Exploring the co-working spaces of AmsterdamTwo days in Amsterdam, four co-working spaces: B. Amsterdam, TQ, WeWork and Merkspace.
Amsterdam is a great startup city, with an amazing ecosystem and full support from the government to make it the next Silicon Valley. No startup city is complete without its hubs, accelerator programs, incubators, schools, programs and of course - co-working spaces. While visiting the Netherlands we had the opportunity to explore a few of the co-working spaces in Amsterdam including B. Amsterdam, TQ, and WeWork; we even got a sneak peek of the new Merkspace, set to open very soon.
Our day began at B. Amsterdam, the largest startup ecosystem in Europe with three massive buildings located far from the city center. B. Amsterdam is a large, well-designed co-working space and home to over 250 companies. Amongst its facilities are a dining room, an open restaurant, a large event space for 1,000 people and a beautiful rooftop garden.
B. Amsterdam opened 3 years ago in an old IBM building that had been empty for many years. They bought it for a very good price, stripped it down and established it as a startup space. Eventually, they opened two more buildings on the other side of the street; they are now opening a branch in NY and Singapore.
We met with Djoek Derksen who gave us a tour around the building and told us about B. Amsterdam, one of the biggest co-workings in Amsterdam.
"You can rent an office, a co-work desk, an event space, or host an event. That’s what we do. We try to connect everyone in Holland and Europe through our ecosystem here. We have a lot of people walking through our buildings because of the events and the mixture of the companies that we have in-house. We’re trying to be a physical point of innovation."
Djoek went on to share with us what makes B. Amsterdam so great, "We have everything you need, a couple of lounges, a nice buffet lunch, where you can have a coffee, or have a formal meeting. We have a gym where you can do a yoga class during the day, and on top of the building, we have a beautiful rooftop garden. This whole area wasn’t really attractive until we came here three years ago. On the top floor, we also have a restaurant open for everyone, we built it because the surroundings weren’t really a good neighborhood and there were no good restaurants in the area. We want to host startups and companies who want to invite clients to lunch, so they can do that right here. It’s also open for all the other companies around here."
B. Amsterdam is the home for many programs as well, one of them being the Startup School, "We have our own startup school where the students are really growing on their own, in their own company and they are doing very practical entrepreneurship. The students here actually register as a company. It's called B. Startup School Amsterdam, and we invite students who just graduated from their bachelor’s degree, who have the feeling that they’re not quite ready a specific job, and they lack the experience to get a job. We give them a course of seven months where they have one or two months of intensive on-site learning; after that, they apply for a traineeship for 4-5 months, sometimes for companies we host, and sometimes at other companies."
On the 3rd floor of the B. Building, we met with Jeroen who introduced us to Startup Bootcamp, one of the most popular accelerator programs in the world. Jeroen is responsible for the Bootcamps’ programs all over the world, "We’re looking into what technologies and tech trends are relevant right now, and how and in which cities we can build an ecosystem around them."
"In 2010 we started as the first European accelerator; we are now running 19 programs all over the world in 15 different cities. We are very industry focused, with startup programs for all kinds of different industries: We have an eCommerce program, a Smart City program and more. The Bootcamp is a 13-week program where startups get workshops and sessions."
Do you take equity?
"We provide the startups with the Bootcamp program and provide them with access to a network of professors and industry experts to assist them; we have over 4,000 mentors all over the world. In return, we take 8% equity; we usually stay with them as the shareholders for 6-8 years."
What industries are you working with?
"Here in Amsterdam we work with eCommerce, Smart City, Fintech and Cyber Security startups. Fintech is a big one for us, we have six Fintech programs all over the world - in Mumbai, in Singapore, New York, London, and Mexico City. We have health programs, smart transportation, IoT and next week we are launching a Smart Energy program in Melbourne."
Are you planning to start Startup Bootcamp in Israel?
"We are in Tel Aviv three times a year, doing selected events for the programs here; I’m also trying to set up a program in Tel Aviv and I’m working with a couple of guys to get on that. It’s a difficult place to get started in."
The next day, we went to the famous TQ, just by Amsterdam's Flower Market, a great location for a hub of everything.
TQ was founded by TNW (The Next Web) to help the startup community. As their website explains, they "help push tech startups towards exponential growth by providing residents and members with the right community, events, and facilities."
