Amsterdam is one of the best cities for startups and entrepreneurs. This is thanks in part to a business ecosystem featuring plenty of startup initiatives offering practical, financial and moral support to young companies and the people who run them. Innovation, diversity and value creation are consistent priorities for such initiatives. Many work to match the right tech talent supply with the right demand. Some enable entrepreneurs to build meaningful network connections and to access investment easily. And last but not least, others are fully focused on ensuring that startups can keep growing and scaling.
To learn more about the different types of initiatives, read on. To jump to a specific section within this guide, click on one of these links.
- Value-generating innovation
- Diversity on a deeper level
- Tech talent supply to meet demand
- Network connections and investment access
- Designated innovation districts
- The common goal: grow and scale
Famously pragmatic and financially savvy, the Dutch approach to innovation is not just an excuse to experiment, but rather a strategy for generating business value. The capital city’s startup initiatives follow suit.
The AI Startup Lab, for example, challenges entrepreneurial students, recent graduates and early-stage startups to lay the groundwork for launching an innovative AI startup in as little as 10 weeks. The programme provides coaching from experienced AI entrepreneurs and tech experts as well the infrastructure needed to establish a beta version of an AI company that solve real-world problems.
In a similar sprit, the Civic AI Lab (CAIL) researches civic-centred, community-minded AI solutions. Providing an information point for people and businesses with questions about AI and its ethical use as well as hosting graduate- and undergraduate-level projects, CAIL applies AI in innovative ways to improve education, welfare, the environment, mobility and health.
Civic issues are also the focus within Startup in Residence, an initiative of StartupAmsterdam and Amsterdam’s CTO that invites innovative entrepreneurs to tackle real problems concerning health, tourism, safety and household waste for the City of Amsterdam. In a six-month programme, participants get access to industry experts, mentorship, training and other forms of network support to develop solutions.
Meanwhile, in the cultural sector, Art-up supports innovation by seeking out development and growth opportunities within cultural organisations and assisting them with specialist expertise. The Art-up incubator programme offers cultural entrepreneurs workshops, training, coaching and collaboration opportunities to bring fresh, innovative thinking to the sector and society at large.
Diversity on a deeper level
Amsterdam is consistently working on improving its diversity on a deeper, more systemic level, including through more inclusive startup initiatives.
Encouraging diversity among tech professionals, TechMeUp provides guidance and interest-free loans to students from under-represented groups who want to pursue an education path that leads to a career in the tech industry. This makes it the first fund that concentrates specifically on promoting inclusivity and diversity in the tech sector.
Equals Amsterdam supports a gender-inclusive tech workforce, with an emphasis on celebrating and championing women in their careers. 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.
Tech talent supply to meet demand
As a thriving tech and ICT hub, Amsterdam is also a hotspot for university degrees, certifications, academies and workshops in technology. Tech talent startup initiatives help foster a sense of community for students and recent graduates, job-seeking professionals and the industry at large.
Dutch EdTech, for example, endeavours to connect the fragmented education and learning sector and bridge it to the education and tech community. All in the service of supporting EdTech, the foundation does lobbying, shares insights and best practices, forms consortia concerning social challenges in the Netherlands and organises international trade missions.
To better the match between work demand and talent supply, online platform Tomas provides a searchable database of the many talent development initiatives in the Amsterdam Area. It is geared towards professionals working within government, business and academia who need to find the right employees with the right skills.
Network connections and investment access
What’s a startup without an ecosystem? Who’s an entrepreneur without a network? On the ground and online, startup initiatives in Amsterdam provide young companies and the people running them with opportunities to reach investors, consult mentors and socialise with colleagues.
Amsterdam Capital House, for one, is an annual event offering great potential to contribute to startup success by introducing founders to investors and specialised experts. With a focus on procuring capital, Amsterdam Capital House gives attending entrepreneurs opportunities to showcase their businesses and get access to the investment they need to grow.
Going fully digital is vital for SMEs and the Digitalisation Offensive (digitaliseringsoffensief) helps entrepreneurs do just that. The organisation offers free workshops, group sessions and tailormade advice as well as access to a network of local entrepreneurs to support step-by-step digitalisation. Digitaliseringsoffensief is an initiative of the City of Amsterdam, MKB-Amsterdam, Ready to Scale and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA).
Powered by StartupAmsterdam and Smart Health Amsterdam, Amsterdam Squared is a digital platform that supports and connects entrepreneurs within the Amsterdam tech sector. As a completely digitised startup acceleration programme, the platform aims to bring specialist knowledge, support, networking and partnership opportunities to startups in their various stages of development.
Also created by StartupAmsterdam, the Amsterdam Startup Map lets users learn about the startups, scale-ups, investors, co-working spaces and accelerators in a particular location and shows how they are clustered by street or building. This extensive online database of Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem does all the work to match entrepreneurs with investors.
Designated innovation districts
Innovation knows no boundaries. Yet, Amsterdam has several geographically designated areas that provide space, infrastructure and a sense of community to a high concentration of research institutes, startup initiatives, scientific entrepreneurs and companies – big and small.
Campus Amsterdam is a network connecting campuses, labs and innovation districts in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. It aims to provide entrepreneurs, researchers and students worldwide with a portal to the region’s knowledge and education, notably in the tech, life sciences and health, humanities and social sciences, green, logistics and creative sectors.
Amsterdam has four designated innovation districts, which, while each having their own specialisations and character, are closely interconnected. They include the Amsterdam Life Sciences District, which hosts Amsterdam UMC as well as over 25 companies, 15 startups per year, 15,000 employees, 4,900 medical students and 410 PhDs per year. A 30-minute bike ride away is Amsterdam Science Park, which is home to the University of Amsterdam’s faculty of science with its more than 7,000 students, in addition to multinational companies, numerous startups and SMEs, all with a strong focus on digital innovation, data science and sustainability. On the west side of the city is the hub for transfusion medicine, haematology, oncology and immunology hub known as the Hid, short for the New West Health & Innovation District, which is home both to Sanquin, the Dutch national bloodbank and associated research institution, and to the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI). And finally, there is the Zuidas Innovation District, located in the city’s iconic business district, where advanced technical research is applied in oncology, neurology, medical imaging and other fields.
The common goal: grow and scale
No matter their field, industry or sector, startups have a common goal: to grow and scale. Fortunately, there are various startup initiatives in Amsterdam and beyond that exist to facilitate just that.
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.
SCALE.CITIES is a network of 10 global cities – including Amsterdam – that facilitate knowledge-sharing between startup ecosystems and promote the government’s role in supporting startup ventures. Across cities, civil servants and public officials work together and apply their collective insights to influence policies that will help local and global startup communities thrive.
Check out this guide to Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem to learn more about the many resources available to entrepreneurs and young companies in the Amsterdam Area and beyond. And be sure to see the startup and tech events calendar, the guide on coding academies and courses and the guide on accelerators and incubators.