Social entrepreneurship in Amsterdam

Social entrepreneurship is a new way of doing business, where the main goal is having a positive impact on society. Amsterdam aims to be a pioneer in this growing movement, actively supporting this new sector through a range of activities that connect capital providers, social entrepreneurs, educators and more.

An example is the recent Capital Impact event, which was held on 28 September in the newly renovated A’DAM Toren building. This bustling event during Amsterdam Capital Week brought together hundreds of representatives from the social entrepreneurship ecosystem. Industry experts and entrepreneurs networked with investors of all kinds, with the goal of matching capital with innovative social enterprises.

The event was organised by the city’s recently launched Amsterdam Impact, a programme that helps to grow this budding ecosystem. Amsterdam Impact is a collective effort that focuses on expanding the social enterprise sector and increasing the social benefits that these businesses generate. It also wants to brand Amsterdam as the centre of the social enterprise world by organising matchmaking events for investors and entrepreneurs, setting up workspaces and bootcamps, and investigating how local government can act as a launchpad for innovative social enterprises.

Impactful speeches

The opening address of Capital Impact was held by the Netherlands' Prince Constantijn van Oranje, who is also the Special Envoy of StartupDelta, a unique public-private programme that supports entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. With a wide range of partners from government, business, and education, StartupDelta improves access to talent, capital, and knowledge. “We are a meta layer,” as Van Oranje put it, “a neutral layer above all of the innovation hubs in the Netherlands.”

Though the social entrepreneurship sector is growing fast, events like Capital Impact help it to become more established, highlighting its success stories. “Once there's more proof,” Van Oranje said, “then the process will start to advertise itself.”

He stressed that it is important for the social entrepreneurship sector to be able to show how it is actually making a difference in the world, by “really addressing some of the major challenges that the traditional players can't.” Making money and doing good, he said “can be mutually reinforcing,” a process he referred to as a virtuous circle: “Once you're doing good and making money, you can do more good, and then you can scale that,” he said. “That's the real prize in what we are discussing today.”

His inspiring speech was followed by presentations from social entrepreneurs from around the globe. A crowd favourite was Narayana Peesapaty of Bakeys Edible Cutlery, an Indian firm that produces spoons made of millet. His goal is to replace unsustainable plastic cutlery with edible spoons and chopsticks. The business has already enjoyed great success on Kickstarter, Peesapaty explained, but now it is time for the company to scale up, which is why he came to Amsterdam. He then ceremonially presented a box of the edible spoons to Prince Constantijn and pointed out that even the packaging material is biodegradable.

The audience also heard from Jessica Bonin of Lady Bonin’s Tea, a South African impact venture that sells organic tea sourced from farms that use sustainable and community-driven farming practices. Also presenting was Lara van Druten of the Waste Transformers, a Dutch business that converts a neighbourhood’s garbage into energy, while also recovering natural resources and water. The City of Amsterdam, Van Druten pointed out, was one of the venture’s first funders, and a successful pilot project is now running in Amsterdam’s bustling Westerpark. Likewise, Bernd Damme talked about House of Eléonore, a social enterprise where exceptional artisans use responsibly sourced materials to handcraft jewellery right here in the Netherlands. 

Later sessions looked at what else entrepreneurs are looking for in addition to finance, and they explored how hybrid financing opportunities could have even greater impact. Entrepreneurs in need of advice had the opportunity to discuss their business plans with account managers from Rabobank, and representatives from Oxfam shared their perspective on what they look for when considering whether to invest in a social enterprise.

The enthusiasm on display throughout the Capital Impact event showcased the many factors that make Amsterdam the ideal home for social entrepreneurs: it offers the ecosystem, the networks and the business conditions to make impact enterprises a success.