Amsterdam has always been recognised as significant in the digital space, but now this cosmopolitan city is on pace to become one of the tech hubs of Europe.
This past January, property rental startup Nestpick named Amsterdam as one of the top six European cities to build a tech startup. It highlighted European Commission data that shows that the entrepreneurialism rate in the Netherlands is 6% higher than in the rest of Europe.
I met with a few key players to find out what’s going on with this up-and-coming digital hub and what clients and talent need to know before they pack their bags and move.
Simon Norris, CEO and founder of UK-based UX design agency Nomensa, is in the process of setting up an additional office in Amsterdam. When I asked him why he made that choice, he said Nomensa has a lot of clients based in Europe, many with headquarters in Amsterdam. “It was just the most logical move, we have a lot of Dutch clients in the Netherlands so it will allow us to grow that side of the business more”.
Simon says his company is also attracted by the “pedigree of design talent” that the Dutch capital offers. He does admit that the culture here is different than in the UK, where the company is based, and there is a bit of adaptation to consider. He said, “Nomensa has an 80/20 ratio of permanent to freelance staff...so we had to rethink our business model slightly to support the expectations of the talent in the Netherlands to incorporate more freelancers”.
It’s increasingly apparent that Amsterdam is becoming the “digital destination” of Europe. I Amsterdam recorded that in 2014 139 new international companies established offices in the Amsterdam metropolitan area, predominantly from the technology sector.
One of the reasons might be Amsterdam’s advocacy for new digital businesses. The city has even established as a support system for new businesses considering setting-up in the city, Amsterdam In Business. They will “hold your hand” and guide you around the city, covering your every need from office location to employment laws, to ensure you have a “soft landing” when arriving.
I spoke with Hugo Niezen, Senior Manager Foreign Investments for Amsterdam In Business who told me the city is a genuine front-runner on digital technology.
For one, it’s home to the largest Internet exchange in Europe, resulting in super fast bandwidth, a key component of any good digital infrastructure.
With the tech sector being so competitive, he said Amsterdam is making a concerted effort to lure the best of the best to join their forces. “The Netherlands is very open to international organisations opening new businesses. We make it easier and more efficient for them to start up in a city where the costs of starting out are very low in comparison to other major European cities.”
Amsterdam also encourages highly skilled talent to come to the city by offering them tax breaks and has built a university system that welcomes foreign students, which makes it very easy for them to get visas where needed. Lisa Trapman, Country Manager for Aquent Amsterdam says, “The Netherlands has a great framework for innovation and education, as the types of courses on offer here are varied for the creative skillsets. Collaboration is ingrained in all the residents here, and not just individuals, we see it everyday with businesses working together.”
Hugo pointed out that sheer happiness is a factor that cannot be underestimated. “People who live in Amsterdam have a healthy work-life balance, so they are happy workers too,” he says. “They have a good quality life here: being able to cycle everywhere, with short commutes combined with the cultural and social offering of every major city. There also doesn’t seem to be that hierarchy that you would find in most other European countries. There is a much more collaborative attitude promoted through businesses.”
There is a strong sense of community in Amsterdam, even in how businesses work together. Hugo told me that when talent aren’t successful at a certain company, that company will ‘showcase’ the talent within their professional network to give them another opportunity elsewhere. He said, “This way of working is a historic approach in Amsterdam. When the city was below water, provinces worked together to survive, which also forced them to go outside of the city to trade. That is the Dutch way.”
Lisa’s advice for those starting to work in Amsterdam is, “Get to know the locals. There is lots of help available to companies who decide to set-up in Amsterdam and events where you can mix with talented people. Get to know the Chamber of Commerce, Amsterdam InBusiness, Meetup groups, and local recruiters who are happy to collaborate and share what they know to make life easier for newcomers.”
She also stresses the need for employers to be flexible. “The Netherlands has a highly skilled freelance and part-time workforce and is progressive in providing flexible working conditions and secondary benefits,” she says. “Open your mind to new possibilities that flexible working conditions and teams provide and you will benefit from them.”
If you are interested in finding out more about Amsterdam feel free to get in touch with our Aquent office in Amsterdam.