When Kajsa Ollongren first began serving her term as the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam, she noticed that cities around the world seemed to be catching the startup fever, but Amsterdam was not yet on board. “So we invited startups in Amsterdam, some new ones and some established ones, to the Mayor’s house and we had a discussion. I asked them ‘What do you think I could do to help and to make sure that we in Amsterdam can keep track with the developments in the rest of the world?’” says Ollogren. According to Compass, an industry benchmarking firm which releases an annual Global Startup Ecosystems Report, Amsterdam is a newcomer in Europe after London, Paris, and Berlin and currently ranks amongst the top 20 startup ecosystems around the world. The city has been rapidly and successfully growing its startup hub; here are some lessons from this grande dame.
Lesson 1 – Make the ask.
The startups were polite, but explained that they don’t usually see politicians driving any measurable economic change. Ollogren challenged these startups to come up with a list of improvements and together, the startups and the city could set goals and deadlines. There were three key areas that these startups asked for help in: finding more talent, connecting with other companies and cities, and attracting capital. Ollogren continues, “We did come up with an action program and launched StartupAmsterdam. I think what’s really good with the program is that it’s public-private. We have some people from the city and we have private leads who give confidence to startups. These are people who actually understand how businesses work.”
Lesson 2 – Look to your local government as a potential first client.
One of the flagship programs of StartupAmsterdam is Startup In Residence. In the first year of the program, the city defined ten priorities and worked with startups that focused on tackling these issues. One of city’s problems is that tourists tend to only stay in the most well know areas of the city. This creates an uneven distribution of tourism revenue. Wander was one of the startups in the initial cohort which lets visitors use a smart compass to explore the city organically instead of following a defined route on their phones. Now in its second iteration, the Startup In Residence 2.0 will be rolled out on a bigger scale tackling 14 social challenges and with a new Wildcard issue. Ollogren explains, “I think it would be interesting also to open up to the startups to ask ‘what can you do for the city?’ so we can work on not only issues we think we should work on, but also on issues that other people might see.”
Lesson 3 – Leverage your local government’s clout.
Getting started can be particularly difficult if your chosen sector has a high barrier to entry. Luckily, your city government may be able to connect you to established companies in the right fields. The Launchpad Meetups, organized by StartupAmsterdam, creates a medium for startups and corporations to nurture on-going relationships. The Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), for example, connects with two streams of startups in the city which reflects its core business: travel & logistics.
Attracting capital has also been a priority to this public-private partnership. “There used to be 20-30 capital related events throughout the year, but the Amsterdam Capital Week now allows investors from for example the United States, to visit Amsterdam and see all the startups in 3-4 days” according to Sebastiaan Meijier, Ollongren’s spokesperson. Amsterdam Capital Week is a success story of how startups can leverage the government to create a better environment that works for them. Local governments exist to serve its constituents. StartupAmsterdam is a prime example of how public-private partnerships can foster the startup environment of the city. Whether your venture is just getting started or it is looking for capital, your local government can support you on every step of your entrepreneurial journey.