Starting a business - Bolt Threads Europe

How did a Silicon Valley company end up in Arnhem? We spoke to Jeroen Visjager, director of Bolt in Europe. One thing soon became evident: Bolt and Arnhem are a perfect match.

Bolt Threads is an American biotech company that develops improved materials for a better future. The founders of Bolt Threads were initially fascinated by spider silk. They learned to imitate it, by looking at the genetic compositions of the material. Rooms full of spiders and spider webs were quite common at the office at first. Arachnophobia? No worries. Bolt Threads focus in Arnhem is on the new material Mylo™.

Nature as a teacher
Mylo™ is a leather-like material that's based on mycelium. The mycelium network is normally in the ground and forms the basis for the mushrooms. Natural materials are what Bolt likes to work with. "We look to nature and all the natural solutions that are already in existence. And then we apply those ourselves. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; nature is the best teacher", says Jeroen.

Revolutionary in the apparel and footwear industry
The office in Arnhem was opened to create a European supply chain and scale up the production of Mylo™. That's definitely necessary, as Mylo™ is highly popular in the apparel and footwear industry.

"In 2020, Bolt announced the Mylo consortium, a group of global brands that have collaborated with us to perfect Mylo™. These are also the first brands that will be releasing products containing this material in 2021. The brands (including Adidas, Kering, Lululemon and Stella McCartney) were selected because of their global reach, product design and deep commitment to sustainability. We don't just collaborate with anyone."

Bolt bags

Bolt bags

Bolt clothing

Bolt clothing

Bolt fabric

Bolt fabric

Search for the best business location
Bolt made a careful decision when choosing its European headquarters. "When we took a closer look at the different European options, the Netherlands turned out to be a great match for Bolt. Especially the country's commitment to sustainability in industry, knowledge institutions and government. We worked with a number of regional development organisations, such as OostNL. They helped us find the right location, which turned out to be Arnhem.

Arnhem is a great trailblazer when it comes to sustainability. Apart from that important fact, it also offers great quality of life and reasonable living expenses. Furthermore, Arnhem's location played a significant part in the decision. Our office is right next to Arnhem central station. Colleagues from the United States catch the train at Schiphol Airport and can get off at our front door. Arnhem is also very close to our supply chain partner locations in the Netherlands and Germany.

Mushroom expertise
Mushroom growers are essential partners for the production of Mylo™. "Arnhem is not just renowned as a sustainable fashion capital, but it is also close to some of the world's best growers of mushrooms. It's also close to R&D centre Wageningen University & Research (WUR). That was another powerful reason for Arnhem to win the race."

Continuous sustainable innovation
Bolt is a business that is continuously innovating. New materials are created for new applications and to replace other, less sustainable materials. Mylo™ is certainly not Bolt's only product. Jeroen explains that the search for new types of materials is always ongoing: "Our goal is that Bolt materials will be used in products and by brands all over the world. Mylo™ can be used in the same way as animal or synthetic leather and can take on any colour or texture. Hopefully, it will be used in all our favourite products before long."

Regional collaboration
The draw of 'Sustainability hub' Arnhem has gained the city another innovative, sustainable business in Bolt Europe. The presence of, for instance, fashion academy ArtEZ with its focus on environmentally friendly alternatives for the fashion industry, is very interesting. Similarly, the vicinity of Industrial Park Kleefse Waard (IPKW) offers opportunities for collaboration and synergies with businesses with a similar focus, in order to expand local opportunities and capacities.

Establishing the office in Arnhem hasn't just been beneficial for Bolt; Jeroen is also very happy with it. "I was raised in Velp (close to Arnhem, Ed.), then travelled all over the world in various work roles, and then finally I was asked by Bolt to head the office in the Netherlands. I am finally back in the environment I know so well. Arnhem is a cosy, atmospheric city, and a great place to live. There is a lot of culture, there are great restaurants, and you can exercise in nature wherever you want. It's great!"

Finally, Jeroen also has a tip for starting entrepreneurs: "Partner up with regional development organisations, such as OostNL. They have an extensive network, especially when it comes to sustainability. That allows them to help you prepare for success, just like they did for Bolt."

This is Arnhem
In this blog series, The Life Net and This is Arnhem like to show how attractive Arnhem is to start and establish as an entrepreneur. It spotlights various internationals or companies that attract internationals. They like to share their inspiring story about how they started and grew with their business. Would you like to know more about starting a business in Arnhem? Pay a visit to Startclub Arnhem or pose your questions to the municipality's ondernemersdesk. This is a translation.