10 reasons why Amsterdam is a great place to start your business
Callum Thomas is the CEO of Thomas Thor Associates, a global executive search and recruitment business in the energy sector.
With the many things the Netherlands can offer an expat, something that is often overlooked is what it can offer you as a young entrepreneur.
When I arrived in Amsterdam seven years ago as a British expat, with a degree in financial services and 10 years of experience in recruitment and executive search, I found here a perfect balance: a city that allowed me to work while having plenty of time for my family, friends, travelling and exercise.
Two years later, in 2010 - when it was time to begin my life’s ambition to start my own recruitment and consulting business - I knew Amsterdam was the place.
10 reasons to start your business in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is an excellent international location to start a business because it provides the practical things you need to run your business while also being a great place to live.
From its infrastructure and international workforce, to language and lifestyle, here are the top 10 reasons why I started my business in Amsterdam, and why it is such a great city for expats with an entrepreneurial mindset.
1. Amsterdam has a history for business
You can trace Amsterdam’s history as an international business centre right back to the Golden Age in the 1600s, when Dutch merchants travelled the trade routes to Asia to bring spices and exotic goods back to the Netherlands and Europe.
Indeed, many consider the Dutch East India Company or VOC, which operated from 1602-1799, to be the world’s first multinational corporation.
Such an active history of international trade means that an outward-looking attitude and familiarity with foreign business is deeply ingrained in the Dutch mentality.
This also means that Dutch people, industries and government are also supportive of expats doing business in their capital - and the international opportunities it creates.
2. Dutch bureaucracy is straightforward
The Netherlands has an excellent bureaucratic infrastructure for starting your own business.
The Dutch Chamber of Commerce or Kamer van Koophandel (KvK) is not just the institution where you can quickly and easily set up your business, it also has great resources and plenty of information - in both Dutch and English - to support new business owners.
The KvK offers a variety of possible legal forms to choose from to fit your business structure including:
› A one-person business or eenmanszaak
› A partnership or vennootschap onder firma (VOF)
› A limited partnership or commanditaire vennootschap (CV)
› A private company or besloten vennootschap (BV)
In recent years the Netherlands has also simplified its business ownership requirements allowing entreprenerurs to incorporate private companies with much less capital than previously necessary.
The Belastingdienst, or Dutch tax office, also offers many tax breaks for starting companies.
3. Good immigration options for entrepreneurs
The Netherlands considers entrepreneurs to be a great stimulant for economic growth. So, at the start of 2015, the Dutch government introduced a new start-up residence permit to attract ambitious entrepreneurs from outside the European Union.
The residence permit requires the fulfilment of several conditions: applicants must have a business plan, a facilitator, sufficient financial resources and must be offering an innovative product or service.
4. The international workforce
Without a doubt one of the biggest challenges in creating and developing any business is hiring the right people.
When growing our company we were able to hire talented, intelligent and motivated people who speak many languages and almost always, business-level English.
Amsterdam is a superb place to hire multinational talent because of the large expat community - and the tax breaks that draw them here. With a great pool of educated professionals, the city is already home to many established European headquarters.
5. The English language
Amsterdam is a truly bilingual city as, in addition to Dutch, English is universally spoken.
In 2009 the municipality of Amsterdam voted in favour of registering English as an official language of the city, meaning that many administrative communications are also provided in English.
Expats and new arrivals can easily navigate the city using English in the workplace, with other professionals, for study and in daily life.
However, if you’re staying for the long term then learning Dutch certainly pays off.
6. The fantastic location within Europe
Amsterdam’s central location and strong transport infrastructure mean that it boasts short travel times and easy access to practically every major city in Europe and the world.
Schiphol airport is one of the busiest in Europe, with flights to more than 320 direct destinations. It is only a 20 minute train or taxi ride from the centre of the city.
The Dutch rail networks also provides excellent rail connections to Belgium, Germany and France, with Paris only 3 hours and 20 minutes away on the Thalys.
7. Amsterdam thinks like a global city but feels like a village
Amsterdam is one of those rare cities which manages to combine a worldwide outlook with a village feel. This is thanks to its small population and compact geography, combined with an international mix of residents and easy international accessibility.
Amsterdam certainly feels like a village in terms of how easy it is to get around - you can literally cycle from one side of town to the other within half an hour - and it is packed with the culture, opportunities and excitement that you would expect in a capital five times its size.
8. Good support services for new businesses
From the moment I decided to set up my consultancy business, I was faced with a lot of challenges. Luckily, I could overcome them because of Amsterdam’s great business support services such as accounting and legal firms.
There are plenty of consultancies, accounting and legal companies which specialise in working with internationals and foreign business. They are used to working in English and to helping new companies navigate the intricacies of the Dutch legal and tax systems.
9. A great place to network
Whether you’re looking for investors, a work hub, buyers, suppliers or a forum to share ideas, Amsterdam brings together like-minded people and business to connect and work together.
The Amsterdam city council also has specific departments, such as the Amsterdam Economic Board, to encourage interaction and growth within sectors such as ICT, logistics, science, finance, fashion or the creative industries.
10. The quality of life
Starting your own business should not make you sacrifice other aspects of your life such as relationships, family, holidays or a healthy lifestyle.
Amsterdam is not only a business hub, it also boasts a great way of life: with a thriving cultural scene, a great mix of restaurants, cafes and bars, a busy festival calendar and easy access to nature and the countryside.
From a family perspective, a recent Unicef study showed that Dutch children are some of the happiest kids in the world.
The Netherlands is also supportive of a good work-life balance, with annual holiday leave usually between 25 to 32 days a year, depending on the work contract.
Naturally if you are starting a business you will be setting your own work schedule - but it helps if the environment you’re in encourages you to enjoy life beyond work.
Make a good start
Starting a business is always tough, and the first few years are incredibly demanding and require a lot of hard work and resilience.
But your uphill journey will be made that little bit easier if you start your business in a city that already has the attitude, infrastructure and lifestyle to support you and your company.
Having the opportunity to build a successful international business, maintain a good work-life balance, stay fit and healthy and be surrounded by multinational and motivated people is pretty much my definition of a dream!
And if I could make it happen, then you can make it happen too!