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How One Company’s European Expansion Efforts Led to Finding the Ideal Location

NFIA_articleimage_amsterdamLike many global economies, Europe is experiencing weakness. But that’s not a reason to take it off your consideration list for business expansion strategies. Europe is a mature market that, like the US, has put into place structural reforms to help it recover sooner. And that’s why it might make sense for you to consider operations there.

A recent study by Joseph Quinlan at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins, and the German Marshal Fund, offers this perspective: “Despite Europe’s economic difficulties, the region still accounts for 53 percent of total US foreign affiliate income.” The study also cited Europe’s ease of doing business, saying, “According to the World Bank, 12 European economies ranked in the top 25 most business-friendly… To ignore a combined economy that is larger than the US would be a costly mistake.”

One company that has found success with European expansion is Toronto-based VisualSonics. The firm commercializes new ultrasound technology that allows researchers and pharma companies to perform highly detailed ultrasound studies non-invasively for preclinical research.

When the firm was ready to establish a permanent base for its European sales operations, it contacted economic development agencies “all over Europe,” Vice President Desmond Hirson says. “We didn’t hide the fact that we were a small early-stage company. We didn’t know whether anyone would want to talk to us.”

Most agencies were cordial but offered little assistance, he says. The exception? The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency.

“We were astounded by the positive and proactive Dutch response,” says Hirson. “NFIA made it clear that they wanted us, and they made an extraordinary effort to help us find what we needed.”

Amsterdam’s new Science Park proved to be the ideal site. Developed by the City of Amsterdam, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the University of Amsterdam, it’s home to several knowledge-based institutions, including the University’s Faculty of Science, several national scientific institutes and more than 80 companies. University labs are just 200 meters away from VisualSonic’s front door ,and the park is less than 20 minutes by road from Schiphol Airport and minutes away from downtown Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam site now houses VisualSonic’s European headquarters operations, as well as sales, marketing and technical/scientific support. It includes laboratory space where scientists can gain hands-on experience with the equipment.

VisualSonics is enthusiastic about its experience with NFIA: “If we were advising another early-stage company in this market about setting up an European operation, I’d tell them to go right to the Netherlands and forget the rest,” Hirson says. “Compared with our experience elsewhere, NFIA was far more organized and more focused.”

If interested in additional information about setting up operations in the Netherlands, link to the NFIA website at

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