The push for in­no­va­tion is spurring en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit in Am­s­ter­dam

By 2025, the Am­s­ter­dam Eco­nomic Board has hopes for the city to be among Europe’s top three re­gions for in­no­va­tion. What is it do­ing to achieve this?

Business Traveller - - CONTENTS -

Ashort walk from Am­s­ter­dam Cen­traal sta­tion, where the new di­rect Eurostar ser­vice from Lon­don comes glid­ing in, is cowork­ing space Spring House. From the back, you can see the train tracks and hear the rum­bling of car­riages, while from the front there are views of the River IJ, Am­s­ter­dam’s water­front.

The area was once less than salu­bri­ous, and as­so­ci­ated with drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion. But Spring House – a former dis­tillery and tin can fac­tory – was given a new lease of life when it was saved from dere­lic­tion by a group fo­cused on cre­at­ing so­cial change within the city. Open since 2015, Spring House now has more than 200 mem­bers, plus a buzzing ground-floor restau­rant called Choux that is prov­ing pop­u­lar with its neigh­bours.

Spring House was founded by Van­de­jong Cre­ative Agency, in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor Joanna van der Zan­den and Ken­nis­land, an in­cu­ba­tor for so­ci­etal in­no­va­tion. With its vi­brant red frontage and in­te­rior adorned with mid­cen­tury leather so­fas, art books and pot plants, the aim was to pro­vide a set­ting for “shar­ing ideas and putting them into ac­tion”. At the very least, it’s a pleas­ant, light-filled place to set­tle down with a lap­top.

Over a cup of herbal tea, Thijs van Exel, so­cial in­no­va­tion ad­vi­sor for Ken­nis­land, says: “We got some fund­ing from a very be­nign govern­ment that saw the need for re­ju­ve­na­tion of this area. There is a lot of room for en­trepreneurs to do new and in­no­va­tive things. You can get things done re­ally quickly. And [travel book­ing web­site] Book­ is open­ing a new of­fice at the end of the street. It has plenty of money, so it must have cho­sen this site for a rea­son – there is some­thing in­ter­est­ing go­ing on.”


By 2025 the Am­s­ter­dam metropoli­tan area in­tends to be­come one of the top-three most in­no­va­tive re­gions in Europe. To achieve its goal of be­com­ing smart, healthy and green, it has set it­self five am­bi­tious ur­ban chal­lenges: it wants to de­velop a “cir­cu­lar econ­omy” whereby re­sources are re­cy­cled, reused and re­pur­posed; pub­lic trans­port will be­come emis­sion-free; it will be a leader in dig­i­tal con­nec­tiv­ity; it will fu­ture-proof its jobs mar­ket by

em­pow­er­ing cit­i­zens to de­velop the skills they need to stay rel­e­vant; and in­hab­i­tants will be able to ex­pect an ad­di­tional two, bright-eyed years of life.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion tasked with bring­ing this vi­sion to life is the Am­s­ter­dam Eco­nomic Board (am­s­ter­dame­co­, which was set up in 2010 to bring to­gether busi­nesses, govern­ment and knowl­edge in­sti­tutes. I speak to Nina Tel­le­gen, di­rec­tor of the board, about the “bot­tom-up” ap­proach the city has to prob­lem-solv­ing. “We want to be ahead of things – that might have to do with our his­tory; we were al­ways threat­ened by the wa­ter and it meant we had a ten­dency to col­lab­o­rate. We are a very non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal so­ci­ety. It’s in our cul­ture to do things to­gether. All the ma­jor is­sues con­fronting us – cli­mate change, over­pop­u­la­tion – we need in­no­va­tion to deal with them.”


There are dozens of ini­tia­tives that are al­ready un­der­way. Schiphol air­port aims to be­come zero-waste by 2030 by us­ing tech­ni­cal fixes such as air­side fleets of elec­tric buses, car­pets made from re­cy­cled KLM uni­forms, sep­a­rat­ing out the plas­tics used in air­craft ca­ter­ing, and buy­ing elec­tric­ity from lo­cal wind farms. Mean­while, the Am­s­ter­dam branch of French ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany JCDe­caux de­cided to take back lease cars from em­ploy­ees and in­stead give them free elec­tric bikes, pub­lic trans­port passes and a pay rise. Else­where, the city’s rooftops are be­ing turned into gar­dens, and cod­ing is be­ing taught in schools.

