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Humans of the Amsterdam startup scene

Business | Interview | Unsorted - 22nd December 2019
By Marek Hasa

What is the essence of Amsterdam’s startup scene?

The picturesque streets of the Dutch capital are not only aesthetically pleasing. They also host a tremendous amount of emerging startups, big and small, with potential that exceeds the borders of the Netherlands.

To capture the soul of the Amsterdam startup scene and understand what makes it different from its counterparts in other European capitals, we decided to approach the people who help form the scene on a daily basis. We hand-picked 10 interesting professionals who are invested in the local ecosystem to varying degrees, with roles ranging from founders to strategists and marketing specialists.

Read their thoughts and anecdotes about the Amsterdam startup scene.

Sander van der Blonk
Angel Investor, Founder @ Scoutely

I have played the entrepreneurial game since the early ‘90s. And the sizzling Amsterdam startup scene has been instrumental in getting and keeping me going.

Amsterdam is very much an international city. It’s pretty easy to get around and to connect with fellow founders.

I believe that collaboration excellence is the key to future growth. And one of the recent additions to the Amsterdam startup scene is Cumulus Park; A collaborative innovation district in Amsterdam southeast. It aims to help companies and organizations that are different find common ground and build new ventures in Urbanism and Digital Identity together. It has far less to do with technology than it does with forging meaningful human relationships. That’s Amsterdam at its best.

Zara Enegmouchi
Account Manager @ Tripaneer

Have you ever had that wanderlust feeling at the airport? When you are surrounded by people who radiate their culture and share their languages with you who are all embarking on various journeys, you have the opportunity to perceive and learn, all at the same time! All my life, I have wanted to have that feeling permanently.

For me, Amsterdam has been the answer. My personal example of this is the experience of working at Tripaneer, a travel start-up company in Amsterdam, that has given me this opportunity. At Tripaneer, we are dedicated to creating new experiences, discovering ourselves in different environments, enriching our knowledge, and meeting people. The wide variety of trips we offer is due to the experiences of Tripaneer’s diverse employees.

Therefore, it is necessary to be surrounded by other cultures for learning and innovation. In fact, the most important part is the collaboration of the team and cultural interaction. This is a fundamental part of the company that helps us engage with the product. Because after all, we all want to experience the constant inspiring cultural diversity that you feel at the airport.

And Amsterdam is the point of arrival, meeting, and departure!

Abigail Blackburn
Public Relations Manager @ SkinVision

Before relocating abroad, I visited Amsterdam and like most people, was blown away by the gorgeous canals, charming architecture, and fascinating culture. When I came to learn about the countless successful startups and scale-ups, coupled with the headquarters of many world-renowned corporations, it seemed to embody the perfect business ecosystem. The scene here is encapsulated by its strong international culture and drive for innovation, the ideal opportunity for internationals like myself.

The benefit of working at a startup as a young adult is having the freedom to contribute equally and make an impact. Most companies in Amsterdam offer a healthy work-life balance, and not to mention the quality of life here is fantastic. Have you tried biking in the city? Your daily work commute can become almost therapeutic.

I personally love working in Amsterdam Noord. Each morning, commuters and travellers alike hop on the ferry, off to their next destination, mine being SkinVision. The ferry ride gives me time to catch up with colleagues, or contemplate my day, practice gratitude and think about my goals while enjoying a spectacular view of the IJ river.

Corbin Norman
Performance Marketer @ bunq

Amsterdam is a vibrant city full of history, architecture and of course, bicycles. This is a well-known but to my surprise when relocating in 2018 was its designation as the 4th most active startup hub in Europe. Now properly settled along the canals, I’ve taken notice. The biggest job creator, exceptional quality of life, international tech talent, and government-supported startup visa, all were pivotal reasons for my decision to remain.

Whether securing necessary documentation or accessing the financial system (thanks bunq!), the feeling of community brought comfort and serenity which allowed more time to connect with the startup scene. Nevertheless, there are still areas where the ecosystem can improve. Last year, Dutch startups raised €750 million but only 19% of the Dutch startups attracted venture capital. Talking with VCs, some suggest Dutch startups aren’t necessarily competing amongst themselves but doubters who challenge their ability to successfully create value outside their home country and Europe like their counterparts from United Kingdom and Germany. Opinions yes, but holds some truth. I believe support organizations, specifically government and industry are best positioned to ensure Dutch startups prove the naysayers wrong.

