Exciting collaborations for the City of Amsterdam

Ellen Oetelmans, the City of Amsterdam’s Social Entrepreneurship Public Lead, says: “I’m excited that we, together with Impact Hub, have selected four very strong entrepreneurs and I’m looking forward to further collaborate with them on our urban health challenges.”

The Amsterdam City Fellowship accelerator, which is part of the City of Amsterdam’s Social Entrepreneurship Action Programme, was developed in collaboration with Impact Hub Amsterdam. The programme stimulates and facilitates collaboration between social entrepreneurs and the City of Amsterdam, as well as with the City’s partners.

Refining business models

For approximately eight months, social entrepreneurs get the opportunity to refine their business models and products and/or services with the City of Amsterdam and Impact Hub Amsterdam’s business experts. “Our Impact Hub and municipality mentors have very specialised expertise that fits perfectly with our development phase and related issues in the area of finance and strategy”, says Pien ter Hoeven, founder of Start met Happen, which helps people living in care facilities feel more empowered through communal cooking of healthy meals.

The right foundations

In the accelerator’s first phase, which took place in May and July 2017, the Impact Hub and the City of Amsterdam focused on helping nine entrepreneurs in laying the right foundation for a strong company by talking vision and mission, clarifying ambitions, defining strategies and preparing actionable plans. “We were able to create a concrete roadmap that will result in a stronger business model and marketing plan. The first opportunities for a closer cooperation with the City of Amsterdam have also become clearer”, shares Fien Dekker, founder of Rain(a)way, a company making permeable tiles that help rain water flow directly into ground water and contribute to a more climate resilient city. Frank Schalken, founder of VraagApp, a mobile app that helps people with cognitive disabilities get quick answers to everyday questions, echoes Dekker’s sentiment: “We sharpened the mission and vision of VraagApp and aligned our core values with our strategy. We also discovered new distribution channels and built our network both within and beyond the municipality”.

Productive talks

With hands-on guidance from the City of Amsterdam, the enterprises researched customer and municipality needs and held productive talks with many civil servants and City partners. “We became more familiar with the municipality’s challenges and got to sit down with the right people. And that is key for our business proposition, which relies heavily on cooperation between the problem owner and end user,” explains Wouter Heijnen, founder of Totem Open Health, which works on increasing the potential of open source wearable tech to monitor and tackle health conditions.

Sense of community

Ultimately, what makes the Amsterdam City Fellowship so valuable is the sense of trust and community it has built between the participants, believes Wieke van der Zouwen, the Amsterdam City Fellowship’s Programme Manager. “One of my personal highlights was when one of the entrepreneurs logged into his LinkedIn account and asked me, ‘So who can we connect the other entrepreneurs with? Who do they need?’ I also overheard an entrepreneur telling another: ‘I really could use your help with our story, because your pitch was phenomenal!’”, says Van der Zouwen.

Big plans for phase 2

But the collaboration doesn’t stop here, as all four entrepreneurs have big plans for the programme’s second phase, which takes place between September and December 2017 and will see intensified collaboration between the organisations and the municipality. “We will challenge the municipality to keep innovating while making Amsterdam more sustainable”, says Rain(a)away’s Dekker. Through their work, the entrepreneurs plan to tackle some of Amsterdam’s pressing health challenges. “In Amsterdam, approximately 130,000 people have an IQ below 85. Many of these people experience society as too complex. Our goal is to prevent their everyday questions from turning into big problems, by providing them access to VraagApp”, says VraagApp’s Schalken. And Heijnen of Totem Open Health says: “During the next phase we want to focus on areas where wearable technology can have more impact, such as piloting fall prevention, and stress and burnout control solutions.”

As positive impact goes hand in hand with a strong business proposition, the only way for the Amsterdam City Fellowship’s entrepreneurs is up: “With a solid business model and a tight strategy, we aim to be financially healthy soon, so that we can scale and increase our impact”, concludes Ter Hoeven of Start met Happen.