Whether your new company is a FinTech or a MedTech, a social enterprise or a non-profit, successfully starting up requires selling your products or services. Do so efficiently and effectively by identifying, engaging and securing customers. But remember: while the customer may always be right, it is not a given that just any customer will be the right one for your startup. To boost business for the long term, first customise your customership.

To learn more about where to find different types of customers in Amsterdam and beyond, read on. Or to find customers through attending events, check out our calendar

Public organisations as customers

Amsterdam Smart City connects companies with universities and research institutes, governments, and individuals working on solutions for building better cities. The platform is dedicated to creating a liveable urban future through collaboration and innovation.

The Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA) calls itself ‘the expert interface between Amsterdam-based universities and parties interested in their research findings and knowledge.’ The organisation supports Amsterdam researchers across fields and levels to help their work create societal and economic impact. It also helps businesses, not-for-profit organisations and institutions navigate academia to find solutions or other opportunities. IXA offices are integrated within universities’ service infrastructure and offer support free of charge.

The Marineterrein Amsterdam Living Lab provides a real-world setting for developing, testing and applying innovative solutions for urban issues. Spread over a former naval base, the Marineterrein comprises the Amsterdam Institute for Metropolitan Solutions, Amsterdam Smart City and NEMO Science Museum. Together, these cultural institutions collaborate together and encourage cross-fertilisation of work between businesses, researchers, students and governmental agencies. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions’ various programmes, such as The AMS Startup Booster, focus on early-stage startups that want to make an impact on city life and solve metropolitan challenges.

Innovative accelerator Startup in Residence is a collaboration between the City of Amsterdam and various startups. The project invites Dutch and international startups to devise solutions for social issues in the city.

Healthcare companies as customers

MedtechPartners have a big MedTech and digital health network that is easy and accessible for health startups to tap. Each year, the organisation hosts eight matchmaking events between startups and partners.

Spaarne Labs works with startups, scale-ups and other participants to accelerate healthcare innovations. Spaarne Labs is part of an ecosystem around the Spaarne Gasthuis Hospital, a tertiary teaching hospital.

SMEs as customers

The MKB Digitaliseringsoffensief, which literally translates to ‘the SME digitalisation offensive’, provides small- and medium-sized enterprises with practical support towards digitalisation and data-driven projects. These efforts work towards helping them scale, increase turnover and, particularly in an era when less business is done in person, simply survive.

Corporations as customers

Leading design and consultancy firm Arcadis has been holding an annual accelerator for innovative startups working on solutions for the natural and built environments. The initiative is powered by Techstars, which hosts three-month accelerators to help companies get access to funding, mentorship and life-long networks.

The Booking Booster Accelerator Programme by Booking.com funds and mentors innovative entrepreneurs in sectors across the sustainable tourism ecosystem. Although the 2020 edition – which was open to startups, social enterprises, not-for-profit organisations and accommodations providers – had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, new editions may arise.

FrieslandCampina’s Milkubator is a corporate accelerator that seeks to find disruptive products and business models that can, as the company put it, ‘solve consumer pains’. Participants in the incubator work as teams according to a lean startup methodology and receive capital and 13 weeks to show market potential.

ING Labs combines the experience and network of the same-named bank with experts’ skills and knowledge to bring disruptive ideas to market. These ING incubators support initiatives addressing client needs and, through a structured innovation process, help turn ideas into scalable solutions. In Amsterdam, ING Labs focuses on housing-related issues.

The PIM Launching Customer Platform offers series of corporate challenges for innovative startups, scale-ups and SMEs. PIM Noord Holland works with StartupAmsterdam as well as UMC and a network of multinational corporations, such as Microsoft, KPMG, KPN, KLM, Tata Steel, Salesforce, Shopify and Snapchat.

Established as long ago as 1996, Shell Ventures is a corporate venture fund for the oil and gas industry. This initiative helps startups and other companies deploy and scale up. It makes minority investments that help spur new technologies and business models to expedite the energy and mobility transition.

Econnections is a five-month accelerator programme for e-commerce startups and scale-ups that focus on bringing sustainable solutions to the sector. It includes tailor-made support for sales, technology, finance, tax and legal, and talent, and matches participants to partners to initiate pilot projects.

