Recognizing Paris Region’s potential for extensive business growth, Netherlands Business Council France (NLBC) made it their mission to build economic bridges between France and the Netherlands by providing guidance to other Dutch entrepreneurs who are hoping to expand their business in the region. We spoke with a member of NLBC’s founding board, Willemijn Berenschot (WB), and their business director, Anouk Zoet (AZ), to find out more about the company’s services, their take on Paris Region’s dynamic business-driven ecosystem, and their advice for other entrepreneurs looking to take their business abroad.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Netherlands Business Council France (NLBC) and your roles within the organization?
WB: As official partner of the Dutch embassy, the NLBC is the economic portal to France for Dutch entrepreneurs. We are an independent and not for profit organization created to support Dutch entrepreneurs and executives from an operational point of view. The NLBC has structured its services around four pillars as an answer to a survey conducted among these entrepreneurs to know their needs. They include the creation of a vibrant Dutch business community, the provision of services, advocacy towards Dutch and French public authorities and social impact activities.
In January this year, we hired our first employee, Anouk Zoet, who manages the NLBC as business director. Through her knowledge of the French market and her no-nonsense approach, she assists our members to move forward and succeed with the development of their businesses in France.
I am one of the founding board members and responsible for both legal and public affairs. I am part of the NLBC since day 1; together with my fellow board members, I created and developed its strategy, community network, public and private partnerships, and services.
How does the Netherlands Business Council France “build bridges” between the Netherlands and France?
WB: For a bridge to work, both sides must support the framework. That means we focus on understanding how we can work together. Gathering success stories and business cases that in effect can be used as a road map. We have been created for a reason: doing business in France successfully can be an interesting challenge. Dutch SMEs are confronted with practical problems involving language and legislative matters. Consider as well the quest for trustworthy advisors and service providers. Also, executives working for Dutch corporations may encounter cultural differences. It is not always easy to find a balance between Dutch expectations and the French reality. The NLBC, accessible to all, assists those entrepreneurs in offering a qualified service provider network, influencing the public opinion and focus on the similarities and the positive economic collaborations between the Dutch and the French.
We envision a dynamic business climate between the Netherlands and France where companies succeed, and people prosper.
Please tell us a bit more about the Dutch companies that are members of the Netherlands Business Council France. What are they interested in when they approach you? How do they view Paris Region, and what makes them interested in setting-up a business here?
AZ: Dutch entrepreneurs and companies are enthusiastic when approaching the French market and specifically, Paris Region. Our members are often looking to expand their network to get in touch with French companies. Where else to look for connections than in Europe’s n° 1 economic region and business hub? Paris Region knows an impressive economic growth in a multidisciplinary landscape, and thus offers plenty of opportunity.
What, in your opinion, is Paris Region’s strongest asset when it comes down to business?
AZ: Paris Region presents opportunity and diversity. In just a train ride away, you are in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the French capital. Paris is a vibrant city and offers possibilities for growth and expansion for start-ups, PME’s, and Fortune 500 companies. The region is divided in different business districts and sectors pushing for creative collaborations and partnerships.
Tell us a few words about the synergies between the Netherlands Business Council France and Choose Paris Region.
WB: Our motivations are aligned: attract more Dutch companies. Through our partnership, we are able to offer a complete and even better targeted tailor-made support for Dutch entrepreneurs wishing to establish their company in the region! We are looking forward to our cooperative actions in order to promote Paris and its region with our Dutch contacts and to inform them about the extensive opportunities for doing business in France.
As successful businesswomen, what advice would you give to other businesswomen thinking of a career in entrepreneurship abroad?
WB: Know your stuff – especially languages – because communication is always key. Besides that, you should be alert to the often patriarchal and very hierarchical influences in society abroad. Gender bias is more alive than you might think. Therefore, stay true to yourself and your values. Never deny your femininity nor copy leadership roles from men; female leaders, bringing each their own specific characteristics, traits, and strengths, are essential in all organizations.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
WB: Finding and keeping the balance between my career and my family life, whilst also keeping up with my personal and spiritual development and a sustainable life approach. I like seeing myself as a tree in this respect. Once deeply rooted thanks to the relationships built in the past, with family, friends and a supportive network, your trunk can support and develop the branches - all your activities - and go further, expand, enjoy, and reach for the future!
How would you describe Paris Region in 3 words?
AZ: You do not describe it, you LIVE Paris! Unique, opportunities, buzzing!