The impact of impact entrepreneurship is increasing. Every day, more and more number of entrepreneurs embark upon the journey towards making a positive impact in the ecosystem, and by extension, the society.
Even various governments have started to recognise and understand the significance of impact entrepreneurship and are actively promoting it. The Dutch government is one such government that has been proactively supporting impact entrepreneurship.
An EU report on social entrepreneurship in the Netherland concludes that “overall that, at its core, the Netherlands provides a largely conducive ecosystem towards social enterprises. This can be traced back to historical and cultural roots (e.g. emphasis on volunteering, companies taking societal responsibility) that have led to a society where business and societal value have been intertwined.”
The report also suggests, “The Netherlands builds on a longstanding tradition of combining entrepreneurship with impact, involving (amongst others) a healthy philanthropic sector.”
In the Netherlands, the city of Amsterdam, especially, has been quite proacive when in comes to promoting impact entrepreneurship. The city aims be become the number one city for impact entrepreneurship, which creates both financial and social value. In order to achieve this, the city of Amsterdam started an initiative called Amsterdam Impact.
Amsterdam’s current state of impact entrepreneurship
Talking about the current state of impact entrepreneurship in Amsterdam with Silicon Canals, Tatiana Glad, co-founder & director, Impact Hub Amsterdam, says, “I’ve definitely seen society open up, that business and values go together to make a difference in the world. And that we need to grow these kinds of enterprises. We see impact entrepreneurship is growing up. As well the interest of investors to fund impact businesses.”
Impact Hub is a growing network of incubators for social innovation in major world cities. Impact Hub Amsterdam is part of the Impact Hub network of 17,000 entrepreneurs and innovators in 102+ locations worldwide in 50+ countries spanning five continents. Impact Hub Amsterdam is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The topics it particularly focus on – and their associated SDGs – are circularity, plastics, food, and inclusion.
“Also around consumer awareness, we see shifts. Consumers are aware what they are buying, how they are buying, what companies they are supporting with their euro. And more people see Impact entrepreneurship as a viable opportunity to move something along that they care deeply about,” she further adds.
Boudewijn Wijnands, founder and CEO of Deedmob, also believes that the role of impact is getting bigger and bigger. Amsterdam-based Deedmob is an online platform that stimulates people to volunteer. It also provide tools for organisations to manage or start their own volunteer platform.
Impact entrepreneurship is not easy! Running an impact startups comes with its own challenges and adversities, be it governmental regulations, finding investments, among others.
According to Glad, access to capital, finding the right balance between price, quality, scale and impact, and defining the right customers and telling the right story, are some of the key challenges faced impact startups. “They need an experienced entrepreneur and mentor to help them make the right decisions on this. We as Impact Hub Amsterdam have developed accelerator programs to help impact entrepreneurs to take the right steps at the right moment around these and many other crucial steps for an impact business.”
Wijnands also states that convincing investors that making a positive impact in society can go together with generating sustainable financial returns is a key challenge for impact startups. “Often impact is talked about as a buzzword, but never truly implemented. Based on our track-record the past 4.5 years we have proven to the market that it is possible to make an impact while growing strongly financially as well.”
How is Amsterdam nurturing impact entrepreneurship
In order to boost the city’s impact entrepreneurship ecosystem, in 2015, the City of Amsterdam and Impact Hub Amsterdam started a relationship to share ideas, networks, actions and reflections to make the city’s growing social entrepreneurship ecosystem more explicit and better equipped.
According to Glad, Amsterdam Impact, the City of Amsterdam’s Action Program for Social Entrepreneurship 2015-2018 — an action programme with six lines of action and, grouped within them, 17 measures — engaged stakeholders in adding value to the city and to each other. “Social entrepreneurs and the startups they founded, civil servants, capital providers,
big and small business, as well as advocacy and expert institutions have all contributed to Amsterdam’s evolution as an impact-positive city.”
The Amsterdam Impact 2019-2022 programme is a follow up of the successful Social Entrepreneurship 2015-2018 programme. According to Amsterdam Impact, ther new impact entrepreneurship programme builds on the foundation of its first programme and focuses on strengthening the ecosystem for all impact enterprises; be it startups or large corporations that use entrepreneurship to overcome societal challenges.
The programme also pays special attention to enterprises that improve the quality of life in Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods. The six pillars of the 2019 – 2022 programme are transition, market access, capital, internationalisation, impact entrepreneurship in the neighbourhood, ecosystem connection.
Recently, 80 organisations, including the City of Amsterdam, joined the City Deal Impact Entrepreneurship to strengthen the Dutch impact entrepreneurship ecosystem. The City Deal Impact Entrepreneurship aims to mitigate the challenges and obstacles faced by impact entrepreneurs. The City Deal does this by supporting entrepreneurs in several ways, such as networking building, conducting research, and knowledge sharing.
Earlier this year, Amsterdam Impact also launched a new education-focused project with Fawaka Entrepreneurship School and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). This is to support early impact entrepreneurship education. Fawaka Entrepreneurship School offers impact entrepreneurship programs to empower children, regardless of their background or neighborhood, to make a positive difference through entrepreneurship.
Amsterdam Impact has also partnered with Social Enterprise NL and Impact Hub Amsterdam for an online series of six free masterclasses dedicated to supporting early stage and growing impact enterprises, especially in these uncertain times.
Love thy neighbour
The City of Amsterdam has also launched challenge to boost impact entrepreneurship at a neighbourhood level — Boost je Buurt challenge. This is an initiative of Amsterdam Impact in collaboration with Amsterdam’s seven city districts (stadsdelen).
Impact Hub Amsterdam will deliver the entrepreneurship development programme together with Voorjebuurt, Starters4Communities and Innofest, and provide support during the challenge’s scouting and final phases.
For this challenge, three to four impact entrepreneurs will be selected for each of the seven city districts (stadsdelen). The selected entrepreneurs win an entrepreneur programme from Impact Hub Amsterdam worth €2,500 and later this spring, have a chance of winning an additional development budget of €2,500, €5,000 or €7,500.
Here’s what’s lacking
Talking about the areas, pertaining to impact entrepreneurship, in which Amsterdam is lacking, Glad says, “I would say this not limited to Amsterdam, it’s a national subject to address; the acknowledgment that more and more entrepreneurs are blending social purpose with business that requires “incentives” to support the transition of traditional models to impact-first.”
“The city of Amsterdam can create the enabling regulatory environment to incentivise our city change agents to scale their impact and grow jobs aligned with a safe, sustainable and rewarding future for all,” she adds.
Wijnands says, “Despite the good intentions, Amsterdam needs to make more of an effort to really work with startups to make an impact. Look for ways to partner with local impact startups in local tenders.”
“Especially bringing the different initiatives together and making them work together. Many impact entrepreneurs make an impact in a niche area. It is good to look for each other, to push the boundaries and to work together. The city of Amsterdam could help this ecosystem more by hiring these impact startups for local deals,” he further adds.
Collaboration is crucial
In Wijnands’s opinion, impact entrepreneurs should be given more opportunities to collaborate with the city of Amsterdam and local businesses. “The step to becoming an impact entrepreneur now is a very big financial risk. You really need to know what you are doing and you need any help that the city of Amsterdam could offer.”
“In comparison to 10 years ago, we see stakeholders are working more together. It is less siloed, we are seeing banks and investors, municipalities and corporates and NGOs come together. The collaboration around issues move a little bit faster. But there is still a lot of work to be done. A circular economy for example is only possible through collaboration. Only 9 percent of our economy is circular. We need collaboration on all sides of the supply chain and with all the crucial stakeholders,” Glad concludes.