Marjolein Pleune & Kaline van Halder
Co-founders @ Meet Jack

The Amsterdam startup scene, and in particular the food startup scene is, in my opinion, truly exceptional and thriving. The startup ecosystem over the last decade has grown into a renowned, well established and well functioning breeding place for startups. Before I, together with my co-founder Marjolein, embarked on the entrepreneurial journey of Meet Jack, i was a programme manager active in the Amsterdam social enterprise & impact investment ecosystem organising incubation & accelerator programmes, innovation tours & startup trade missions. Based on my 10-year plus experience, I am convinced that Amsterdam offers all the right tools, programmes and capital support.

With Meet Jack, we made extensive usage of this ecosystem, joining the Business Model Challenge (a 3-months incubation programme at the Impact Hub Amsterdam) to move from idea into a tangible business model with potential. 18 months later we were selected for the Investment Ready Programme for food startups, which is an accelerator preparing us for the next growth phase. We are part of the 200 women-led & diverse startups listed in the bid book of the #FundRight fund. We are members of the Impact Hub Amsterdam community and worked out of the Kitchen Republic (a co-work space for food startups). We consider ourselves actively involved in the impact startup community and learn, share & exchange our experiences and failures openly. Alone you go faster, together you go further.

Alexandra Belicova
Partnerships & Event Lead @ Startup Amsterdam

Over the last 4 years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Amsterdam startup ecosystem grow, evolve and mature. We witnessed our unicorns becoming public; more and more people founding startups; the growth of local accelerators, hubs and communities; more tech talent coming in, more corporates getting involved and more capital becoming available to startups. Working for StartupAmsterdam – an initiative from the Municipality of Amsterdam – has allowed us to not only see it all unveil before our very eyes, but play an active role in facilitating the right connections.

There are many factors that make a great startup ecosystem, but what people generally tend to agree on is that entrepreneurs need communities and like-minded people around them. Thanks to Amsterdam’s relatively small size and excellent accessibility by public transport, as well as our favourite means of transportation, the bicycle, meeting the right people and making the most relevant connections is an easy feat. It doesn’t hurt either that Amsterdammers, both Dutch and internationals, are famous for their open-minded and collaborative nature. What we at StartupAmsterdam like to say is that, in Amsterdam, “everybody is a coffee away”, so invest early in your relationships and the Amsterdam startup scene will welcome you with open arms.

Bas van Marissing
Commercial Product Manager @ YTS

If you are passionate about tech and you want to work in the fastest growing start-up hub, Amsterdam is the place to be. Recently named as the best European tech city and listed in the top 5 tech hubs globally, Amsterdam has become the new Silicon Valley and – as a Dutch citizen myself – I am not surprised about it. The city offers to young, ambitious talents all they might need to dream big, including amazing chances to interact with other start-ups and build meaningful business collaborations. As home of a couple of the biggest banks in the Netherlands and Europe (e.g. ING), Amsterdam has become increasingly involved in boosting new fintech-businesses. I also believe start-ups have a bigger chance of success if they partner with other techs and the right investors, both largely available in Amsterdam.

Our company, YTS (Yolt Technology Services), an ING venture, is an example of that brave mentality that attracts international Fintech talents with game-changing ideas to revolutionize the markets. YTS is the leading open banking provider in Europe, building, managing, and maintaining AIS and PIS connections for top financial institutions and ambitious tech. Our mission is to bring the benefits of open banking to businesses across Europe, what a better place than vibrant Amsterdam to kick off our international scaling?

Flavia Paganelli
Founder & CTO @ 30MHz

Building a startup is exciting but hard work. It keeps you so busy that time seems to go very fast. This means I’m not very active in startup community events. But a few months ago I was invited to tell our story in one, and I was amazed by how much interest it sparkled. I met many curious, talented people with an entrepreneurial mindset wanting to join us. It’s no surprise that Amsterdam is among the top 10 startup cities in the world. I only wish that more women would participate, but I do see that improving, for example in the number of women or diversity-friendly meetups being organized.

Ayaan Hanewald
SEO Specialist @ Yellowgrape

I love to work in Amsterdam’s tech start-up scene. Networking is a breeze in Amsterdam which means you’re never too far away from another tech expert to bounce ideas off. Next to that, you have so many engaging and fun events to go to. You will meet people with different backgrounds like UXers, Growth Hackers or developers. They are all open to new ideas but also not scared for a fun party in the city.

I grew up in Amsterdam and see the city as a big village where news travels fast and at the same time it is a creative and safe environment to grow. I have seen Amsterdam becoming more popular for expats in the last few years and I see it as a win. In my network, I have people from Spain, America, Australia and South America. The world is coming to Amsterdam and you can only learn from it.

Marek Hasa
Written by
Marek Hasa
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