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In focus: Eco Cluster Amsterdam
Implementing environmental initiatives in Amsterdam is nothing new but now a flurry of activity is building momentum that could lead to significant opportunities for investors, according to Selma Hilgersom of the Amsterdam Innovation Motor.
Driven by the activities of AIM, the city is once again striving to be one of the cleanest and most sustainable in the world, and believes that it can achieve this goal while also reaping economic rewards from the growth of its fledgling sustainable businesses.
Numerous initiatives in and around modern Amsterdam emphasise the city’s willingness to embrace sustainability in its growth plans. For instance, from 2015, all new government buildings in the city are to be carbon neutral, while schemes enabling households to buy shares in local renewable energy projects are growing in popularity.
Moreover, Amsterdam, which was ranked fourth in the 2009 European Green City Index, has also received widespread recognition as a centre of excellence for innovation. A growing number of creative and sustainable enterprises are starting-up throughout the city.
This is illustrated by the amount of entrepreneurs who already have shown interested in the establishment in the sustainable incubator of Green Metropole. This sustainable centre of excellence is being realised within the framework of the project ‘Green Metropole’, initiated by the Amsterdam Innovation Motor, and will be opening its doors in June.
Hilgersom says a number of opportunities are now springing up for investors. For instance, an emphasis on improving urban air quality is driving growth in the city’s electric vehicles industry, while new material developments, bio-composites and waste management innovations are reportedly also creating opportunities for investors. Such technologies obviously have vast applications beyond Amsterdam itself, and AIM is working with several companies to access lucrative foreign markets.
The city may also represent a strong source of opportunities suitable for investors keen to avoid the risks associated with very early-stage technologies. ‘In Amsterdam’, says Hilgersom, ‘we have little activities in the area related to the development of early-stage technologies, and the R&D sector has not really developed yet.
‘In the Netherlands, the technical universities and R&D tends to be located in the Delft and Eindhoven region. There is some R&D here related to sustainability – for instance Shell has a sustainability research centre – but this isn’t typical of the character of the region. So I think that the majority of opportunities are within start-ups and growing companies, especially those that are already successful in producing products or services. ‘We also have a couple of companies working on high potential techniques that could be integrated into larger companies, which is attractive from an investor standpoint.’
Encouraging inter-industry collaboration
AIM, which promotes the city’s ‘knowledge economy’ in creative industries, ICT, life sciences, financial/business services and sustainability, is keen to leverage the diversity of industries in Amsterdam to maximise the range of opportunities available to its cleantech companies.
‘Amsterdam is quite a creative area – for instance, we have quite a few companies that are doing creative and arty things with waste. I think that power of Amsterdam lies in the fact that we have such a diverse economy that we have good match-making opportunities that enable cleantech companies to access new markets and develop new ideas’, comments Hilgersom.
She continues, ‘This is how many new products have been developed – we try to take a broader approach, which I think gives the Amsterdam area a unique identity. We always try to identify opportunities for small innovators with different partners and try to match them. If you only work with companies within the cleantech cluster, you can miss out interesting applications for these technologies. Innovation is partly driven by cross-sectoral cooperation.’
A focus on creative applications of later-stage technologies has led to significant deployment of clean energy technologies throughout the city to date. For instance, 2,900 houses in the Heerhugowaard district now enjoy energy self-sufficiency thanks to the installation of renewable energy technologies. Moreover, Amsterdam’s tram, metro and public lighting networks are powered solely by energy generated by the city’s waste to energy company, AEB, which also provides heating to 55,000 households in a system developed with utility Nuon. The city’s major airport, Schiphol, claims to be the largest producer of algae in the world, and is also home to the Grounds Centre, which was established in 2010 to facilitative the development of sustainable aviation innovations.
AIM acknowledges that such collaboration is not without its difficulties, but that the key to successfully promoting this is to emphasise the mutual benefits that are being worked towards. With the city’s established firms unusually open to embracing new technologies and ideas, Amsterdam may also provide an ideal environment in which to establish joint ventures or launch pilot projects. ‘Even without the urgent need for the development of certain technologies in Amsterdam, it is a good area for resource-constrained companies to set-up pilots, which can then be exported to other markets. One particular strength of the Amsterdam Area is the open mindedness: companies and consumers here are open to trying new things and that makes the area very attractive to put new and sustainable ideas into practice’, explains Hilgersom.
While it is acknowledged that ‘creative solutions’ will be required to finance the growth of the sector in Amsterdam, the overriding sentiment is that it is being driven by a belief in the economic opportunity of sustainable products and services on offer rather than government regulation, and that the potential is significant.
According to Hilgersom, ‘We have several high potential cleantech companies, despite the lack of presence of technical universities in the area, and I think that the cleantech sector has great potential here. Right now there is a real increase in the amount of companies focusing on cleantech, but the cleantech area still hasn’t fully realised its full potential. In the next five to ten years we will see a lot of growth and changes towards a more sustainable economy in the Amsterdam area, with all kind of innovations and creative solutions, both on the consumer and technical side. I think there is enormous potential here.’
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