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Meet the Mentor: Ruben Nieuwenhuis


Words by Margot van der Krogt

Illustrations by Edith Carron

As Amsterdam climbs the ranks of most popular startup cities in Europe, we talked to Ruben Nieuwenhuis, Director of StartupAmsterdam, one of the driving forces behind the city’s ambition to become one of Europe’s most important hubs. He’s the founder of initiatives Code Uur and DutchBasecamp, and plays an important role in Let it Grow Lab’s incubation programme, overseeing the mentorship and providing valuable insights.

Tell us about the current tech scene in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is one of the top three startup hubs in Europe, together with London and Berlin. This means that the city is an important centre in the European tech scene. This has been achieved by collaborating closely with other clusters like London, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm.

Top three in Europe, what exactly does that mean and how does the city attain that status?

It means that when startups are questioning where they should grow in Europe, Amsterdam is at the top of mind. A startup city should be seen as a gateway into Europe, a place that can provide enough talent, capital, launching customers (in terms of corporates but also early adopters), and events to learn and network. And all of this in an environment where people are building globally-born companies. Amsterdam has been working to establish their position for a number of years; we have two of the best accelerator programmes in Europe, Rockstart and Startup Bootcamp, and one of the world’s best tech events, The Next Web. We have strong universities that create and facilitate new technologies. Amsterdam is also home to strong tech companies like Booking and TomTom, and the European Headquarters of Tesla, Uber, Netflix, Atlassian, Optimizely and NextDoor.

What is your role in all of this?

As StartupAmsterdam, our main aim is to accelerate the growth of startups. We also facilitate other players in the startup ecosystem, including venture capitalists, incubators and tech companies. StartupAmsterdam is a public-private partnership; I’m the private lead (appointed by venture capitalists and tech companies in the private sector) while Bas Beekman is the public lead. As StartupAmsterdam, we encourage working together to enable initiatives to provide more capital, to ensure that there are enough jobs in the sector for young talent, and to ensure that corporates become more actively involved in what’s happening here. We also created the story of Amsterdam as an important tech hub, branding the city and giving it a face. Since then, reporters from publications around the world, including Businessweek, TechCrunch and Fortune Magazine have written about the Amsterdam startup scene.

Startups are questioning where they should grow in Europe, Amsterdam is at the top of mind.

What are the key ingredients needed to foster the right climate for startups?

It starts with a mindset and a culture of sharing knowledge and networks. Second, you need entrepreneurs with global ambitions. Thirdly, it’s making sure the preconditions I mentioned earlier (talent, capital, launching customers) are met. The fourth ingredient is time. We have to mature as an ecosystem, the Amsterdam startup scene is still quite young. We need successful entrepreneurs to make their exit capital, their learnings and their networks available to new startups. For example, we see this happening with Europe’s fastest growing startup, Catawiki. They have seen 45,000% growth in revenue over the past four years. The startup was backed by two entrepreneurs, one of whom cofounded Booking.com; this is a great example of exit capital from tech companies being reinvested in our ecosystem.

Speaking of making networks available for startups, let’s talk about Let it Grow. Is this is the first time you’ve seen an incubation programme in the floriculture industry?

While there are many accelerator programmes and incubators, this is the first of its kind. I think this is what we see happening now: people not only want to help out the startups but the entire programme as well. We see it as one of the pieces of the startup ecosystem. The plant and flower incubator, Let it Grow Lab, is strengthening the whole ecosystem, which also includes the FinTech cluster, the AI cluster, the VR and AR cluster. At the end of the day, it’s all about that network effect; they all need each other.

How do you think this has paved the way for other green startups?

I think it will pave the way for other flower and plant startups. It’s the first of its kind; in the upcoming period we will learn how to accelerate such green startups, what approaches work best, what partners will join, how investment models can apply specifically to these startups, and what role it will play in the total ecosystem. Not only must startups validate, learn and scale their business models, but we as a program must as well.