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Emigration/The Netherlands

Moving to the Netherlands on a start-up visa is easier than it looks. An interview with the founders of SkillToStart


SkillToStart has already helped many entrepreneurs move to the Netherlands with a start-up visa, which Nina Rybchak, Tatiana Dubovskaya and Natalia Lips used to receive for their own companies.

The founders of SkillToStart were able to tell us about their relocation stories, how to start preparing for a start-up visa and how a small Kaliningrad business got an opportunity to develop in the Netherlands with the support of a Japanese calligraphy professor.

The most effective preparation for relocation

- A man calls you and says he is planning a move to Europe but does not know where to start. What will you tell him?

Nina Rybchak: No need to drag out the thinking process. It is impossible to think of everything, for one thing. Secondly, alas, it is useless to make long term plans in 2023. If you decide to emigrate, do it in small steps, but regularly and persistently move towards your goal.

Tatiana Dubovskaya: I could say: "Get ready! If it is not a spontaneous escape, but a conscious emigration, you need to prepare both morally and financially. Prepare documents, learn the language, learn new skills. Look for new sources of income.

In our project SkillToStart we try to be as honest as possible about emigration. Emigration takes time and money - and it's important to hope less for luck, prepare as much as possible for all the difficulties and believe in yourself.

It is not unreasonable to make several different plans so as not to get discouraged if you do not succeed the first time.

Natalia Lips: I see a lot of people who seem to want to move but never will. They are the ones who have no other language. They are convinced that if they want they can learn it quickly. Unfortunately, this is self-deception. You need a language right away when you move - at least English. First of all, learn the language.

The more standard the profession, the higher the language level should be. Otherwise you won't be able to work as an ordinary salesman or an office clerk. If a unique expert, an inventor, can afford not the highest level of language, because he is already competitive due to his knowledge, the middle manager without an ideal command of languages simply can not find work in his specialty.

By the way, a start-up also gives you a certain discount on language skills. If you have a cool project and you're good at it, you'll be forgiven for not speaking English too well.

- In 2022, were more people forced to move?

Tatiana: Not always.

More often, moving is a desire to grow. People grow out of their city, their country and they want to move on.

There is another story when people leave because of fear. They see the window of opportunity narrowing in front of them and they start looking for a safe place to live. Some people go for the quality of life because they are not prepared to compromise their interests and principles. Sometimes people send their children first and then move themselves, we have had such cases.

Tatiana Dubovskaya

Natalia: The main problem with moving is the fear of losing one's social status. But when you come to do a project, you come with your own goal in mind. And it helps a lot to cope with some everyday inconveniences.

SkillToStart is an effective women's startup that helps its clients in all stages of the move

- How was the idea to create a startup that helps people move to the Netherlands born?

Tatiana: When the war started and many people's bank cards were cut off, we got together and started to think about what to do, how to help this huge stream of refugees that was pouring in from Russia. In the chats of Russian emigrants there was one important question: how to live now, and most importantly, on what. We had the knowledge and experience to help find an answer to this question.

Thus the SkillToStart project was born for an audience looking to move from unstable countries to countries that are more likely to guarantee security for both people and business. 

- You have a purely female enterprise. Do you think your approach is different from other companies like this?

Nina: Exactly, SkillToStart is a purely female team. If we talk about similar companies that help with relocation and visa issues, I think that our main difference is our soulfulness. We take each client's story personally, as if it were our own.

Of course, it would be better for business to have a more commercial approach, but it is important for us to help, to see smiles on people's faces because they have found hope or realised ways out of the situation.

So we provide a lot of useful content for free on our resources, we hold free webinars and conferences. People tell us: we've been to your webinar, you have such kind faces!

Can you imagine how important this is right now? Many are confused, frightened. Humanity is very important. Of course, it has to go hand in hand with quality and responsibility. We know how to combine all this.

In addition to our main products - individual consultations and project support - we have inexpensive and very informative educational products for those who want to understand the big picture and their options for emigrating to the Netherlands.

