Starting out as a start-up: creative hubs for entrepreneurs

Bright light bulb on black backgroundIf you are just setting up in business or have plans to take a leap towards entrepreneurship, the Netherlands has a great range of meeting places, networking and training schemes that you can dig into. Esther O’Toole has a few suggestions of where to look for the freshest inspiration.


Some 800,000 people in the Netherlands are now considered to be self-employed, or a ZZP’er. Amsterdam is busy repositioning itself away from tourist den of iniquity to creative international player, a policy which has helped produce a wave of new entrepreneurs and provoked an explosion of new resources, hotbeds (‘broedplaatsen’), development schemes and networks to encourage them. So where is it worth setting up shop?

Pakhuis de Zwijger
Established in 2006 Pakhuis de Zwijger exists to inspire and bring together people of all walks of life interested in creativity and innovation. It aims to provide a level playing field for networking and every month there is a range of speakers, networking nights, courses and even a pub quiz to serve as a less formal meeting ground. With approximately forty different events a month there is plenty to get involved in.

Its main areas of focus include architecture, design, urban planning and the arts but they also include pretty much everything that falls in between these or overlaps. You can sign up free for their social network too.

Mediamatic is a hothouse for the cross pollination of ideas that started life way back in 1983 and developed into a modern connected network. Varied is its middle name. They put on exhibitions, have acted as an occasional publishing company and you can go there for myriad workshop experiences. Their main aim is to find new ways of exploring cultural influences on technology and techs influences on culture.

Current areas of primary focus include aquaponics for urban agriculture and their Myco Design lab looking at research with micro-organisms in search of new organic building materials. Check out their website for upcoming events from the creator of an algae eating robot and the ‘Drone Camping’ at the end July. A generalist’s playground!

Mediamatic is internationally focused; the website and all events are in English. Events that do charge are low cost to maintain open access – check the website for specifics. They also offer varied internships.

Cultureel Ondernemen
-O (cultural entrepreneurship) provides development and finance advice for all creative business fields. New entrepreneurs, those wishing to increase their level of professionalism or business acumen and more established cultural organisations with specific project plans can turn to them for information and assistance. Get in touch for a free face-to-face session or sign up for one of their training sessions via the website (prices vary.)

If you’re looking for a real powerhouse of entrepreneurial energy head to Rockstart. With pitching and networking events, office or co-working space and a specially designed Accelerator programme, Rockstart is a fantastic source of info for start-ups in their first 1000 days. An extremely international operation with English as the working language, extras include free yoga sessions and exotic lunches.

‘Broedplaatsen’ (Hothouses) and space sharing
Artist-led initiatives, self-styled artistic hubs, often geared towards one medium or several overlapping disciplines have always done well in Amsterdam since the early 1980s – so much so that the city council set up a Bureau de Broedplaatsen ter Amsterdam. It provides advice and an easy access map of where different initiatives are based. These range from creative workshop spaces and networking hubs to places such as The Beehive, a cellular office complex where you can hire a cubicle, or an office, or a conference room at very affordable rates, they have complexes in West (Sloter) Oost (Ijburg) and de Zuidas.

Outside Amsterdam
Affordable and interesting office space sometimes seems like a contradiction in terms. is one of the organisations seeking to make flexible work space both affordable, attractive and useful. Their buildings in The Hague and Amsterdam (at 3 locations) offer a variety of priced rooms and offices together with flex-places and cafes. With a wide variety of entrepreneurs using them you can be working and networking at the same time and by becoming a member of their online community you can keep up with your fellows with ease.

Along the same lines but with a more global-minded vision is Seats2Meet. With affiliate locations in 67 locations in the Netherlands roving start-up workers are well served. If work takes you abroad there are further desk spaces, work spaces or meeting places waiting for you in Belgium, Germany, the UK and more.

Funding and advice
As well as offering shared offices, Rockstart travels the country answering questions at its Rockstart Answers sessions.

If you’re looking for creative funding the Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst (Amsterdam Funds for the Arts) now do walk-in sessions to pitch your ideas before going through all the performance of full on application. Guidance in advance of applying greatly enhances your chances of success and/or stops you wasting time on a lengthy pitch on paper if the idea still needs work. They now also have grants aimed at artists looking for personal development money and with international focus so you can be sure that being an ex-pat does not put you at a disadvantage.

Further funding bodies worth checking out include the Prince Bernard Fonds for the Arts and the Mediafonds.

Esther O’Toole is the creative director of

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