“I love Amsterdam. The city is vibrant and alive.
It’s fresh and so open.
It’s definitely one of my favorite places.”
Stefon Harris, US Musician!

The cooperation of digitalswitzerland and the World Economic Forum (WEF) creates new opportunities to develop our Europe-wide network for tapping into pools of talent, kickstarting digital startups, and – last but not least – drawing the attention to our cause in Switzerland. The following article is establishing a series about upcoming startup hubs, starting with Amsterdam – a new digital Star of the North.

Berlin, October 2016
This story starts in Berlin, Germany, in October 2016, where digitalswitzerland and the World Economic Foum held a meeting with top representatives of Europe’s leading startup ecosystems. It provided a perfect opportunity to connect with young talents from Netherland’s biggest city, Amsterdam, other digital hubs in the Netherlands and all across Europe.

Among them were Bas Beekman, Director of StartupAmsterdam, and Dutch entrepreneur, Jan Scheele, who told us more about activities to make the Dutch Capital (not yet the seat of government) a promising digital startup hub in the Netherlands and Europe. According to Bas, plenty of talented and innovative young people live in Amsterdam to facilitate the development of a startup ecosystem. The main challenges in this context are a certain lack of fast growing scale ups, and the still existing potential for development of the startup ecosystem.

Government takes initiative
portrait-amsterdam-made-by-on-a-hazy-morning-amsterdam-35As Bas pointed out, for a startup scene it is vital to have “people in the government who really want this.” Which, fortunately, this was the case in Amsterdam. So, Kajsa Ollongren, vice-mayor for Economy in Amsterdam, approached Bas with the idea to launch StartupAmsterdam, a four-year program aiming to develop five pivotal aspects of the city’s ecosystem. The initiative started on January 1, 2015 with an overall budget of 5.2 million Euros. The first, and one of the major goals of the initiative, is to meet the challenge of war for talent. One answer to this central issue is the idea to offer coding courses at elementary school level. In addition, it aims to enhance teachers’ digital skills in an attempt to develop homegrown digital talent. The program is supported by larger companies such as ABN AMRO, who donated over 1,200 laptops to elementary schools; a basic yet essential step in getting kids coding.

Startup Amsterdam
Second, startups are provided with access to potential clients, corporate partners, and beta users. To achieve that, StartupAmsterdam launched a four-month program, inviting startups to come to the city and get embedded into the local ecosystem as ‘Startups in Residence’. They are offered solutions to tackle problems of access and infrastructure. In addition, there are Launchpad Meetups held, which is a proven format to sparking cooperation around innovation challenges faced by businesses. For the first cohort of the program, a few hand-picked startups were invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of large corporations that focused on young companies with high potential for profit.
A further resource is the StartupAmsterdam communication channels for startups where they could post news and upcoming events on the Event Calendar. The program also supports young entrepreneurs in creating their own company films and content for all relevant communication channels.
Since fundraising is one of the biggest challenges for startups, the initiative conducted the 2nd Investor’s Week in September 2016, aiming to connect young entrepreneurs with forward-thinking venture capitalists. To sum it up, StartupAmsterdam is designed to provide young digital companies with a proper and functioning ecosystem.

Kickstarting innovation beyond the Scheldt
Jan ScheeleWe also met with the Dutch entrepreneur, Jan Scheele, who founded his first company at the age of thirteen. He is also the Director of TEDxAmsterdam and of Global Shaper and Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum. At our meeting, he presented us with the provoking question, “Why do children still need to learn French at school, why don’t we teach them coding?”

While understanding how Amsterdam could be a leading digital hub in the Netherlands, Jan drew our attention to other buzzing tech-startup hubs like Rotterdam, Utrecht, Maastricht, Groningen and Eindhoven. These have far more developed infrastructures, including co-working spaces and ecosystems than the Dutch Capital. They are really worth a second and more thorough glance, albeit probably lacking the trendy hype that makes the city of Amsterdam standout. All these cities offer the advantage of lower rents and affordable working space in comparison to the famous “Venice of the North”.

Startup Delta
One very interesting project Jan told us about was Startupfest by the publicly backed, country-wide initiative, StartupDelta Supported by Special Envoy Constantijn van Oranie, this startup festival gives every startup hub and region in the Netherlands the opportunity to present themselves, local business focuses and their potential for innovation. It is an efficient platform for connecting young entrepreneurs, digital startups and scale ups with VCs, corporates, as well as with politicians and academic professionals.

The examples of Amsterdam and the Netherlands shows how corporates, governments, academic and educational institutions and civil societies can take initiative to foster entrepreneurship, drive innovation, and inspire young people and children of school age to become digital pioneers.

Natascha Tummeley

Author Natascha Tummeley

More posts by Natascha Tummeley