With our health-focused Amsterdam City Fellowship accelerator in full swing, its program manager, Wieke van der Zouwen, shares how the Impact Hub and City of Amsterdam found new ways to connect entrepreneurs to policy officers in a common quest to make Amsterdam healthier and more resilient. 

If I got a euro for every time impact entrepreneurs had asked if I could introduce them to “the City”, I’d be rich. So when the City of Amsterdam wanted the Impact Hub to advise in the creation of Amsterdam’s Social Entrepreneurship Programme, we knew what to focus on. But what is “the City”?

The municipality of Amsterdam employs about 14,000 civil servants, making it the capital’s biggest employer. This impressive number of staff poses a few dilemmas. How can you figure out which civil servant from which department is a potential partner or customer of your social enterprise? How do you foster enthusiasm for your product or service? Does it solve a challenge the city is facing? And, finally, how do you close the deal?

Finding the common ground of entrepreneurs and local governement

The City of Amsterdam and impact entrepreneurs have one crucial thing in common: they are both driven to solve societal challenges. Which is why, together with Impact Hub, the municipality introduced the Amsterdam City Fellowship accelerator for entrepreneurs working to make Amsterdam and its inhabitants healthier and more resilient. We designed the programme to match the needs of the City and its partners, such as care institutions and organisations focused on water issues, with the products and services offered by social enterprises.

Why don’t we see many examples of collaboration between these the municipality and impact entrepreneurs? The answer touches on three topics: business culture, decision making, and scale.

Our experience of working with the City teaches us that big organisations

  • have different ways of connecting with potential partners or customers,
  • take action at a slower pace due to the many stakeholders and responsibilities involved,
  • mainly purchase products or services they can use at a regional scale.

Meanwhile, social enterprises

  • are used to more informal ways of doing business,
  • have less complex decision-making processes,
  • are not always able to immediately deliver products or services at a regional scale.

Designing new models of public-private partnerships

The Amsterdam City Fellowship isn’t just about building an entrepreneurial skillset or sharing knowledge about procurement processes. It’s about creating new models for public-private partnerships.

To bridge the differences in business culture and decision-making, we’re facilitating conversations between policy makers and entrepreneurs to help them understand each other’s needs. We work alongside civil servants to explore the benefits of social entrepreneurship and to show how startups like VraagApp, Start met Happen, Rain(a)Way and Totem Open Health innovate their field.

In workshops and consultation sessions, we mapped the challenges the City faces, explored the potential fit of each startup solution to the needs of Amsterdammers, and created a mutual understanding of the developmental process of designing these solutions. The four entrepreneurs are also working with their potential clients on adapting their products or services to their requirements while preparing to go regional or national.

By providing constructive feedback and challenging the assumptions of the entrepreneurs, mentors such as Mark de Lange (Vital Innovators), Ard Leferink (co-founder Buurtzorg) and Mechtild van den Hombergh (former PharmAccess, Stichting DOEN) have played an instrumental role in the growth of the accelerator’s participating startups.

What’s the ultimate secret to a social enterprise’s successful collaboration with the municipality? Finding a City insider that’s just as convinced about the potential impact of your product as you are. With a dedicated team that includes Ellen Oetelmans, Egon van Wees and Fransje Tiggeloven, we identified and involved the right ambassadors within the municipality. And this brings us one step closer to changing the way the City and social entrepreneurs collaborate for good.

About Wieke van der Zouwen

Wieke van der ZouwenInspired by her travels and research into local political participatory processes in Argentina, Wieke developed a strong belief that global societal transformation is achieved through bottom-up, collaborative action. As a Scaling Manager at Impact Hub Amsterdam, Wieke supports and advises organisations ranging from small scale enterprises to big business, public bodies and governmental institutions. She gets her drive from coaching entrepreneurs to be their best selves.

You can connect with Wieke on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.