There is no shortage of accelerators in Amsterdam. And as the name suggests, joining one can seriously accelerate your startup’s growth. However, the intense process of joining one can be a hurdle for many founders. In addition, there is often a selection process for accelerators so not all can join such a program.
That is why, in 2018, Startupbootcamp decided to disrupt its own offering by creating an all-digital platform to help startups grow. They called it Accelerator Squared. During the lockdowns of the pandemic, their digital-only model proved so valuable, StartupAmsterdam and Smart Health Amsterdam jumped aboard to support their community. The result is the localised joint venture, Amsterdam Squared, directed at the Amsterdam startup community.
Knowledge to help founders scale
The platform offers quality content and networking opportunities for Amsterdam-based founders to help accelerate their business. Anyone joining can take advantage of the knowledge flow created during the ten years Startupbootcamp has been running. There is quality information on fundraising, business modelling, growth hacking, customer development and much more.
So far, it sounds like an accelerator. But Sharmila Vooren, Digital Community Lead at Accelerator Squared, prefers not to call it that. “Accelerator programmes are generally very intensive and hand-holding.”, she says. “Amsterdam Squared offers access to content, deals and a global community that you can use at your own time, from any location with internet access and it is completely for free.”
That easy-going attitude is there from the start. Any founder can sign up for Amsterdam Squared and access the platform. There’s no selection process. Once logged in, they can take masterclasses, webinars or courses on any topic they like, whenever they want. That is a far cry from traditional accelerators, where not only is the selection process challenging and uncertain, but the programme is often an intensive race towards demo-day.
Targeted at the individual journey
“We recognised everyone in the startup ecosystem is at a different stage, whereas accelerators aim for founders that are at the same stage of their company”, says Mercedes de Miranda. She is Director of Business Development at Accelerator Squared. “Everyone has their individual journey, in which they need support to innovate, build and scale. Startupbootcamp invested in this digital platform because it can help more entrepreneurs and innovators.”
Judging by the numbers, they’ve already succeeded. Amsterdam Squared can already boast 575 people that joined their platform. “They are not just entrepreneurs”, Vooren says. “They can be anyone interested in business in Amsterdam, also complete teams. It is a platform that anyone can use.”
“There are indeed some corporate people as well”, says de Miranda. “The common thread is ‘innovation’. We have about 40 to 60 healthtech startups, which is an important focal point for Amsterdam Squared. During the second half of last year, we really started to crack what people wanted.” It turned out that adding just a little bit of pressure to the mix worked wonders for motivation.
‘Bit more push’
“Our content is excellent. There are no issues there”, says Vooren. “But sometimes people wanted a bit more of a push.” That is why Amsterdam Squared started offering time-sensitive challenges that founders can voluntarily participate in. “In the first two weeks of January, we held the Customer Discovery Challenge”, Vooren says.
“We created a challenge in which founders had the opportunity to fast track their customer discovery and finish a validated problem statement within two weeks. This was something that was really valuable for a lot of people, as they also had a part of accountability to do multiple customer interviews. We see people grow a lot during those two weeks.”
De Miranda adds: “This allows us to put a lens on the different types of content we are offering. Those challenges can guide people. But in the end, they can do it in any order they want.”
Master sessions to come
Soon, Amsterdam Squared will also offer impactful two-hour long live online master sessions on topics such as business models for health tech and sustainability, hosted by industry experts. “We also saw that we needed to provide easier connections”, says de Miranda. “Sometimes it is uncomfortable to meet online through texts only. Then it is good to know there is an actual person behind the programme that can offer guidance.”
Another thing they learned from running the digital accelerator for more than a year is that in the abundance of content, it is good to highlight the stuff that’s there and that could be important for members. De Miranda: “Ultimately, the more people join, the better the programme gets.” Vooren adds: “Usually, accelerators have a strict selection process. With Amsterdam Squared, we have the opportunity to operate at a larger scale ánd an international level. In Amsterdam, we can do so within a growing ecosystem.”
‘I saw the impact’
It’s a new way of accelerating, and it works. Vooren is living proof, as she joined the programme as an early adopter when starting her make-up and cosmetics business. “I saw the impact it can have to do a deeper dive. The experiment design course was transformative for me. It made me look into my assumptions and see how an idea can fail and fix that. I found out I had to take a whole different approach. The way it was going, I was doing way too much work for basically no return. The courses helped me to turn it into a business I could actually live off of.”
During the launch, Startupbootcamp’s CEO Patrick de Zeeuw announced that their digital transformation to Accelerator Squared aims to help one million startups grow and scale. However, Amsterdam Squared’s goal is a bit more down-to-earth. De Miranda: “This year, we want to get to a thousand startups.”
“Amsterdam is a top startup ecosystem”, de Miranda says. “Within Amsterdam Squared we have a strong focus on health tech startups. They are an important focal point for the Amsterdam startup Ecosystem Amsterdam. But the ecosystem is also very international. We recently did a session to showcase the Amsterdam startup ecosystem. We had a lot of people coming from other places as well, which is great. Amsterdam always wants to attract new entrepreneurs to the city.”
Are you an early stage entrepreneur in the Amsterdam region? Join Amsterdam Squared for free right here.