Finding customers abroad

Amsterdam Trade & Innovate connects entrepreneurs and innovations from the Amsterdam Area to delegations from a variety of countries. To facilitate meaningful and lasting relationships, it organises international trade missions. Amsterdam Trade & Innovate focuses on specific sectors in the Amsterdam Area that are promising in terms of international potential. To better aid local entrepreneurs, trade developers specialise in the creative industry (sustainable fashion and textile), the smart city (sustainable building and smart mobility), smart health, agrifood and tech.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency, known in Dutch as the RVO, provides entrepreneurs and innovation-focused researchers seeking to do business abroad with funding, advice, networking opportunities and a roster of missions and events. A specific RVO-recommended expert is DutchBasecamp. To succeed in new markets, including those abroad, DutchBasecamp offers coaching, trade missions, masterclasses and access to its international networks.

To connect to customers across the border, reach out to one of the Netherlands Business Support Offices (NBSO). They have big local networks and one of their services is helping Netherlands-based companies by providing local connections and assisting in matchmaking. Their NBSO Network provides a way to get support from fellow network members in dozens of cities around the world.

The Startup Liaison is an individual person who provides connections within Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem, communicating and coordinating between startups and the municipality. They can be contacted directly and oversee Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem, managing data on the city’s startups, co-working spaces, relevant events and more. Most importantly, the liaison strives to facilitate the best use of Amsterdam’s many startup services.

Other supporting organisations and programmes

Accelerator Squared hosts Customer Discovery Challenges. Join the Amsterdam Squared community to get access to these workshops and identify your perfect customer.

ACE, founded in 2008, is a collaboration between the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Amsterdam University of the Arts aiming to teach valuable entrepreneurial skills to students and prospective business owners. It focuses on the incubation of startups and the development of venture labs.

Amsterdam Impact is an initiative by the City of Amsterdam to strengthen the ecosystem for all companies that tackle societal challenges through entrepreneurship. It wants to help impact enterprises increase their revenue while creating more value for society. The programme’s six pillars are transition, market access, capital, internationalisation, impact entrepreneurship in the neighbourhood, and promoting connections across ecosystems.

Buy Social encourages companies and governments to consider patronising socially responsible and impactful enterprises. Its related Social Impact Market provides an online overview of products and services, searchable according to impact area, SDGs addressed, sectors and regions. Buy Social is an initiative of Social Enterprise NL, which provides support for social entrepreneurs, promotes an inclusive and circular economy that is profitable for everyone, and helps with research and policymaking.

Innofest connects impact start-ups to key partners and demographics at festivals and living labs, using these spaces to test prototypes for innovative products in a safe and reliable environment.

nlgroeit is a platform by and for entrepreneurs, supporting businesses of varying sizes to scale by providing information and inspiration, organising networking events, exchanging insights among members and facilitating mentorships.

A co-initiative by ACE, the Startup Network and various entrepreneurs, investors and Amsterdam universities, Ready to Scale supports startups and scale-ups that are expanding. Through a four-part series of presentations and workshops, the programme helps startups with their business strategy and equips entrepreneurs with tools and resources required to grow.

ScaleUpNation's mission is to boost the number of impact-oriented scale-ups worldwide. The Amsterdam-based organisation supports new enterprises in delivering innovative products and new solutions to improve sustainability for people and the planet. Salient themes include climate change, population growth and access to healthcare.

Startup Leap offers a free online programme to support entrepreneurs in bringing their ideas to market through a series of videos, articles, talks and activities. Startup Leap has a host of partners, including ACE Incubator, StartupAmsterdam, The Next Woman and Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship. Currently, the programme is open to all founders who are working on an idea or are in the first stage of their startup.

TekDelta is a collaboration between Dutch organisations, universities and the startup community. It holds meetups between high-quality startups, which the organisation curates, and large organisations. 

TNW Programs, a product by TNW (of The Next Web fame), serve to connect startups and scale-ups with large companies, governments and funders. The overarching goal is to accelerate innovation, while applying technology partnerships and sense of community with brand-driving media, events and networking.

Finding customers through events

From fairs and conferences to workshops, business speed dating rounds and live webinars, the Amsterdam Area offers a wealth of events that can be an efficient and enjoyable way to find customers. Stay up to date by checking out our calendar, which aggregates these events and invites event organisers to list their own.

Check out this guide to Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem to learn more about the many possible sources of support and resources for entrepreneurs and young companies. Be sure to also see the guides on accelerators and incubatorscoding academies and coursescoworking placestech and online communities and venture builders.