The Dutch capital has already established itself as one of the world’s most important tech hubs, so how are things likely to develop in the next 10 or 20 years?
If you’re part of the tech industry in Europe, Amsterdam is where it’s at. There are close to 2,000 start-ups scattered across the city, and their number continues to grow. Some of the well-established among them are now true leaders in the tech industry, including homegrown companies like Booking.com and Adyen. Others have half a dozen or fewer employees, like 3D printing company Reflow, or Venopi, which rents out-of-hours commercial space. In all, there are somewhere in the region of 70,000 tech workers in Amsterdam and 250,000+ across the Netherlands, and they come from all over the world, meaning the outlook is truly international.
So, yes, Amsterdam is where it’s at. But it’s also where it’s going to be. Already one of Europe’s major tech hubs, in the future there’s every chance it will consolidate its present upward growth and become Europe’s undisputed capital for everything digital, from web development to software apps, from 3D printing to AI.
Building a sustainable future
The reason there’s so much confidence in Amsterdam’s tech scene right now is that it has everything in place to continue evolving, whether we’re talking about digital infrastructure, transport links, the connectivity of the tech ecosystem or plain attitude.
Part of that attitude comes from recognising that without seriously integrating sustainability into business models, there is no future anyway. On a large scale this can be seen by how Booking.com, one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies, approaches it. “At Booking.com our employees are encouraged to think about their own sustainable projects in relation to the city,” says Marianne Gybels, CSR Manager at the company. “So if you are passionate about the canals, or the plastic issue, or doing something in order to help the area develop, that is a passion you can fully explore at Booking.com. Every employee can come up with an idea, gather some colleagues together and find ways to contribute to the city.”
Sustainability is at the heart of Reflow, 3D printing that uses recycled plastic. As founder Jasper Middendorp says, “Sustainability is at the core of what future businesses are all about, and we want to make sustainability the core of the 3D printing industry, too. I think in Amsterdam we are going to see a lot more smaller companies taking up this ethos, and then larger companies starting to emphasise it. It’s a theme that’s going to be vital in the next ten to twenty years.”
“The tech industry is still being driven by men,” says Ivana Setiawam, founder and CEO of Venopi. “But when you look at female-led companies, they generate over 200% more in terms of revenue and they create more jobs. Presently in the tech industry, only 1.6% of funding goes to women, which is a ridiculously low figure. If we can solve these kinds of issues, all our futures will be brighter.”
Despite the huge imbalance, Ivana believes the Dutch capital is the place where things can change – and change quickly. “There are so many amazing people here, it’s very inclusive,” she says. “If in the future you want the tech industry to be more diverse, to have greater gender equality, now is the time you need to be getting people in place, and I feel like that’s happening here. This city is a multicultural melting pot full of beautiful amazing brains. If anyone can, Amsterdam can.”
Ruben Nieuwenhuis, Director of Tech Connect, would agree. Tech Connect is a programme to bring under-represented groups into the tech labour market. “We have the ambition to bring over 50,000 people into tech jobs in the next four years,” says Ruben. “By under-represented we’re talking about women, people from deprived areas, Gen-X-40-year-old-plus people… Diversity and equality is really important in tech and for society as a whole. Here in the metropolitan region of Amsterdam we have 10,000 tech vacancies, so we need people. And we know that diversity in tech teams makes them more creative and more effective.”
For support in this quest, Tech Connect has established partnerships with the likes of Booking.com – among others – which itself already has an incredibly diverse workforce HQ’d in the city. Marianne Gybels says, “Our partnership with Tech Connect is focused not only on bringing great talent in from elsewhere, but also in encouraging young boys and girls to go pursue STEM subjects, and so be able to train the new generation for the tech jobs of the future.”
Sustainability and diversity are both essential to the future of the tech industry wherever you may be. So is growth. Something that’s not lost on Booking.com. In the last 20 years, the company has gone from around 500 staff to over 17,500, but they’re not resting on their laurels. “It’s a critical time for the travel industry,” says James Waters, SVP of Commercial Operations. “Up until now the online travel industry has seen lots of opportunities, and companies have been able to grow quite successfully. But everyone is starting to run out of easy runway, and now we’re all looking for ways to build one true travel experience where you don’t have to go to lots of different websites to organise and experience your trip. ”
Booking.com is confident they’ll be the ones to lead this. To this end they’ve embarked on building an ambitious new campus in the heart of the city, built on principles they hope will shape that future. At the moment their 6,000-strong workforce is spread out across the city in numerous office locations. Their new campus and HQ – still in the heart of Amsterdam – aims to put a marker down for the future.
Bob Elshof, Real Estate Manager at Booking.com, has been involved in the creation of the new campus HQ for some time now, and explains how it’s built on values the company wants to project. “Sustainability and well-being are of utmost importance to us,” he says. “The new HQ building will become BREEAM Excellent certified. It has a thermal heating system, uses sustainable materials, includes a green roof terrace with solar panels, and also acts as a space for both employees and the public. There’s bicycle storage with a capacity for up to 2,500 bicycles, an auditorium and event centre, and significant green pockets throughout the whole building. It’s going to be a work environment that takes into account issues around noise, fresh air, focus, daylight and so on. We think things can be done differently.”
Don’t lose what you’ve got
It’s an ambitious vision for the future of Amsterdam and its tech industry, but Katja Berkhout, International Director of tech accelerator StartupDelta, reminds us that, in the scramble for a piece of the future, we shouldn’t forget the things important to us right now, things we want to be part of that future, too. “I hope we can keep some of the original cultural elements that we have here in the city,” she says. “I hope we can keep that balance between arts and culture, and things like all the great music and dance festivals we have. This way companies can continue to offer their employees a really good place to live, work and be inspired.”
It’s a hope that burns brightly in this city, a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic population that’s relaxed being itself and, as a result, open to innovation and change, and more than capable of shaping the future of the industry and the world around it. As Ivana put it earlier, “if anyone can, Amsterdam can”.
Make Amsterdam your tech city. Explore jobs at careers.booking.com.