No-nonsense perspectives on startup growth

This article was published on December 2, 2020


7 surprising ways startups can take advantage of a city’s resources

7 surprising ways startups can take advantage of a city’s resources


Rebecca Bellan
Story by

Rebecca Bellan

Rebecca Bellan is a journalist who covers social media and technology innovation for Forbes.com. She has a background covering urbanization, Rebecca Bellan is a journalist who covers social media and technology innovation for Forbes.com. She has a background covering urbanization, policy, and transportation, and her work has been featured in Bloomberg CityLab, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Mother Jones, and more.

Any city that calls itself a “startup city” should provide a range of resources for startups to utilize. In metropolises around the world, local ecosystems are dedicating their resources to helping new businesses thrive, from small businesses to scale ups. 

Figuring out how your local government can help you — as well as where to start — can be daunting. We spoke with Bas Beekman, the Director of StartupAmsterdam, on how companies can tap into their city’s resources, from government grants and funds to networks and workspaces. 

1. Seek out entrepreneurship organizations 

A startup city will undoubtedly have organizations that are dedicated to helping startups meet the right people, gain new skills, scale, and grow. Be on the lookout for accelerators or incubators that can provide you with a community, connections to potential investors, and experienced mentors.

While you’re at it, have a look at what coworking spaces exist in your city. Often, local governments want to encourage entrepreneurs to innovate in their city, so they’ll carve out neighborhoods or buildings to provide a hub for startups to work side by side. Coworking spaces provide businesses with a built-in network, people to chat with at the nitro cold brew tap about ideas, strategies, advice, potential collabs, and more. 

You’ll usually be able to find your niche depending on the market you’re looking to enter, whether that’s FinTech or cybersecurity, SaaS or agriculture. And the great thing about these spaces is that they often host startup and tech events or meetup groups. Which brings us to our next point…

2. Get out there and network

The whole point of an ecosystem is that the many parts of a whole work together to create a functional system, so attending events and expanding your circle is one of the best ways to engage. Some cities make it easier than others. 

Amsterdam, for example, ranks very high in Connectedness on StartupGenome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report due to the Netherlands’ logistical and social connectedness to the world. But within the city itself, Amsterdam has a reputation for being a city with the most meetups, events, and workshops in Europe, right up there with larger cities like Berlin and London. 

“I think that’s one of the strengths of Amsterdam,” said Bas Beekman, Director of StartupAmsterdam. “Everyone is always helping each other by organizing events and sharing knowledge. It’s a very small, dense city. I always say everyone is just a coffee away.”

If you’re lucky enough to be situated in a city that’s walkable and has excellent mobility, like Amsterdam, take advantage of it. Beekman also says the Dutch capital is a true cosmopolitan city, in that no matter where you’re from, it’s easy to really take part in the city and become an accepted citizen, especially since the Dutch speak English almost as a first language. 

“The city itself is an extra resource,” said Beekman. 

Of course, social gatherings are not as feasible during a pandemic, but it still pays to be in a city that continues to find a way to connect with the local ecosystem, even virtually. For example, the City of Amsterdam and Startupbootcamp recently co-launched a fully digital learning and community platform called Amsterdam Squared, which is allowing the startup ecosystem to live on. 

3. Don’t forget to check out government resources

In Silicon Valley, the government largely stays out of the private sector, especially in the tech space. Laissez-faire capitalism is the American way. Not so much in Europe, where the public and private sectors often work together for the good of the industry. In Europe this collaboration isn’t framed as intervention, but rather as a crucial part of the ecosystem. 

Again, Amsterdam is a great example of such collaborations. StartupAmsterdam is a City of Amsterdam initiative to bring the public and private sectors together in order to support the startup ecosystem in a sustainable way, helping the city to become a major global player. 

Beekman recommends that startups just opening up shop in Amsterdam or looking to move to the city get in contact with his team or with the Amsterdam Business Department from the get go. The government wants to welcome startups into the city by helping them find a location and connecting them to peers. StartupAmsterdam even offers a rough guide to connecting to the startup ecosystem in the city.

Checking in with government departments like Startup Amsterdam is a great first step.

4. Connect with universities, researchers, and other educational institutions operating in your area

Any startup city worth its salt has a good talent pipeline, funneling some of the best and brightest in tech from educational institutions directly to startups and larger tech companies. Universities and research organizations alone are great not just for talent, but also for resources that may help move your startup along. 

Amsterdam is a small city with under a million residents, yet it has a reputation for excellence and innovation, which is why a lot of big tech companies from the United States, like Netflix, Tesla, and Booking.com, have offices or headquarters there. 

“One of the reasons these bigger tech companies are coming to Amsterdam is because of the abundance of talent,” said Beekman. “We are really focused on educating more talent with many programs, but we also try to make sure that the connection between the tech companies and the knowledge institutes is strong and collaborative.”

According to the StartupGenome report, Amsterdam ranked very high in Life Sciences Talent, which means it has excellent access to high-quality STEM students and graduates. The Dutch capital offers a range of programs and academies for everything startup-related, from coding and data science to entrepreneurship. 

For example, the founder of the Dutch navigation technology company TomTom created CODAM College, a tuition-free school where anyone can learn how to code, in order to help boost the next generation of developers.

5. Find the right resources for women or minority-led founders

Many startup ecosystems are actively working on creating a more diverse startup landscape, and that includes encouraging women and minority-led founders to succeed. Look out for collaborations of VC firms to achieve this aim. 

Currently, only 2% of all Dutch VC capital is invested in female-founded or female co-founded companies. VC collaborations #FundRight is hoping to change this, and is aiming for a funding ecosystem that includes 35% women by 2023. 

And in light of the pandemic, which threatens much of the progress women have made in the professional realm, a new global program has recently been introduced to support female startup founders. The Female Founder Program, a collaboration between the Founder Institute’s Amsterdam —Silicon Valley Virtual 2021 Program and WomenTech Network, aims in part to establish Amsterdam as a center for women-led innovation.  

Aside from local networks and initiatives, keep an eye out for international networks like Women in AI, which has a strong presence in Amsterdam, or Black Young Professionals Network, which is based in the United Kingdom but advances its cause across Europe. 

6. Identify the VC funds and angel investors 

Typically by engaging in your local ecosystem, you’re already likely to meet potential investors. Rich cities with a diversity of industries are great places to find customers, as well, for the service or product your startup is offering.

But try to pay attention to where there’s already plenty of funding, and what industries are on the rise. Is FinTech big in your city? Maybe Digital Health is the next big thing that VCs are looking to invest in. Does your city boast a big creative scene? Perhaps you might try to connect with VCs that work in SaaS. 

Look out for a tool that will help you find the right investors for you, like Startup Amsterdam’s “Find your next investor” matching tool.

7. Public data is an untapped resource

One thing technology companies always need is data. Rather than paying for it or trying to collect it all yourself, why not see what is publicly available? Cities constantly collect data on everything from transport and maps to IoT and demographics. They visualize it in a way that’s comprehensive, and they’ll often provide you with the csv file to download and utilize as you see fit. 

While offering up better and more comprehensive datasets, cities are also aiming to become more transparent about how they use data and AI. Both Amsterdam and the City of Helsinki launched an open AI register, which allows anyone to see how the cities use data and AI, and also to contribute to the datasets. 

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