Why Amsterdam?

“It’s a cosmopolitan city but with a village charm.”

Here at Rockstart, part of our job is to motivate people to join the startup adventure with us in Amsterdam. Perhaps you’ve thought about this possibility and wondered, “why Amsterdam?” To answer this question, we’ve collected firsthand accounts from four individuals within our Rockstart community (alumni founders, Smart Energy director, and affiliates) on why Amsterdam could be the ideal place to build your business as well as your life.

The Innovation Capital

Ruth van Wieren, co-developer of Rockstart’s Smart Energy program and current mentor to SE startups, says Amsterdam is a great place for doing business because of the connectivity. She praises the logistics: the two sea ports, Schiphol airport, and also the submarine internet cable entry points near Amsterdam, which add to its growing capacity to become a data center hub. The business climate is a big one in that we really have all kinds of industries–the three biggest industries with new companies that came last year are IT, financial services, and creative industries, that’s in addition to the already established marketing and sales industry.

Smart Energy program director Freerk Bisschop talked to us about why he thinks Amsterdam is a great place for the energy market.

“The whole energy market is liberalized and unbundled, which provides a good testbed for services, products, platforms to be validated in a market situation that is increasingly occurring in other markets as well, so it’s the perfect test environment,” Freerk said. “One of our startups, Sympower, is a good example. They moved from Estonia and the UK to Amsterdam. They worked with ENGIE, TenneT, and local investors, and are now piloting their solution in the Netherlands, but also rolling out their B2B solution in Finland. Amsterdam is their HQ. This illustrates how we’re actually a gateway to other European markets as well.”

Ruth added that “a trend that we see now is that a lot of companies bring their offices to Europe, to Amsterdam, to serve this market. At the moment we are called the Innovation Capital of 2016 and 2017, we got the prize because of our bottom up approach and Smart City.”  

Another argument in support of energy startups making their move here is the presence of strong local and global energy players to connect to. Freerk explained that “this is one of the best places for electric mobility in the world, with a very open infrastructure with standards that allow electric mobility providers to easily enter the market and use a strong infrastructure for charging.”

Ruth also identified the access to talent as an important factor in Amsterdam’s overall appeal. She pointed out, “we have a skilled multi-lingual talent pool here. We have over 180 nationalities here, over 90% speak two languages. We’re scoring number one in English proficiency worldwide, outside the native speaking countries. So those are all good arguments as well. Because of the good quality of life here, work life balance, it’s relatively easy to attract international talent. Not only young people, but also families. And to retain talent. There’s also a lot of support available when you’re moving here, like the city expat center etc.”

Though the cost of living may be higher than Berlin or Barcelona, it still remains quite affordable when compared to other big-business cities, such as London or Paris. Ruth describes the great work life balance in saying, “Amsterdam is a great place to live; it’s a cosmopolitan city but with a village charm. There is no real commute like you would experience when living in London. You can have a morning coffee, go to yoga class, have a meeting, do your business, have lunch, do some calling and at night go to a concert, still having a good night’s sleep.” With so many great resources and activities, it’s no wonder people tend to stick around.

Gateway to the European Market

Startups that do leave Amsterdam at some point could still have a lot of long-term benefits from having been in Amsterdam.

“Like the guys from Italy, Geolumen, they came here to work on a pilot with their lights in Amsterdam and are now in Bremen scaling their proposition,” Freerk explained. “It’s a great example on how building and tuning your business in the Amsterdam ecosystem can help to reach the European markets. It’s like a gateway/launchpad with a great network.”

Geolumen is an Italian-based company that didn’t see the same opportunities in Italy, that they saw in Amsterdam.

Here in Amsterdam, there is a different kind of interest and approach towards startups and founders,” said Antonio Domenico Ialeggio, CEO of Geolumen. “Everybody is more open and you are more in control of your business, and the feedback and training you receive is very different than in other EU countries. The only downside to living in Amsterdam is of course, finding housing. I advise people who want to move here to go to an agency instead of looking on online platforms. It’s easy to step into a shady deal.”

Wapo.io CEO Thanos Daskalopoulos explained how partially moving his business to Amsterdam has helped it expand.

“It created a general hub for us to learn more things and to connect a lot more, in our field and internationally,” he said. “Our main business is still in Greece, and I come to Amsterdam for a week each month. But this is our center now to approach the market on a global level. Here in Amsterdam the startup ecosystem is much more mature. Back in Greece there are some things happening, but here, for example, having a specific accelerator around smart energy—[this is something] you won’t find in Greece.”

It was not an effortless transition, though.

“It was definitely a challenge to penetrate the Dutch market,” Thanos added. “This had been hard, but being here helps us a lot to look at the global market. The global market is more accessible here than in Greece. That’s why we’re here.”

Simon Bushell, CEO of Smart Energy startup Sympower, expands on his personal startup experiences in different countries.

“At Sympower even though currently most of our business is in Finland and software development in Estonia, we’ve decided to locate the team including the expanded software team, and the headquarters here in Amsterdam,” he said. We feel that Amsterdam is a place that people want to come to, it’s got a good ecosystem and it’s very well connected.”

Good Things Come in Small Countries

For Dominik Blattner, co-founder of Cupenya, the startup ecosystem in Amsterdam is  “growing fast and maturing, however, still young.” Talking about disadvantages of living in Amsterdam, Dominik named the weather. He explained that Cupenya has already lost two employees to the rainy weather. Typically, people from more southern, warmer climates have proven to have problems when transitioning to Amsterdam. If your mood is strongly connected to the weather, the Dutch capital might not be the perfect fit for you.

However, according to Dominik, there are two main upsides to being in the Netherlands.

The country is quite liberal and used to a service environment. There is no industry backbone like there is in Germany. That’s why the service industry is in many ways a necessity here. In the Netherlands, there aren’t any cars produced like in Germany, for instance. That’s why it is a necessity for people to be more open to service and innovation that a lot of the other European countries.

“The Netherlands is too small to only speak one language, which means this country speaks English extremely well. This makes the Netherlands a global environment for businesses to thrive,”he said. “On the other hand, the Netherlands is small enough to have a very concentrated network, wherein a short amount of time and with the right people for introduction, you can get introduced to anybody you need. You still have everything you need available on a small scale, but highly developed. Especially as an early adopter market this is good to test your assumptions and your first go-to-market strategy.”

All of this to say: Amsterdam is ready for you. Come join us.

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