We arrived dressed formally and they laughed and asked us to take off our ties, "We don't like corporate types in here." We met with Wout Laban, Community Director at TQ who showed us around.
So, what's going on in TQ?
"We are about 80-85% full now, with over 40 companies"
Can you tell us something about the companies here?
"We have Scribbr, a company that basically helps students finish their theses. Students can upload his/her thesis and Scribbr built a tool that automatically scans it - how long it is, how many words etc., and then they send it to one of their freelancers. They check the piece for copyrights, spelling and grammar and plagiarism. The freelancers can use their tool to scan through it, edit it, make suggestions and make sure everything is okay. They calculate how much time it took and send the price. They are now operating in seven countries across Europe, and they are obviously scaling up."
"As for Connectera, these guys built a smart monitoring device for cows. It measures how much they walk, their temperature, how much they eat, and all kinds of other things, analyzing all the information as one big picture. Based on the information, farmers can decide which animals are not producing enough milk and appropriately manage the situation.
Every six months Google organizes a demo day; Connectera was one of the contestants several weeks ago, and they won People’s Choice."
Is TQ just a co-working space, or are there special programs for TQ members?
"Our program includes two things: a public program and an internal one. We’re not an accelerator for startups, we’re not a three-month program where you go through intensive training and sessions, but we take a few elements out of those and organize them here internally for our residents. That means we have office hours, evenings with experts from Google or Booking.com, from our network, from TNW and startups can book office hours with them. We help them explore various topics including HR, Data Analysis, CRO, Partnership Management, and more.
Also, we have a few formats that are basically run by residents. We bring them to talk, one person or a founder, to give a talk to whoever is interested, and learn about how he or she scaled up their startup, how they are managing their sales and so on."
TQ's midget storage.
We visited two more co-working spaces, both of which were actually founded by Israeli entrepreneurs. The first, WeWork, is a worldwide phenomenon worth $20 billion.
Founded by Adam Neumann in 2010 and growing quickly ever since, WeWork is now spread over 48 cities worldwide, with 188 office locations. Two of them are in Amsterdam, in Weteringschans, and the newer one that we visited, in Metropool. They have 1,400 members in Amsterdam alone.
Nikos showed us around and guided us through all the floors, "The office space is exactly the same on all floors. The events space in on the 4th floor."
So, what can you tell us about WeWork?
"We’re not only solely dedicated to startups, everybody can join, we are very inclusive. We have freelancers and we have bigger companies, we have Lightspeed and eCommerce services and there’s a startup acquired by a Canadian company, they have 45 of their employees here. There are companies coming to the Netherlands like Docler Holding who are active in the online streaming industry and are based in Luxembourg but have come here to attract talent; of course, outsourcing here is very flexible and easy for them as well."
What about your event space?
"Have you ever held events in WeWork? If so, you know we don’t charge for our space, the only thing we ask for is that our members will get free access to meetups or workshops or whatever you have in mind that we can set up together. Ideally, we want the events to be free."
Common area at WeWork
In a perfect location, not far from TQ and with a view of a canal, we visited Sapir Shpigel, the 23-year-old Israeli woman who founded Merkspace. She and the crew were busy building the place, renovating, and making it ready for the grand opening next week. We got a sneak peek inside this huge old building and heard Sapir's plans for Merkspace.
Merkspace has already opened three offices in Tel Aviv, and Amsterdam is their first attempt at expanding out of Israel. Actually, "merk" means "brand" in Dutch, which makes their presence in the Netherlands all the more appropriate.
The large compound will have loads of office spaces (some of them with a nice view of the canal), a common area with book shaped see-saws, a lovely garden with a spot for barbecues, and a historic monument. Apparently, the Dutch people who lived in this house during World War II hid a Jewish family in the attic to save them from the Nazis. The attic is still there and we were able to climb up a ladder and see it.
Merkspace already started their campaigns for the grand launch this August, and they are offering yellow-branded Biro electric cars to new residents. We can tell you this office is only the beginning, and they already have plans to open new offices spaces in Amsterdam, and the rest of Europe. We wish them the very best of luck!
Outside the new Merkspace with the founder, Sapir Shpigel
There are dozens of co-working spaces and hubs in Amsterdam, supporting and building the city's amazing ecosystem. Is it becoming oversaturated, or are the locals craving more hubs and places to start their own businesses? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, they are doing well.