First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Catalina Iorga

Making Amsterdam a leading AI hub

There are more than 30 parks in Amsterdam. From cosy barbecues to vibrant festivals, these leafy spaces welcome more than nine million visitors each year. But the Dutch capital is also home to a different kind of park: Europe’s largest centre for science education, research and entrepreneurship for tech, green business and advanced instrumentation. Since its 2010 opening, the 70-hectare Amsterdam Science Park has grown into a hub for more than 120 research institutions and businesses, which include innovative tech startups and scale-ups. One of these is University of Amsterdam (UvA) spinoff Scyfer, which was acquired by Qualcomm – the global wireless industry’s largest chip provider – in 2017, thanks to an already fruitful partnership at the QUVA lab for deep vision.

Tapping into the AI boom in Amsterdam

Complementing Amsterdam Science Park’s roster of collaborations between cutting-edge researchers and corporate innovators, in March 2018 the UvA and City of Amsterdam announced their joint plan for a world-class hub in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Expected to be fully operational by 2021, Amsterdam’s AI hub is tapping into the booming global AI market, worth nearly $2.5 billion in 2017. As this figure is set to grow exponentially over the next decade, the Dutch capital has its eye set on leveraging AI’s potential not only to improve people’s quality of life, but also to boost the city’s established sectors, ranging from life sciences to FinTech.

Scientists working in Amsterdam's life sciences industry

‘Amsterdam is known for its top-notch medical research in areas such as oncology, neurology and cardiology, but also as a thriving AI scene. We want to create a business model that combines AI and health,’ says Jeroen Maas, Health Challenge Lead of the Amsterdam Economic Board, a public-private partnership working to turn the Amsterdam Area into one of the top three most innovative regions in Europe by 2025. Maas is also overseeing the development of another groundbreaking initiative: the AI Health Lab. ‘With this lab, we aim to convene healthcare providers, scientists, SMEs and corporates that have shared goals and a great willingness to cooperate,’ Maas explains.

Improving health with technology

One of these ambitious players is Pacmed, which combines machine learning with medical expertise of institutions such as the renowned VU Medical Centre to develop decision support tools based on analysing anonymous care data. Handling such sensitive data also entails privacy concerns.

Jim Stolze

Photo: Jim Stolze by Frank Ruiter

the rise of AI and machine learning is sometimes seen as a threat rather than an opportunity.But according to Jim Stolze, cofounder of Aigency, the Dutch capital is on the right path. ‘It has great potential to become a leading hub for AI, but we have to make sure that students see an optimistic future, one in which their talent is of value. Although we should seriously consider concerns about issues such as massive job loss due to automation, I truly believe that we shouldn’t fear AI. We should shape it,’ says Stolze.

Kick-starting careers in AI

One way to shape the future of AI is through business development programmes that help startups achieve their growth ambitions – something Amsterdam does exceptionally well, with €322 million raised by the city’s startups and scale-ups in 2017 alone. Rockstart, which mainly supports startups operating in areas such as smart energy and web & mobile, launched Europe’s AI-focused accelerator in April 2017. And to fuel the next tech generation, the recently launched Amsterdam School of Data Science – a collaboration between four of the city’s research and applied sciences universities – offers over 250 data-science driven bachelor’s, master’s, postgraduate and professional programmes, as well as the chance for students to work on data challenges with diverse companies such as Google, Air France KLM, and Ahold. These students will likely have their pick of future careers.

According to research platform Dealroom’s November 2017 report, 60,000 people work at more than 1,000 of the Dutch capital’s tech companies, ranging from startups and scale-ups to tech-heavy media and finance companies such as Euronext and TMG, homegrown tech giants such as Booking.com, TomTom and Adyen – which employ 6,000 people between the three of them – and foreign players with major local offices like Uber, Tesla and Amazon. Of these 60,000 tech roles, more than 10,000 were added in 2016 and 2017 – a job creation feat matched only by the hospitality sector. The city’s tech hub reputation is also proving irresistible to foreign startups. For instance, the London-based iGeolise will be creating a tool for Amsterdam Marketing that makes locations searchable on travel time rather than distance. This complements Amsterdam’s efforts to transparently use big data to grow as a responsible digital city – one that gives room to innovative ideas.