Amsterdam: a tech startup hub

Next Web Conference Founder and organiser Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten is amazed at how the conference has become a forum for the world’s technology and innovation influencers to do business, share ideas and discuss the latest in web trends. He says hosting the event has put Amsterdam on the map for tech startups.  ‘It shows that we have been able to find a particular tone of voice, a certain quality that attracts people. But it wasn’t always like that. I remember the first three or four events when it felt like every ticket I sold I had to talk to 20 people and beg them to come. 

Today, visitors have come to expect quality from us and they can depend on it being a good event with international allure. We’ve brought the event to Sao Paolo and New York, which was a logical step for us since Brazil is an important emerging market and New York has the biggest readership of our media outfit, thenextweb.com.’ He adds: ‘I think we charge about one fourth of what other conferences charge, so it’s very cheap. This is a very inspiring event where you have 3,000-4,000 of your peers coming together. The money that you will save on visiting these people in their own countries is enough to make the ticket worthwhile.’

Appeal of Dutch Informality

One of the things that makes the Amsterdam conference so appealing is its informality. The organisers’ aim is to make those who attend feel like they are more than just a member of the audience. Unlike other events, speakers at The Next Web Conference are encouraged to mingle, even shaking cocktails and pouring coffee in the Speaker Bar as they field questions and share ideas. Although some speakers stay for only 20 minutes, others have been known to linger for up to six hours talking to delegates. Veldhuijzen van Zanten says it’s all about personalising the event. Being different underlies much of what makes Amsterdam such an attractive place for tech entrepreneurs, not only to visit but to set up base. Veldhuijzen van Zanten puts it down to the city’s free spirit, which he believes breeds creativity and entrepreneurialism. He compares Amsterdam’s allure to a story about tulips. 

‘We are world famous for our tulips, but if you look at the best place in the world to grow them then the Netherlands would not be at the top of the list. We don’t have enough sun; there’s too much wind; the ground is too wet. But because of all this, we’ve become really good at it. So if you ask me where is the best place in the world to have a startup, I’m not going to say Amsterdam as the logical first place. But what you see is that startups that begin here are very robust and we’re very good at building them because of the conditions. Forget New York. If you can make it in Amsterdam, you can make it anywhere.’

Embracing the New

When asked what advice he would give to anyone thinking of launching a tech business in Amsterdam, Veldhuijzen van Zanten says it is important to establish what the long-term goal is. If it is to be in the spotlight, raise money and sell a company fast then, he says, there are perhaps better places to go. But if someone takes a more grounded approach, has a long-term vision, is at ease with himself and wants a good quality of life, he believes that there’s no better place than Amsterdam. He sees the Dutch willingness to embrace new things as an important factor for tech startups. ‘Amsterdam is a great test market – as is the whole of the Netherlands. 

Dutch people are very eager to try out new things. They’re always in the top percentage of users of new services even though we are a very small country. There is a certain type of entrepreneur who is attracted to that.’ This desire to embrace the new is at the heart of an ambitious new initiative to strengthen the international position of the Netherlands, and in particular Amsterdam, as the best place in Europe to start a business. Called StartupDelta, it is a collaboration between government bodies, knowledge institutes, startups, financiers and companies and will be headed by former EU commissioner Neelie Kroes (see pages 72-77 of the Amsterdam Business Magazine Issue 5).

The Next Web, in short

The Next Web is widely known for its media outfit thenextweb.com, which delivers an original perspective on remarkable technology news and developments, attracting 7 million readers per month. The Next Web events base organises The Next Web Conferences in Europe, the US and Latin America, unconventional business events which are a must-attend for web enthusiasts and tech companies around the globe.