other European countries. ‘’This position gives foreign customers more confidence in Dutch cybersecurity companies: a competitive advantage that benefits young companies.’’


Foreign talent


In addition to a larger sales market, other countries offer access to talent and new input. And that is certainly interesting for this sector. ‘’Without the right knowledge and specialists, you do not have sufficient innovative power,’’ Isabel explains. ‘’Companies regularly give lectures at foreign universities to bring bright minds, research and collaboration partners on board. In this way, internationalisation offers possibilities to enrich your company in terms of content.’’


Challenges on the way abroad


Besides opportunities, there are also obstacles. For example, the sensitivity of the data to be protected requires extreme caution. Isabel: ‘’You are dealing with secrets and that makes customers critical. This applies particularly to government organisations, but the business community is also becoming increasingly cautious.’’ Geopolitical considerations play an equally important role in the choice for a software supplier. ‘’There is a certain form of nationalism in this sector: organisations prefer to work with companies from their own country. That certainly makes it difficult for start-ups and scale-ups to intervene.’’


Laws and regulations


Moreover, laws and regulations differ per country, sometimes even per region. ‘’In Germany, each federal state has its own privacy laws,’’ says Isabel. ‘’That takes a lot of research. Those laws and regulations are also constantly changing. For example, Brexit makes it a lot more complicated to do business with the United Kingdom. Keeping abreast of all these different and changing rules provides companies with a lot of homework.’’


‘’You are dealing with secrets and that makes customers critical. This applies particularly to government organisations, but the business community is also becoming increasingly cautious.’’

  • Isabel Barnhoorn, project officer Cybersecurity Internationalisation



Fast growing competition


The rapid increase in the number of start-ups and security services is driving the developments even further. ‘’Young companies want to bring their new technologies to the large market as quickly as possible,’’ explains Isabel. ‘’Because soon a competitor will be ahead of them. Competition is fierce, especially in the USA. You have to develop quickly and constantly keep abreast of the playing field. If you can do that, you can gain a lot of ground. But that takes time, investment and expertise.’’


The support of InnovationQuarter


InnovationQuarter invests in regional companies, stimulates innovation and helps foreign Cybersecurity companies to establish themselves in the region. With the internationalisation team, Isabel helps the Dutch Cybersecurity sector to expand into foreign markets.


Build trust


Every internationalisation process starts with an inventory of the wishes of the entrepreneur. Training programs such as Globaliser, a Dutchbasecamp program that is offered together with relevant partners, then provide insight into the most important sales market. Isabel helps to enter this market, often by building up a relationship of trust: she organises meetings between key persons and maintains contact with knowledge institutions, industry partners and industry organisations from different countries. ‘’That strengthens the reputation of our region. Regional companies benefit from this and have immediate access to a relevant network. This also includes partners closer to home. We form a valuable combination with the network platform Security Delta (HSD): we offer the economic view, while they offer the substantive view. 


New sales markets


In addition, Isabel explores the uncharted paths in order to jump into new markets at an early stage, such as Scandinavia at the moment. ‘’The security sector is less developed there. That makes it easier for us to add value and stay ahead of local providers. Because of these kinds of opportunities, I am constantly busy with spotting new markets and trying to involve the Dutch industry on time.’’


Market research and stock exchanges


In addition to access to a large network, InnovationQuarter offers cybersecurity companies organisational support. Think of applying for grants, conducting market research or arranging stakes at international stock exchanges. ‘’Those activities cost tens of thousands of euros and one or two FTEs,’’ says Isabel. ‘’By taking that work off the hands of entrepreneurs and organising it collectively, they can continue to focus on their core business. That is the added value of our approach: we work efficiently and try to understand every company, including the people behind it. We see what suits them at the point where they are now. And we try to respond to this per company and per target market.’’


Does your SME, start-up or scale-up work in Cybersecurity and do you also want to get more out of the foreign market? Please contact Isabel: or get in touch with Innovation Liaison Bert Feskens from HSD: 


For more information how to internationalise, also see what your oppurtunities are on the Access to Market page. 



HSD Partners involved