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How it all began: building Amsterdam’s impact ecosystem

In 2015, Amsterdam Impact was set up to support and accelerate the city’s fledgling, yet promising, impact ecosystem. Major leaps have been made since then. Businesses that create both financial and social value are at the heart of the city’s economy, and they are bolstered by a powerful community. In this short history of the Amsterdam Impact programme, read more about the achievements of Amsterdam Impact and about the city’s thriving impact ecosystem.

Every impact entrepreneur wants to build a successful business – one that thrives financially and socially. Amsterdam, with its long tradition of entrepreneurship and open, liberal values, is a natural home for companies who want to do socially responsible business. Consequently, social enterprises are flourishing in the Dutch capital. In 2015, the City of Amsterdam set up the Amsterdam Impact programme to support and strengthen this growing ecosystem for impact entrepreneurship.

Solving social challenges with social enterprise

The City of Amsterdam is putting impact enterprises that create financial and social value at the heart of the city’s economy. Startups, SMEs, large companies, investors, civil servants, network organisations and academia are all part of the Amsterdam Impact collaborative programme. The programme was launched in 2015 with a wide range of partners, including Impact Hub Amsterdam, which has a community of nearly 500 social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and other social innovators. Initially, the partners focused on creating a climate where social enterprises could start and grow. Next, they collected information about social entrepreneurship in Amsterdam and established an overview of what’s needed to keep an impact enterprise ecosystem healthy.

After this initial research period, Amsterdam Impact identified four action areas: creating the right conditions, building entrepreneurship, facilitating access to capital, and strengthening connections.

Favourable conditions for social enterprises

Making more physical space and municipal funding available for social enterprises at all stages of development (startup, consolidation and scaling) helped create the right conditions for impact businesses to thrive. As a result, impact Hub Amsterdam became a hotspot for social entrepreneurship. At the same time, office space was made available at the KIT Royal Tropical Institute and in shared workspaces across the city. In 2016, Amsterdam Impact launched its website, offering would-be and established social entrepreneurs a portal to access information and connect with others who were active in the impact ecosystem. The site also works as a digital info desk, answering queries and offering advice on obstacles entrepreneurs may face.

Access to capital

Like all companies, impact enterprises need capital to grow. Amsterdam Impact has always been active in bringing entrepreneurs and finance providers together at events such as Capital Impact in 2016, the Impact Startup Fest a year later and the Co-Financing our Future events in 2020 and 2021. Strengthening the connections across the enterprise ecosystem, capital- and funding-related events enabled players to learn from entrepreneur-investor collaborations.

Since 2017, Amsterdam Impact and its partner Impact Hub Amsterdam have also been hosting an annual event series called Unpack Impact. These events focus on the dos and don’ts of fundraising and explore best practices for cooperation between finance providers and social enterprises in specific impact areas.

Finally, the Integrated Capital Network, co-created by Amsterdam Impact with Impact Hub Amsterdam and Generous Minds, brings together impact-driven investors, banks, foundations and venture capital firms to support impact entrepreneurs with financial resources and business expertise.

Connecting with consumers and large organisations

Along with investment capital, social enterprises need customers. The more products or services they can sell, the more they can grow and the more impact they can make on societal challenges. The Impact Days, which take place annually, along with regular Buy Social events and the general Buy Social campaign, raise awareness of social enterprises’ wide range of products and services.

Amsterdam Impact organised the first edition of The Impact Days campaign in November 2018. The campaign includes events, get-togethers and online activities to encourage consumers and organisations to make conscious and responsible purchases. Other Dutch municipalities quickly picked up the idea, and The Impact Days has now grown into an annual nationwide three-day celebration of impact enterprises and social consumerism.

Amsterdam Impact developed seven Buy Social shopping routes to entice domestic and foreign consumers to get on their bikes and explore the city’s sustainable stores and cafes as part of its Buy Social campaign. In addition, buy Social pitch-and-match events bring impact enterprises together with buyers from companies and other organisations. Not only does this highlight the work of impact entrepreneurs, but it’s also an opportunity for large organisations to discover new opportunities to achieve their goals in various impact areas – ranging from sustainable food to inclusive labour. Each event focuses on a specific sector, such as local government, culture, events and hospitality, and the creative industry. 

Ecosystem for an impact city

Having stimulated rapid growth in social enterprises since 2015, Amsterdam Impact focuses on maintaining a solid ecosystem that promotes and encourages businesses that never lose sight of people and the environment. Amsterdam’s economy may thrive and grow, but that doesn’t mean everybody wins. But the City of Amsterdam is determined to ensure Amsterdam becomes a fairer city with equal opportunities for everyone. Supporting impact entrepreneurship through impact companies, social enterprises, and socially responsible businesses is one of the key ways to achieve this aim.

Boosting impact entrepreneurship

Amsterdam Impact is now creating an entrepreneurship toolbox to support the transition to an impact economy. With inspiration from cities and regions worldwide, the toolbox will be a practical guide to best practices for social enterprises. At the local level, the impact programme 2019-2022 aims to strengthen the economy and quality of life in each of Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods. Amsterdam Impact designs competitions and business programmes to help local impact entrepreneurs boost their business models.

Making international waves

International expansion is also on the cards with the Impact Ecosystems Network - a global network of cities that can strengthen each other’s impact entrepreneurship ecosystems. The network launched in early 2022. National and international events will bring together players from the ecosystems. Amsterdam Impact will encourage local social enterprises to expand to other markets and invite enterprises from abroad to set up shops in Amsterdam. Amsterdam Impact will also continue to build on the success of initiatives such as Buy Social, The Impact Days and Co-Financing Our Future (CoFoF).