In the startup-world, we love to talk about disruption and never has there been more disruption than in the year 2020. Needless to say, not all of it came from startups and not all of it was the good kind. So what about the next year? What does the year hold for the ecosystem, as predicted by the experts?
The Amsterdam startup-scene in 2021
Four people with deep knowledge and insights in the Amsterdam startup-ecosystem tell us about what they expect to happen in the coming year: Jan Andriessen, a partner at Amsterdam-based VC-fund HenQ; Bas Beekman, program director of StartupAmsterdam; Myrthe Hooijman, Director of Policy and Governmental Affairs at Techleap.nl and Kauan Von Novack, the Managing Director at Startupbootcamp.
Growth sectors in the Amsterdam startup-scene
I believe clean energy is going to be huge in the coming months”, says Startupbootcamp’s Von Novack. “The tide is turning politically and funding-wise, there’s mature technologies and experienced players by now, not to mention real impact in people’s lives.” He also predicts a strong recovery in ridesharing and massive growth in startups working on electric mobility solutions. “Last, but not least: I think there is a lot of space for micro-financing, micro-credit and any-time of fintech initiatives to support SMB’s and SME’s to recover from the COVID crisis.”
Fintech is also where Techleap’s Hooijman sees a lot of potential. And that means jobs, she says: “eCommerce, FinTech, and Food have already shown resilient growth during the first months of the Corona crisis. Overall, startups continue to be the number one job growth engine in the Netherlands. Startup jobs are growing faster than any individual sector. Even in 2020, there was a resilient growth despite Covid-19. “
StartupAmsterdam’s Beekman sees similar sectors grow rapidly in the coming year: “It will not be an easy year from an economic point of view, that’s for sure, but Amsterdam has a very diverse economy. If you zoom in on the tech sector, I think that companies in Healthtech, Biotech, Cleantech (climate economy), food, mobility and logistics have a chance to show growth in 2021.”
‘It’s usually a surprise’
For HenQs Andriessen, growth is not limited to a sector. It’s about the people: “One clear factor in Amsterdam is the maturity of several high growth companies such as Adyen and Thuisbezorgd, Backbase and Mollie. So I would look for people who played a role in building these companies and ran into problems or challenges that they think they can solve better when running their own company. Which sector that will be? That’s usually quite a surprise.”
For instance, Andriessen explains that smart employees in a disruptive B2C food company can run into problems with invoicing, which leads to a brand new B2B fintech. “But these people have been exposed to the right way of building a company and they are aware of what is state of the art in the tech industry. This combination has created many successful companies before.”
The year of a new cloud-generation
With those growing areas of the ecosystem in mind, how will Amsterdam’s ecosystem evolve in 2021?
Andriessen believes, “that the cloud market is maturing. Most enterprises have made the switch from on-premise to cloud software. However, a lot of ‘first generation’ cloud software is high on functionality but was never really built for your employees who are the actual target user. We love companies that address this opportunity and are part of the second generation of cloud providers that do not just provide functionality on paper, but know how to build a great product that will be used.”
Hooijman is looking at the broader picture when it comes to startup trends in Amsterdam: “Startups and tech trends don’t limit themselves to a city. When we talk about technology that will change the future and impact the economy, we are talking about deep-tech, where technologies like AI, blockchain, and data science meet physical components, such as robotics and sensors, to provide solutions for the major problems we face. Whether that be climate change, healthcare or mobility, and transport. One of the biggest challenges is how to attract and retain the right talent, and organise a quantitative and qualitative talent pool that matches the needs of scaleups.
Digitisation and the return of tourism
Beekman focuses on the digitisation of businesses, to make sure they are future-proof: “Not so much a new trend, but very important in times like these: in recent months we have been working on setting up a major program to help SMEs with the necessary digitization they have to make, the so-called MKB Digitaliseringsoffensief (SME Digitization Offensive), which will start at the beginning of 2021. We are looking for startups that can help with that important task, whether it concerns remote working, or digital security, payment methods, use of AI and so on.”
At Startupbootcamp, Von Novack is pretty clear about what he considers the most important trend: “Sustainability, for sure. Building back but in a better way is key. I think governments, corporations, investors, SMEs, everybody will be very critical of consumption choices.” He also predicts another trend, that many Amsterdammers will probably not like. Tourism will come back, big time. “All that locked up energy will come in full force during summer or winter breaks. Startups building value props now for the Tourism 2.0, can reap the benefits.”
Diversity and inclusiveness in 2021: serious business
Part of the growing consciousness in the businessworld is an increased focus on diversity and inclusiveness. StartupAmsterdam is launching RISE Female Hub to take action, says Beekman: “The aim of this action program, which will start at the beginning of this year, is to stimulate more attention for female entrepreneurship and women in tech, in the city and ultimately to get more diversity, including more women with an ethnic background, into the start-ups.”
Von Novack says there is no other way, “And not only from the social angle of diversity and inclusion, but from the top-line angle as well. If Amsterdam companies want to grow exponentially in other markets and countries, they must include different points of view and cultures into their decision making, otherwise they run the risk of making cultural and market assumptions which are very dangerous.”
For Techleap, diversity and inclusion is a key focus area, partly proven by their work with Fundright, says Hooijman: “The technology sector is predominantly male, and that causes limitations in the innovative ability of the ecosystem. Research shows that a more diverse ecosystem is a more productive ecosystem, so we must work to promote balance, diversity, and inclusivity. As the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam can take a lead on some of the best practices.”
Andriessen would like to see these topics go beyond mere talk: “Rather than making this a mission statement item and sticking to words only, I hope diversity and inclusiveness will be put into action and be part of hiring and performance management of all VC’s and startups.”
Connection within the city and beyond
Besides making new years’ resolutions, the beginning of a new year is also a good moment to make a wish. What Hooijman would like to see change in Amsterdam is a more connected ecosystem in 2021: “It is essential to flourish. As Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, ànd a best practice example on building a vibrant startup ecosystem, it would be great if Amsterdam reaches out even more to other regions in the Netherlands and they act as one ecosystem together.”
Von Novack hopes for something similar too: “A broader and more united network of founders and support organizations. For a city of its size, Amsterdam is quite fragmented so you encounter founders in the same sub-industry that have never even heard of each other. Some level of coordination would help the players be more connected and competitive in the global market.”
Remember in-person meetings?
Meanwhile, Beekman hopes the city and its people come out of the crisis all right: “The current crisis will cause more and more people to lose their jobs in sectors that will be hit hard. I think that after retraining and upskilling, many of these people can work for the fast-growing tech companies in the city. We are busy setting up a talent ecosystem guide that will connect tech companies, knowledge institutions and start-up academies and make it easier for people without a job to get started in the start-up ecosystem.
Finally, Andriessen articulates what everyone in the pandemic-weary world is currently craving for: “Even though we do just as many deals remotely as in person, I miss the face-to-face meetings with portfolio and prospect investments. I hope we can meet again in person!”