First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Catalina Iorga
The Amsterdam Area: a home for social enterprise
Doing business while doing good is here to stay: "What is most valuable about social enterprises is that they dynamically blend social responsibility with business
opportunities," says Tatiana Glad, cofounder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam – part of the Impact Hub network with more than 16,000 members in over 100 cities worldwide – and member of the Impact Hub Association’s Global Board. And in the Netherlands there are more than 5,000 enterprises adding societal value through profitable products and services. In just five years – between 2010 and 2015 – the annual turnover of the Dutch impact entrepreneurship sector grew by 70% to €3.5 billion and created more than 25,000 jobs, according to McKinsey study 'scaling the impact of the social enterprise sector (2016)'.
In this remarkable growth story, the collaboration between Impact Hub and the City of Amsterdam plays a key role. "As the municipality, we want to be an ambassador for social entrepreneurship. We have invested time and money to bring together impact entrepreneurs and larger companies, who increasingly see these entrepreneurs as innovation partners, as well responsible suppliers who can amplify the positive impact of committed corporates," says Ellen Oetelmans, from the City of Amsterdam’s Department of Economic Affairs, who leads the municipality’s pioneering Amsterdam Impact Programme.
A pioneering plan to grow
"Amsterdam was the first city in the Netherlands to develop a concrete action plan to stimulate social entrepreneurship," says Oetelmans of the Amsterdam Impact programme. With its first phase running from 2015 to 2018, this programme saw strong support from all parties in the City council, including Kajsa Ollongren in her previous role as Amsterdam’s Deputy Mayor and City Councillor for Economic Affairs.
"The City’s government recognised the economic benefits of social entrepreneurship and believed that its development would make Amsterdam an even more appealing place to live and work," Oetelmans explains. "Many of our 400 impact-driven member entrepreneurs have ideas to make their own city healthier and more liveable but don’t know where to start. When Ellen came along, we had a sense of the municipality’s doors being opened to us," adds Glad, who has brought Impact Hub’s experience to the City’s Amsterdam Impact programme over the past two years. "Building an ecosystem comes naturally to us, as an international network," Glad says.
Founded in 2008, Impact Hub Amsterdam has since helped more than 1,000 entrepreneurs to start, grow and scale their impact business. From its collaborative working space at KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Impact Hub Amsterdam organises events focused on sharing knowledge and fuelling impact – including pitch battles, hackathons and partner co-productions. It runs a series of acceleration programmes and entrepreneurial support services with access to relevant business expertise, resources and capital.
"Impact Hub is one of the field’s pioneers. Given its local and global track record, we are delighted that the Impact Hub team – and community – contributed their expertise to the development of a pragmatic programme to make Amsterdam the place to be for impact entrepreneurship," says Oetelmans. "In close collaboration with Impact Hub and other partners, such as the Amsterdam Economic Board, Social Enterprise NL and Amsterdam’s universities, we started mapping the foundations on which to build a stronger ecosystem of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, investors, SMEs, corporates and other players committed to solving Amsterdam’s most pressing challenges,’ says Oetelmans.
Amsterdam: a compact living lab
‘Amsterdam is a compact living lab. When you have the necessary conditions to experiment, you see solutions emerge much faster,’ Oetelmans explains. ‘That’s the advantage of a smaller, creative city with an enduring legacy of balancing economic success with citizen well-being. With its renowned design-thinkers and innovative engineers, Amsterdam offers many opportunities to create solutions that can also accelerate change in other cities,’ says Glad. One of the Amsterdam Impact programme’s six goals is to offer a range of business development tools that impact entrepreneurs can use to boost their ability to create translocal solutions.
Enter the Amsterdam City Fellowship acceleration programme for urban health solutions, which ran between May and December 2017 and saw nine entrepreneurs develop their products and services with expert guidance and mentoring from Impact Hub and the City of Amsterdam’s extensive networks. After a business model building phase, three enterprises – VraagApp, Start met Happen and Rain(a)way – were selected to further collaborate with the municipality. For VraagApp this deeper collaboration led to a municipality pilot for 400 people who receive support under the Social Support Act, as well as clients of the City’s Work, Participation and Income department.
Another of Amsterdam Impact’s goals is to increase the profits of social enterprises by making it easier for municipal and corporate buyers to purchase impact driven products and services. To this end, Amsterdam Impact organised four matchmaking events in 2016 and 2017 together with Buy Social, a platform for responsible purchasing powered by Social Enterprise NL, the Dutch national trade association for social entrepreneurs, and Social Impact Factory in Utrecht. These four events saw 47 social enterprises pitch to 60 different parties and resulted in 13 deals, including that between Swink, a digital agency employing people with autism, and Big 4 firm PwC.
Read more about what happens at Buy Social events.
Impact Hub looks to the future
With so much innovation and opportunity on the horizon, what’s needed now? "Together with Impact Hub and other partners, the City of Amsterdam is building an integrated capital network to bring together the city’s purpose-driven investors, funds and banks and to help more impact enterprises access financing," says Oetelmans. In 2016 and 2017, Impact Hub and the municipality hosted three Integrated Capital Labs where impact enterprises Heroes & Friends, Makers Unite and Waste Transformers received investment advice and valuable connections after a deep dive with diverse financiers.
As a complement to the Integrated Capital Labs, Impact Hub’s curated network of impact investors are offered various opportunities to engage in the scaling of innovative interventions: circular solutions, for example, through a partnership with ING Netherlands Foundation in a multiyear Investment Ready programme. Investment-ready entrepreneurs have already raised a total of more than €8.5 million in funding from this network of investors.
"The Amsterdam Impact programmatic approach gave us a framework to see where collaboration between our community and the city makes sense. After all, we have a shared goal to make our city a better place. Given the state of the world, the need for entrepreneurial solutions to scale is growing, and while it sounds easy to work crosssector, it is indeed a learning journey. The proof of how serious we are is in the deal flow," affirms Glad.