StartupAmsterdam’s 2021 in review: new synergies and steps towards a stronger ecosystem
As the world weathered a second pandemic year, the Amsterdam startup ecosystem kept impressively active and appropriately reactive. As the seventh year of StartupAmsterdam is drawing to a close, we wanted to take a beat and look back at our biggest highlights: the projects and initiatives that we were proud to start and/or support in 2021.
Spotlighting founders and digitalising SMEs
In March 2021, the #Founders Fridays series found a home on this very site. Initiated by our MarCom coordinator, Aleksandra Sheshmini, these Q&As put the spotlight on the most important stakeholders of our ecosystem – the founders. Asking them five questions about themselves, their venture, how they’re growing it, and about Amsterdam life, the interviews aim to inspire a wider audience to consider entrepreneurship, innovation or become part of our tech scene in general.
“I initiated #FoundersFridays because I wanted to create a space where Amsterdam founders can celebrate their achievements, ponder their learnings and express their company’s needs and goals. I find it essential for them to share their lessons learned so that our ecosystem and the wider public can learn and get inspired. On a more personal level, I am always curious to learn how founders approach diversity and inclusion when building their team, so I make sure to ask that in my interviews.” - Aleksandra Sheshmini
In September, the Johan Cruijff ArenA was the site of a non-footy kind of kick-off: that of the MKB Digitaliseringsoffensief. This initiative – its name translates to the ‘SME digitalisation offensive’ – helps small- and medium-size enterprises in their strides towards digitalisation and data-driven projects. This kickoff event featured in-person workshops and speakers, though the organisation’s regular programming currently pivots around webinars and online events.
Giving back to society
The Amsterdam Law Hub held its first ‘Incuboater’ event in October, offering free legal advice to startups from across sectors and industries. Legal clinics were given for startups dealing with justice, social sciences and humanities; for tech companies and NGOs; for science and medical organisations. On this project, the hub worked with clearing house Pro Bono Connect, 16 concerns with offices at the Zuidas, Uber and StartupAmsterdam.
October also saw the debut of online platform Business Involved, which matches Amsterdam-based companies and their employees with local volunteer opportunities. The organisation’s goal is to forge 100 long-term partnerships between companies and social impact organisations over the next three years.
“I’ve worked hard with my colleagues at amsterdam inbusiness, Vrijwilligers Centrale Amsterdam and Deedmob to get this platform off the ground to facilitate corporate volunteering in the city. It’s a tool to put your CSR strategy in practice. Employees get an overview of local volunteering opportunities aimed to create a sustainable relationship. In this way we aim to create a long lasting bond between companies, employees, and Amsterdam. Business Involved enables us to measure the impact of companies on the SDGs. The platform is open to every company, so do sign up!” - Joël Dori
Stimulating female entrepreneurship and tech talent initiatives
March witnessed the lift-off of We-Rise (renamed EQUALS in 2022), a collective that champions women as entrepreneurs and tech industry professionals and supports a gender-inclusive tech workforce. Through events and courses, the group promotes and collaborates with female-led organisations in its mission to demonstrate that gender diversity leads to better innovation, productivity, happier people and a more sustainable planet.
“In January 2020, after several talks with the female tech ecosystem, we came to the conclusion that a drastic impact needed to be made. So We-Rise Amsterdam was born, helped by two motivated initiators. They managed to bring together 23 organisations in the Amsterdam region that work towards the same goal of helping female entrepreneurs and women in the tech sector. With our help, We-Rise received a subsidy of €750,000 from the City of Amsterdam in December 2020.
This has been the biggest project I have built from scratch in my 13 years of working as a civil servant. Within the first year of We-Rise, more than 600 women have participated in their programmes, either to learn and master tech skills or entrepreneurial ones. And all this despite the pandemic.
My role as a StartupAmsterdam officer was being a driving force behind the whole first concept of We-Rise and the link between the initiators of We-Rise and the 20+ female-focused organisations who are part of the ecosystem. Today, I try to connect new stakeholders and female startup founders who cross my path. Either because I reach out to them or because they find me. I get on different national and international stages to spread the word and find more women who can benefit from the programmes We-Rise and their partners have to offer. I’m especially proud of We-Rise’s result of attracting 38% Dutch women with a migrant background. “ - Semra Çelebi
Over two days in late July, StartupAmsterdam helped organise Hello Amsterdam – a fully virtual career event for STEM talents and startups and scale-ups in the Amsterdam Area. This event was initiated by Hello Mentor, a programme that helps connect young tech talents (the mentees) with tech industry professionals (the mentors). It was supported by ASIF Ventures, the Amsterdam-based, student-run venture fund.
