Every impact entrepreneur wants to build a successful business – one that thrives not just financially but also socially. Amsterdam, with its long tradition of entrepreneurship and open, liberal values is a natural home for companies who want to do business in a socially responsible way. Consequently, social enterprises are flourishing in the Dutch capital. In 2015, the Amsterdam Impact programme was set up 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 both 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 collaborative effort that is the Amsterdam Impact programme. The programme was launched in 2015 together 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 in which social enterprises could start and grow. 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 period of research, 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 more 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. Impact Hub Amsterdam became a hotspot for social entrepreneurship, while office space was made available at the KIT Royal Tropical Institute and in shared work spaces spread across the city. In 2016, Amsterdam Impact launched its own website, offering both 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, and 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, these 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. Focusing on the dos and don’ts of fundraising, these workshops 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
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 the wide range of products and services social enterprises have to offer.
Amsterdam Impact organised the first edition of The Impact Days campaign in November 2018. The campaign includes a series of events, get-togethers and online activities aimed at encouraging consumers and organisations to make conscious and responsible purchases. Other Dutch municipalities quickly picked up the idea, and the Impact Days have now grown into an annual nationwide three-day celebration of impact enterprises and social consumerism.
As part of its Buy Social campaign, Amsterdam Impact developed seven Buy Social shopping routes aimed at enticing domestic and foreign consumers to get on their bikes and explore the city’s sustainable stores and cafes. 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 sector.
Ecosystem for an impact city
Having successfully stimulated a rapid growth in social enterprises since 2015, Amsterdam Impact now focuses on maintaining a strong ecosystem that promotes and encourages businesses that never lose sight of people and the environment. Amsterdam’s economy may be thriving and growing, 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 putting together an entrepreneurship toolbox to support the transition to an impact economy. Taking inspiration from developments in cities around the world, 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 challenges 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 is set to launch 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 enterprises from abroad are being invited to set up shop 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).
If you’re interested in becoming part of the impact city Amsterdam, you can start by joining the ecosystem for impact entrepreneurship and attending impact events. Make sure to also stay in touch with Amsterdam Impact on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.