First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Lauren Comiteau
‘The Netherlands chose us rather than us choosing the Netherlands,’ says Lara van Druten, founder and Managing Director of The Waste Transformers, a clean tech startup that converts waste into value. The South African native and her French husband Guy Thimister first arrived in Amsterdam in 1987 and immediately fell in love with the ‘openness and ease’ of the city.
They continued to travel the world, using their Jordaan apartment as a launching pad. But by 2009, with twin sons Axel and Alex now in tow, the city felt cramped. ‘Being a South African, I need space for my soul to think,’ says Lara, who admits she was skeptical about leaving the city. ‘Guy wanted to move to Haarlem, but I thought: I’m not moving to the suburbs!’
Nine years later, the family wouldn’t dream of calling anywhere else in the Amsterdam Area home. ‘We’ve put down roots,’ says Lara. ‘We have all the benefits of the city without the craziness. And Amsterdam is only 20 minutes away.’
The family loves strolling through Haarlem’s centre, shopping at its boutiques and dining on sushi. The 13-yearold trilingual twins cycle (or Axel skateboards) to school, and they play in Haarlem’s Youth Guitar Ensemble. Alex says Haarlem’s smaller scale there are 150,000 residents means they’re always running into people they know. ‘It’s a lively city,’ adds Axel, ‘and we have friends from all over the world.’ The latest resident in their two-storey 17thcentury warehouse is puppy Alpha, who the family walks in Haarlemmerhout park. ‘To be in the centre of the city and still have green areas is stunning,’ says Guy.
While he manages the household, Lara commutes to the Westergasfabriek installation that she describes as an ‘icon of Amsterdam’s fossil fuel history that we turned into an icon of a green future.’ Lara tells like-minded entrepreneurs: ‘Amsterdam has a Let’s Do It! mentality.’ There’s also a very achievable work-life balance, one that she confesses she hasn’t taken advantage of. ‘I love what I do,’ she says, ‘so the balance is not always there.’ It’s a personal choice that her family supports. ‘We’re proud of her,’ says Axel.
The best things about living in Haarlem
Transport: Haarlem offers excellent bus and train connections and Guy loves to cycle. But for this car-dependent duo, the two parking permits allotted per Haarlem household – compared to Amsterdam’s one – felt like striking gold.
Culture: The family packs its cultural punch into its frequent European weekend excursions. ‘The whole world is accessible from Amsterdam,’ says Lara. Schiphol was named Europe’s bestconnected airport in 2017.
Housing: Amsterdam-renter-turned-Haarlem-homeowner Guy says Haarlem offers ‘access to the sea and space for the boys to grow’. A more affordable and quieter option than Amsterdam’s city centre, Haarlem possesses the same Old-World charm.
Work: Lara says there is no better place to launch a startup than Amsterdam, where access to ‘smart and slow’ capital, an international talent pool and city support make for a ‘fantastic startup ecosystem.’
Mobility:The two-car family travels mostly by automobile. Excellent railway connections see them sometimes commuting by train, too. The ongoing expansion of the Schiphol–Amsterdam– Almere highway system benefits commuters and businesses alike.
Food: Guy prefers Haarlem’s ‘small and quaint’ local food vendors. Saturday’s market in Grote Markt, with its emphasis on organic, local and homemade food, is a staple on the family’s weekend calendar.
School: Although both Alex and Axel attend a topnotch Dutch high school, the city also offers bilingual secondary education in some of its other public schools, including Het Schoter and Mendelcollege.