Officially launched in November 2020, TechMeUp has been offering an interest-free loan for people to enrol in a tech-related education, with the goal of making sure everyone has access to tech education. Although much training had to take place online due to pandemic lockdowns, the organisation has since joyfully reported 350 enrolments, study subsidies for 42 students and IT jobs for a dozen students. It was a no-brainer for StartupAmsterdam to support this initiative.
November 2021 saw the realisation of new talent platform TOMAS. Seeking to better the match between work demand and talent supply, this online platform provides a searchable database of 130+ talent development initiatives in the Amsterdam Area. It’s the result of a successful collaboration of several parties: StartupAmsterdam, HvA, Digital Society School, Metropool Regio Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Economic Board.
"TOMAS is a B2B platform and offline community that makes the talent development ecosystem visible and accessible for businesses, initiatives and governments. Each party within the triple helix can benefit from TOMAS, as well as contribute to its success. For businesses, it offers resources to access a reskilled and upskilled workforce and actual opportunities to contribute to the talent ecosystem; for initiatives, recognition and partnerships based on their growth needs; and for governments, insights and an overview for more structured, data-driven investments and informed advice." - Igneta Skliaustytė
Innovation districts, AI incubators and HealthTech missions
In February, the City of Amsterdam announced an €180,000 investment in Campus Amsterdam. This regional network of innovation areas and campuses includes the museum, research and urban lab sprawl known as the Marineterrein, the innovation district Zuidas and the Port of Amsterdam’s innovation hub, Prodock.
To be used over two years, the funding is intended to explore how Campus Amsterdam can become even more hospitable to startups, forge strong connections and create more synergy.
And 2021 was a busy second year for the AI Startup Lab, which challenges students, recent graduates and early-stage companies to lay the groundwork for launching an innovative AI startup in as little as 10 weeks. Projects in 2021 included working with Spaarne Labs on use cases for an AI-driven hospital; helping Kraft Heinz predict food waste on an assembly line; and collaborating with OLGV hospital to personalise kidney stone treatment.
December was punctuated by a three-day health startup mission to Paris, designed in parallel with the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit. The event was ideal for Amsterdam Area life sciences and health startups seeking international customers, connections and exposure. Organised by Smart Health Amsterdam, StartupAmsterdam, Techleap and the Dutch embassy in Paris, the mission included access to the summit as well as health and MedTech networking and investor events.
“This mission provided great opportunities for the 17 promising Dutch health tech startups to connect with the main health organisations in the Paris region, to get inspired and to expand their networks. It was truly great to see the energy amongst the entrepreneurs and the willingness to help each other.” - Daan Donkers
Events, European collaboration and the future
“Although the events industry has definitely suffered one of the most significant blows, it’s been incredibly inspiring to work with our event partners and redefine the event experience. Of course, we were ecstatic to finally come together physically at TNW2021 and World Summit AI 2021, but it’s also been rewarding to take part in hybrid experiences such as Amsterdam Capital House and online-only events like the Amsterdam Squared webinars.” - Alexandra Belicova
“One of my 2021 highlights is, after a two-year break, finally reuniting with our SCALE.Cities partners. We met up in Helsinki around Slush time and discussed the future of our collaboration and the pan-European ecosystem building approach. I’m excited to continue building a stronger European playground for our startups. Additionally, 2022 is an election year – and that is always exciting for the StartupAmsterdam team, as it will massively affect our trajectory for the coming years.” - Bas Beekman
We are incredibly proud of our ecosystem and the grit and resilience of Amsterdam’s entrepreneurs. We thank all our partners and ecosystem stakeholders for the contributions they’ve made and look forward to another year of creating value for Amsterdam.
Now we want to hear from YOU! Where do you see gaps in our ecosystem? Where should the government step in? What can be improved for Amsterdam’s startups, scale-ups and tech talent? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.