In a very short while we will open a unique co-working space in the centre of Amsterdam. TSO Munt Sq., a partnership with The Startup Orgy (TSO), will offer space to around fifteen promising startups and will help them to achieve excellence. The project will also offer an exciting look at how Dutch startups work and create new possibilities for working with innovative companies in FinTech and other sectors.
I am very curious to see what will happen when we share a workplace with startups and communicate regularly.
Menno van Leeuwen Head of the Innovation Centre Focus Team
Product of a decade of pioneering
I first ventured into the world of startups on ABN AMRO’s behalf ten years ago. I felt like Don Quixote: sometimes it was as if I was pursuing impossible goals in my quest for a connection between the bank and the startups. Time went by, and happily the support grew on both sides of the divide. ABN AMRO has come a long way since then, through a process of trial and error, and colleagues now display an intrinsic interest in and enthusiasm for working together. The Innovation Centre played an important role in bringing this about.
Utilising each other’s strengths
With my colleagues at the Innovation Centre, I am engaged in a non-stop search for ways to structurally reinforce the bank’s connection to startups. I firmly believe in their strength, and I know that as a large enterprise we can learn a great deal from them and they from us. We continually develop initiatives in which we learn, work, create and invest together.
Doors wide open to new partnerships
As I have noted previously, several obstacles stand in the way of successful partnership between startups and corporates to be successful: the two worlds are very different. To reduce their distance to startups, corporates need to throw the door wide open. ABN AMRO goes about this in a variety of ways: we get to know each other at the Startup Fridays, for years we have regularly attended FinTech networking initiatives and our Innovation Centre experiments with new forms of corporation. The time has now come to take the next step: a shared workplace on neutral ground. That is precisely what we have realised with TSO Munt Sq.
Accommodating the startups
Startups want smart premises that offer the best possible facilities and are situated in the city centre, without paying too much. They also prefer to operate in a setting that inspires cooperation and cross-pollination. While not the only corporate with prime property standing vacant, ABN AMRO is the first bank using those premises to fulfil this need of its clients.
Rather than looking at our problem (the vacant property) we considered how to best accommodate the wishes of startups. Rather than do everything ourselves, we made a conscious decision to bring in a partner: a company with experience setting up similar initiatives, a linking factor with an understanding of how to create a work setting where startups can bring out the best in themselves and each other. The partnership with TSO was exactly what we wanted.
The Startup Orgy is in charge of all housing and community matters. This company pays close attention to finding the right blend of startups, is good at forging a tight community and understands what it takes to create an innovative working environment. The fact that TSO itself is also a startup makes the experiment even more exciting to both sides. Our close dealings over the past few months have already taught both sides a great deal about our cultures, work methods and innovation climates.
In the trenches every day
TSO Munt Sq. has been turned into a co-working space that can house around fifteen startups from a variety of sectors. Although the entire project is one big experiment to ABN AMRO, we emphatically do not regard the startups as our guinea pigs. We offer them an inspiring place to work that boasts everything they need and is situated at a great location in the city. Whether the startups wish to use what we offer, and how, is entirely up to them.
ABN AMRO has set aside a number of desks for pop-up bankers to sit and work every week: consultants, innovation teams and other professionals who will make their banking expertise and skills available to the startups. We also sit down and talk to startups to discover whether we can work together to create something or bring about a new innovation. This brings us nearer to the startups, literally and figuratively: it would be hard to get any closer, in fact.
Our role at TSO Munt Sq.
What matters most to us is getting the startups off to the best start possible and helping them to achieve rapid and healthy growth. We are also very curious to see what will happen when we share a workplace with startups and communicate regularly. It is not yet decided what role our people on the spot will play and how everyone will work together – this will become clear as the project continues.
Whether one of the startup needs to open an account quickly, wants to spend an afternoon looking at its finances or bring one of our people along on a visit to a prospective customer or investor from our network: everything is possible. Yet it is unclear whether the startups want to sign up for regular appointments with our bankers on Wednesday afternoons, or whether they prefer to drop in if someone happens to be there, or whether the Friday afternoon drinks offer more dynamism. We are not sure yet, nor does this matter. We will see what happens, see what works best and adjust our processes based on feedback from the community.
An open experiment with a great deal of potential
On paper TSO Munt Sq. has the potential to be a great success. The fact remains, though, that ABN AMRO is the first bank to experiment with startup housing in this manner. Will our startup adventure offer new insights, new partnerships or faster product innovation? We will have to wait and see. At the very least, TSO Munt Sq. will teach us a great deal and I am looking forward to working together with startups on a larger scale. First, however, we must help The Startup Orgy to everything possible to fill the spaces with promising innovators as soon as possible.
TSO Munt Sq. will open for business in the second week of June, and some workspaces are still available. If you believe that you are a good match for us, visit thestartuporgy.com and sign up. The pilot phase will run until the end of 2016. If it is successful, we are likely to carry the housing concept over to other towns and cities with a flourishing startup culture.