Online master class: Business plan

Online Class: Grants and subsidies

Online Master Class: Pitch deck

VIP Master Class: Business Plan

VIP Master Class: Grants & Subsidies

VIP Master Class: Pitch deck

Course: "How to launch a startup in Europe in 12 lessons”

Tatiana: Women's team indeed has its own specifics. There is much more understanding of some domestic and family matters, the atmosphere is more friendly, there are no sexist overtones - while working in a male team, such things somehow come back to haunt communication. I'd say there's more democracy, no rigid vertical.

"Welcome home"

- How long have you been in Europe? What is your personal story of emigration?

Nina: My youngest daughter was an equestrian for many years, and we often went to Holland to train and compete internationally. (The Netherlands and Germany are world leaders in equestrian sports). During these trips we fell in love with the country, got into its atmosphere and culture. My daughter wanted to go to university exactly in the Netherlands. So I started to look for possible ways to move.

As I had a free schedule for the past few years, I did not want to move as a migrant and work 40 hours a week in an office. It was also interesting to try something for myself.

Researching information about the Netherlands, I learned about the startup visa programme and that Prince Wilhelm had been systematically building up the innovation infrastructure in the country for several years. So I decided to give it a try.

Nina Rybchak

I had a purely manufacturing startup, based on innovative technology. I prepared all the necessary documents for the application to the facilitators myself, went through a very strict selection process, and signed a contract, which gave me the opportunity to get a startup visa for myself and my family members.

As you can see, the startup visa is not just for IT and digital projects.

Tatiana: When I was still doing startups in Russia, I met Natalya (Lips) and at some point she suggested I join her Dutch bioplastic project. It was a topic that really caught my attention: it opened up perspectives for a qualitatively new use of materials. I got involved and experienced all the difficulties that awaited aspiring start-ups in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, it all worked out, the startup is developing and will soon move to the next level.

For our SkillToStart project, I would like to pass on all the experience I have gained during this time: this drive, this way of interacting with a new business environment - friendly, but at the same time very demanding.

To be honest, I liked promoting projects in the Netherlands: you are supported as an entrepreneur, as an innovator - you really want to move forward.

- Was it difficult to decide?

Nina: No. I'm basically a person of abrupt action and quick decisions. And I've been thinking about emigrating for years. It was difficult to adapt, because after I moved there, it was like a classic "don't confuse tourism with immigration".

Tatiana: The only thing I was worried about was how my son would handle the emigration story. I myself moved to Moscow from Krasnoyarsk and I remember how difficult it was for me: a different pace of life, different values. My son was in grammar school, he had many friends, a well-established social circle - so I was worried about his adaptation in the new country.

We had originally agreed: live for a year, see how you like it, and then you can, if necessary, come back. But we couldn't go back - there was a war and all roads were cut off.

So we stayed here and I saw how my child was changing in the new environment. He became freer, more democratic, more responsible. I think I have benefited from that change as well.

Natalia: No, but there were quite a few obstacles in the way. When I was approved for a residence card, I went to Russia to pick up my things - and just then the pandemic started. I was stuck for three months, but I was lucky - in that time the Netherlands approved my grant, I found a plane to Germany, which only resident card holders were allowed on - and in May 2020 I finally moved to the Netherlands.

- Why here?

Nina: I approached the choice of country very consciously. I directly compared indices, rankings, cultural peculiarities. The Netherlands is consistently among the top 5 countries in the world in terms of innovation, quality of life, satisfaction indices, child happiness and the like. Besides, we have been travelling here regularly for many years with our daughter, and we have an idea of exactly where we are going.

For me, personally, the Dutch are passionate about animals, nature and the environment. The way they care about their land. The fact that they openly say what they think.

And these seemingly inconspicuous things - delicious and clean tap water, clean air. But they determine the quality of life.

- Was there a special moment when you felt "yes, this is my country"?

Tatiana: You know, yes. My son and I went to Russia to complete our business, to visit our relatives. Before that, we received all the documents here, rented a house, i.e. literally the last preparations were made.

And so we returned to the Netherlands, holding out our cards, and at the airport they said: "Welcome home! That was the moment I almost cried, it was so touching and unexpected.

How to adapt your startup idea to a European facilitator

- What part of the move does Skill To Start do, and what part do you have to do yourself?