Cornelia Dinca is the del­e­ga­tions lead for Am­s­ter­dam Smart City (am­s­ter­dams­martc­, an EU-funded pi­lot that has now been in­cor­po­rated into the Am­s­ter­dam Eco­nomic Board. She says: “We talk about so­cial and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions but we don’t be­lieve that once you have sen­sors ev­ery­where you be­come a ‘smart’ city. We are in­ter­ested in how the city re­mains at­trac­tive and com­pet­i­tive. A smart city is about en­gag­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers and or­gan­i­sa­tions in an open, trans­par­ent plat­form.”

One of the projects Dinca high­lights is a “liv­ing lab and clean tech play­ground” called De Ceu­vel (de­ceu­ in Am­s­ter­dam No­ord, on the other side of the River IJ. The De Ceu­vel com­mu­nity oc­cu­pies a former ship­yard and now has its own sus­tain­able café, board­walk, of­fice spa­ces for rent and float­ing bed and break­fast ac­com­mo­da­tion, Ho­tel Asile Flot­tant (asile­flot­ Dinca says: “They have house­boats on land for cre­ative com­pa­nies and artists, and each one gen­er­ates elec­tric­ity from so­lar pan­els and com­posts kitchen waste. They even have their own dig­i­tal cur­rency.” What she refers to is the Jouli­ette, a blockchain­based cur­rency that is be­ing used by res­i­dents to buy and trade re­new­able elec­tric­ity within a lo­calised “smart grid”.

Whether or not you make it over to De Ceu­vel, trav­ellers com­ing to the city will still get a sense of in­no­va­tion tak­ing place. I was driven around in one of taxi com­pany Bios-groep’s Tesla Model Xs, a state-ofthe-art elec­tric SUV with Bat­mo­bile-like doors. And for those with flex­i­ble travel poli­cies, there are ho­tels such as

A blockchain cur­rency is be­ing used by De Ceu­vel res­i­dents to buy and trade re­new­able elec­tric­ity

the Move­ment (the­move­men­tho­, which is run by refugees in­side a former prison; the Volk­shotel (volk­, known for its ex­pan­sive com­mu­nal workspace; and the Crane Ho­tel Far­alda (far­alda. com), which has three suites at the top of an in­dus­trial crane. IHG also opened the QO (qo-am­s­ter­ in the spring, which has a rooftop green­house and small fish farm that sup­plies its restau­rants.

To get a sense of how in­no­va­tion is chang­ing the way we travel, I stopped by the Zoku (live­, up the road from Mar­riott’s new Apollo ho­tel. Now two years old, the Zoku can be called a “hy­brid ho­tel-of­fice” with mod­u­lar apart­ments and cowork­ing space on the top floor with panoramic views. Beau­ti­ful, fresh food (mainly veg­e­tar­ian) is served buf­fet-style through­out the day, there are meet­ing rooms with white­board walls for del­e­gates to write di­rectly on to, and a cou­ple of ping pong ta­bles. The con­cept is al­ready catch­ing on among cor­po­rates, with com­pa­nies such as Nike, Net­flix, Uber and Tesla re­port­edly putting their em­ploy­ees up in the apart­ment-ho­tel.

Zoku co-founder Hans Meyer (who was also one of the found­ing part­ners of Dutch ho­tel chain Ci­ti­zen M), says: “With Airbnb and cowork­ing com­ing up, we wanted to cre­ate a hy­brid of those two mod­els. If peo­ple live and work in a city that they don’t know very well and don’t know other peo­ple, af­ter a few days they start to feel dis­con­nected. The ma­jor­ity of ho­tel lob­bies are empty in the day, but not here, as peo­ple are work­ing.”

Spend a lit­tle time in in­spir­ing Am­s­ter­dam, and you may just find you have your next cre­ative break­through.

ABOVE LEFT: The ex­te­rior of Spring House

ABOVE RIGHT: Its in­te­ri­ors are pep­pered with com­fort­able leather seat­ing and pot plants

CLOCK­WISE FROMABOVE: The café at De Ceu­vel; Ho­tel Asile Flot­tant; the ho­tel’s in­te­rior; rooftop gar­dens are be­ing planted through­out the city

ABOVE LEFT: The green­house at ho­tel-of­fice ZokuABOVE RIGHT: Rooms at Move­ment ho­tel are in former prison cells

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