Amsterdam’s Guide To Build Your Startup

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Are you thinking of founding your business in Amsterdam? Check out our Startup City Guide for further advice on how to successfully start your company in one of Europe's most vibrant cities.

Amsterdam is one of the most dynamic cities of Europe, with a large community of creative people, developers and a strong startup community. The city and the Netherlands in general are a great test market for any startup. Dutch people are direct, not afraid to give honest feedback and happy to try out new services.

Amsterdam: Be Serious

The Financial Times (FT) sees Amsterdam as ‘a  modern-day refuge for the start-up crowd’, with pro’s as to why an entrepreneur should start a company here. “A haven for troublemakers, philosophers and dreamers since the 16th century, the Netherlands is now styling itself as a contemporary refuge for the start-up crowd. The national virtues of tolerance and versatility reach their peak in Amsterdam, where founders are welcomed with comfortably low tax rates and are in easy cycling distance of collaborators, incubators and investors”, writes FT. Open-minded, ready to speak English and a can-do approach are the pro’s of Amsterdam, according to the newspaper.  Furthermore “The Netherlands enjoy the sixth-fastest internet speeds in the world.” The government is moreover scouting out policies to boost the startup sector, having appointed Neelie Kroes, as the country’s startup envoy named Startup Delta. “Gaming, 3D printing and financial technology are particularly strong sectors”, says FT.

Advantages of Amsterdam:

  • Technical infrastructure. Many disruptive and innovative companies rely on big data and need a fast Internet connection to work well. The Amsterdam Internet exchange is one of the fastest hubs in the world. Since the transatlantic cables surface in Amsterdam, Amsterdam is a hub with high bandwidth and low latency. Putting your infrastructure here thus makes sense for data-heavy companies.
  • Access to talent. The one thing that fast growing companies need are talented employees. Amsterdam has a lot of talent: creative talent, internationally oriented people (who speak English and many other languages) and people with IT-skills. Moreover, there is a strong freelancer community, providing startups with enough talent to get going and experts to help you with specific challenges. You can also find talents willing to be mobile on StartUs.
  • Closeness to markets. Amsterdam is not in one of the large European markets (UK, France, Germany), but it is well-connected to all of these via Schiphol airport and rail network. Travel times are low to all these markets and most European headquarters, especially when you live in Amsterdam, The Hague or Utrecht.
  • Great place to live. Several people coming from the US or London remark how nice it is to have a 20 minute bike ride to their work rather than a one hour commute. Amsterdam is also a safe city with a good facilities and friendly people. Finding your way around Amsterdam without speaking Dutch should not be a problem, as everyone speaks English.

Things to watch out for:

  • Small local market. The Netherlands has a population of just under 17 million. Therefore the domestic market is limited. But it’s a great test market. Amsterdam on its own has approximately 180 nationalities within its borders, making it the city with most nationalities in the world. If you can make your business work here, you could expand into other (European) markets.
  • Funding. Raising funds in the Netherlands for an innovative startup is hard compared to raise funding in Silicon Valley. The number of angel investors and (pre-)seed funds has increased over the past years. But their deal size normally won’t exceed EUR 1 million. In many cases successful Dutch startups look abroad for larger ticket deals and subsequent equity rounds. The interest of international venture capital in Dutch startups has significantly improved though. A successful example is the series B round of Adyen, in which General Atlantic together with Temasek, Index Ventures and Felicis Ventures invested USD 250 million in the payment provider. Another example is the series B of Takeaway.com, in which Macquarie Capital and Prime Ventures invested EUR 74 million in the online food ordering startup. These deals were the two largest recorded deals in 2014.

Amsterdam: Where To Meet The Community

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The best way to start exploring the Dutch startup community is via coworking spaces (see step 4), accelerators and events.

When arriving at the city center, a great place to start is Rockstart centrally located at the Herengracht. Rockstart has an accelerator program but also offers office spaces for grown-up startups (e.g. 3D Hubs), an event space and a lobby. Regularly, they organise events named Rockstart Answers that help startups with advice from approximately 40 experts. Other than the valuable feedback, it’s a great way to meet new people that are active in Amsterdam’s startup community.

Many other meetups are organised, both about technology and about finance and business. Hackers & Founders is a monthly meetup that is always crowded. Every 1st Thursday of the month you could go to Open Coffee Amsterdam at Leidseplein (coworking space Launchdesk Bovendebalie). Other interesting events this spring/summer are Appril Festival (April, Utrecht), the Week of the Entrepreneur (April, Utrecht), Crowdfunding Day 2015 (May, Amsterdam) and Startup Weekend (June, Amsterdam).

An overview of upcoming events, meetups and other occasions:

Regular events and meet-ups:

  • Open Coffee Amsterdam: this event takes place every 1st Thursday of the month at 9am at coworking space Bovendebalie, Amsterdam.
  • Hackers & Founders organise every 1st Thursday of the month at 7pm a meetup in Café De Doffer, Amsterdam.
  • Rockstart Answers: Rockstart Answers organises events that help early-stage startups with advice from experts. Next meetup in Amsterdam is planned on 16 April 2015.

Yearly or major events, festivals, conferences:

For an overview of events check Startupinc’s startup events calendar.