Nina: We try to prepare a tailor-made proposal for each client depending on financial and time constraints. We work with different types of residence permits, so the amount of work is different everywhere. The only thing is that people have to get their documents apostilled themselves, because this is only done in the country of citizenship.

We do one-off consultations on specific issues, as well as turnkey individual support programmes. We are responsive to the client's needs and willing to adapt.

For start-up visas, for example, in addition to the above, there is an interactive online course "How to prepare a successful start-up visa application" (for those who have no budget for individual turnkey support).

We have also prepared master classes to help with startup visa application: business plan for startup, fundraising, startup presentation - at the cost of dinner in a cafe, to make them as accessible as possible.

That is, in addition to consulting like other relocation companies, we also have educational products.

Tatiana: It depends on the person. Someone tries to do most of the work himself, asking only for consultations - it is more profitable from the economic point of view. Some people find it more important to delegate as many tasks as possible - and with them the responsibility - to specialists.

There is also the category of people who prefer to pay money and wait for results, but we try not to work with such clients, so as not to give false hopes: we deal not only with startups, but also with study visas and business and migrant worker visas - but they all involve, to some extent, the active participation of the client in the process.

We work in a combination of coaching and consulting. We move step by step, explain how and where you need to improve your project or portfolio, advise on documents and develop a strategy.

Natalia: I was able to make my own presentation of the project to the facilitator, solve all the issues and present the idea correctly. But I had a lot of experience, which I had been accumulating for years.

If a person is not able to spend a lot of time on learning all the subtleties of presenting a startup on the European market, the best solution is to ask professionals for help.

SkillToStart just takes on the task of adjusting a startup idea to the request of a European philanthropist. There is a very fine line here between following the rules, clear project trajectory and innovation - and it is quite difficult to follow it from the get-go. Our project is a bridge between the client's idea and the European market demand.

Natalia Lips

- In general, how difficult is it to get a residence permit in the Netherlands?

Nina: It's difficult, but it's possible. It is not an easy country to immigrate to. But it is definitely worth fighting for.

Tatiana: I saw some cases, when bright and trendy startups were fast enough to get through the instances, but still it is an exception to the rule. The hardest part is to pass the barrier, but if the startup is accepted, the next steps are much easier. And of course, active startups that know their business and are really enthusiastic about their idea stand a very good chance.

Success story. How a business from Kaliningrad became a startup in the Netherlands

- Let's tell you at least about one interesting case.

Nina: It's hard to choose, we have so many inspiring stories about how useful it is to look at your project from a different angle, or about how a startup visa works great for projects with a social impact. 

A couple from Kaliningrad, an engineer and a designer, with their online shop of designer products for an elegant hobby, turned to us for help. They were selling goods for calligraphy. We liked both the team and the project very much. The guys are pros, talents and pedants in their business; there are sales, including in Europe. All in all, an author's business, their own designs, a creative industry.

What remains to be worked out is how to turn this into a start-up.

The basic idea is that calligraphy can be compared to meditation, it has a positive effect on brain activity. Europe is getting old, and anything that can help postpone dementia should be in demand by the market, and will please the facilitators (the selection is competitive).

But evidence was needed to prove the effectiveness of the method itself. The guys were persistent and contacted a Japanese guru-professor, who had a series of articles confirming that the method worked.

And, voila! - The professor not only responds, but even sends a letter of support.

It is clear that such speed and result of correspondence is luck, but all participants are fans of the same hobby, so the principle "let the fisherman see the fisherman from afar" works. All according to the classics: quality preparation meets chance and the wheels start turning.

We reformatted the project with the team, backed it up with the necessary letters and selected the right facilitators for the profile and sent them out.

World Startup showed interest, but asked for a motivation letter (we made it together and explained why we chose the Netherlands).

A week later, we received an invitation for an online interview. Then a final interview with another representative responsible for scaling startups.

The team was confirmed that they were definitely accepted into the programme, which would be tailor-made for their project!

We are very grateful to the guys for their trust and for not arguing, but following our advice and doing everything the right way, the right way and on time - and lo and behold, the result is there.

An interview with the founders of a calligraphy startup can be seen on @skilltostart channel by clicking here.

The SkillToStart project on social media:

Photo material from the SkillToStart team archive

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