Going Dutch: 9 things we learned about the start-up scene in Amsterdam

22 Apr 2016

After checking out the Uprise Festival in Amsterdam, here are 9 things we learned about the start-up scene in The Netherlands

This week at the Uprise Festival in Amsterdam more than 75 start-ups got together and showed why Amsterdam is one of the foremost start-up cities in Europe.

The Uprise Festival is the brainchild of Irishman Paul O’Connell and took place in a venue called The Box in a warehouse district not far from the port of Amsterdam. The choice of location for the event, normally a dance music venue, was strategic because it is also in the very district where many start-ups are located.

The event was laid back, the atmosphere warm and friendly, and the festival atmosphere was enhanced by the food trucks and the specially-brewed Hoprise made for the occasion, incorporating ingredients from the US, UK and The Netherlands.

So among all the stories and interviews, here are the insights I can offer on the local start-up scene:

1. People are direct and blunt, so product feedback is pretty instant and reliable

The tech scene in The Netherlands benefits from a natural tendency towards blunt, honest and direct feedback. If you propose to create a product, Dutch people will tell you instantly if they’d pay for it or not. This provides the advantage of not going down the wrong road. This point was made over and over again by various start-ups I interviewed.

2. A thriving local investment scene

Holland boasts a thriving venture capital scene. According to local tech site Startup Juncture, in 2014 alone there were 75 venture capital deals amounting to €500m in investment.

Local food delivery scale-up Takeaway.com is considering an IPO that values the company at €1.1bn. Takeaway.com, in The Netherlands better known as Thuisbezorgd, was founded by Jitse Groen in 1999, with him starting his business with €50. Today, he has raised almost €90m and is active in 10 countries.

However, as some start-ups told me this week, investors are quite conservative and will only invest in solid tech efforts like business software that will yield a quicker return than a consumer app proposing to be the next WhatsApp or Instagram. According to Camera Capture CEO Rene van Troosk, the company knocked on every door in Holland and Belgium and has succeeded in attracting angel investment and is about to take on seed investment. However, he believes that the company will need to move to Silicon Valley where investors are more likely to back consumer-facing apps.

3. There’s a lot of old money to draw upon

As one of the world’s traditional trading hubs and marketplaces, a former mercantile shipping empire and a key fixture of Europe’s jewel trade, what Amsterdam, or The Netherlands for that matter, is not short of is old money.

Old money means deep reserves of savings and start-ups in Holland can get the ball rolling quickly through friends and family rounds, as some start-ups said at Uprise.

4. Globalised mindset

A native globalised mindset harks back to Holland’s vast maritime empire and Amsterdam’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost port cities. Start-ups like Poopy Cat, which makes biodegradable cat litter boxes and toys, have shown natural instinct in establishing supply chains locally and in Australia to serve Europe and Asia-Pacific respectively.

Another amazing start-up called Tunga is making it possible for software developers in Africa to contract with start-ups in Europe, enabling them to stay in their local community, spend in their local economy and encourage young people to become coders.

One start-up called Taglayer – which enables web publishers to personalise their websites uniquely based on what each visitor is looking for – is currently being run in Amsterdam but from next year will also be run from Singapore and Hong Kong as two of the founders are embarking on the next stage of their Erasmus programme.

Another Dutch-based start-up, 3D Hubs, has built a global network of 3D printer owners who are willing to allow people to use their machines to prototype products and estimates that there are 1bn people within 10 miles its 3D printers.

5. Crowdfunding is widely embraced

What impressed me most from the start-ups I talked to was just how naturally start-ups in The Netherlands are inclined to use crowdfunding strategically to market and prove ideas and raise funding. Start-ups ranging from internet of things sports science player Johan to internet of beers player MiniBrew have thrived on Kickstarter and the aforementioned Poopy Cat uses Kickstarter tactically to launch new products and enter new markets.

6. Innovation is in Dutch people’s blood

The Netherlands has a proud tradition of technology innovation and engineering and it is home to well-known household brand names, including consumer electronics giant Philips and navigation player TomTom.

This tradition of innovation continues and other well-known players formed in recent years that are carrying the torch include Booking.com and WeTransfer.

7. Biking is the new networking

While in Amsterdam I bumped into an old acquaintance, Remco Janssen, editor-in-chief of siliconcanals.nl, who explained that the Dutch penchant for cycling means that it is not unheard of for a lot of informal networking between entrepreneurs and even captains of industry to take place along the wide, abundant cycle lanes that crisscross the city.

9. An abundance of accelerators

The Netherlands is home to some of Europe’s most prolific accelerators, including Rockstart, Startupbootcamp Amsterdam, Founder Institute, Lean Startup Machine and nReduce. Others include StartupNext, VentureLab, Startup Pirates, Accelerator Nederland and Investment Ready. A good sum-up of the range of funding, acceleration and seed supports available to start-ups in The Netherlands can be found here.

Amsterdam image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years