Amsterdam: Where To Co-work

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Many co-working space initiatives developed in recent years. One of the first was Spaces with locations on one of the canals, in the city center and Zuidas; Amsterdam’s largest business district. One of the latest (April 2015) is WeWork which is located in the centre. B.Amsterdam is the largest startup building, located at the edge of Amsterdam

Most of the co-working spaces look very neat. If you prefer a more easy-going and less corporate atmosphere you could look into smaller initiatives including:

  • Bouncespace: You could build your business at Bouncespace with co-working spaces in Amsterdam and Eindhoven.
  • Deskowitz: Co-working club for entrepreneurs, located at Museum Square in Amsterdam.
  • Starthub Overtoom: Connect with other movers and shakers at Starthub located near the city centre and Amsterdam’s famous Vondelpark.

Launchdesk offers an extensive overview of co-working locations in The Netherlands. Prices of a full time desk usually vary approx. between EUR 200 to EUR 300 per month. Moreover, you can check StartUs Coworking Spaces for a growing list of coworking spaces in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam: Where To Get Money

Amsterdam_guide_financing.

As in many other countries, crowdfunding is becoming a more popular way to fund startups. The Netherlands has several active crowdfunding initiatives for early startups, including Symbid, Leapfunder, Crowdaboutnow and Kickstarter Netherlands. For more advanced startups, there are several active early stage funds and informal investors. There is sufficient pre-seed funding (see deal overview at StartupJuncture). For larger funding rounds (EUR 1 million and upwards) many startups often look outside Amsterdam. For an overview of investors based in Amsterdam, have a look here.

As a startup, it is hard to attract traditional bank financing because in many cases you don’t have sufficient equity or collateral to secure a loan. Qredits offers microfinance to startups up to EUR 50.000. In granting a loan they look more at the entrepreneur, his capabilities and goals rather than equity and collateral.

Before you determine your funding strategy you need to determine the amount of funding you really need to attract. Then you can determine the financiers you want to approach. Possibly it’s the preferred option to combine multiple sources of finance.

If you have any questions with regard to funding in the Netherlands, visit FINSPAR. FINSPAR is founded by one of the co-writers of this guide.

Find below an overview of accelerators, incubators, subsidies and programmes, crowdfunding platforms and investors.

Accelerators & Incubators (a selection):

  • ACE Venture Lab Amsterdam is an accelerator and incubator that offers a “Bootcamp”, an “Explore program”, and a “Growth program”.
  • DutchGameGarden is an accelerator and incubator for the Dutch gaming sector.
  • Holland Startup is a venture builder for graduates.
  • Lean Startup Machine is a three-day workshop on building a successful business.
  • Rockstart Accelerator: Rockstart gives startups rock-solid support in their first 1000 days.
  • Startupbootcamp: Startupbootcamp is a global network of industry focused startup accelerators.
  • Startup Weekend 2015: Startup Weekend (June, Amsterdam) is an event where participants pitch ideas, form teams and launch startups in just over 2 days.
  • Utrecht Inc: an incubator with an accelerator programme.
  • Yes!Delft: Launchlab is YES!Delft’s accelerator program.
  • Expected: Factory, which is the “campus for founders & innovators” backed by Google, and accelerator Hardware.co.

Subsidies & Programmes (a selection):

  • Horizon 2020: Horizon 2020 is the European Commission programme for financing European research and innovation projects. Horizon 2020 offers funding to organisations that are involved in research, technological development and innovation on an international scale for research and innovation projects.
  • Innovation credit: With the innovation credit the Ministry of Economic Affairs gives SMEs financial support for risky innovation projects.
  • For an overview of subsidies and programmes visit the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Crowd Funding Platforms (a selection):

Angel Investors:

Venture Capital Investors (a selection):

  • HenQ Investments: Based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, henQ invests in young, ambitious and innovative companies of Dutch origin or with a Dutch link.
  • Prime Ventures: Venture capital and growth equity firm focused on investing in European companies in the technology and related industries.
  • SanomaVentures: SanomaVentures is aimed at investing and supporting the development of young enterprises in media & marketing, e-commerce and education.
  • For an overview of investors based in Amsterdam look here.

Other:

  • Capital Waters:  Open source legal documents for early stage investments in the Netherlands.
  • Equidam: A platform for business valuation.
  • FINSPAR: Financial solutions for (investors in) startups and early-stage companies.
  • Ripplestarters: Crowdfunding solutions. Ripplestarters advises companies on setting up a  crowdfunding campaign, choosing the right target amount and activating your network.

Amsterdam: Where To Get Advice

Amsterdam_mentors

Amsterdam has a strong freelancer community, providing startups with enough talent to get going and experts to help you with specific challenges. Moreover, you can always find talents willing to be mobile at StartUs.

The StartupDelta initiative has been set up by the Dutch government and offers a portal with practical advice. Also Startup Stash and StartupJuncture make it easier to search for experts. Startup Stash is a relatively new website which makes it easier for startups to find resources and tools you might need along the way. StartupJuncture created a central repository of links to information you need as a Dutch startup entrepreneur. MDK Social will help your startup with pitching and marketing strategies to influence any audience, anytime, and anywhere.

When you prefer to meet online or if you are doing business from a tropical island, 24sessions could work for you. This Dutch based startup created a community and two-sided marketplace where people can book and have a live video call with experts on many topics relevant to your startup.

Thank you, Sieuwert van Otterloo (independent consultant) and Suzanne Blotenburg for your great contribution to the guide. Sieuwert and Suzanne are both editors at the StartupJuncture.com, the largest English language blog about the Dutch startup scene.

Ready to start-up in Amsterdam?

 

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Last updated: July 29th, 2016

The guides are like startup communities – they contstantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

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