On 30 November 2016, the lights went out in TSO Munt Square , the co-working space for start-ups situated on Muntplein in Amsterdam. For 18 months, I was involved on behalf of project partner ABN AMRO with the entrepreneurs and sole traders who worked alongside each other there to build their businesses. It was a period in which I sometimes felt like an anthropologist, trying to understand two completely different worlds. But it also provided important lessons that we can put into practice straightaway. We are now moving one floor higher, where the doors of Tech Quarters (TQ) have just opened.
The questions from start-ups can often be answered by our network of specialists, business contacts and knowledge partners.
Jasper Verbeek Innovation Manager Startups & FinTech
How it all began
“The Spark TSO - ABN AMRO” 18 months TSO Munt Sq. in 2 minutes.
Let’s go back in time a little: 18 months ago, we launched a new experiment. To see how we could improve our relationship with start-ups, we joined forces with The Startup Orgy (TSO): a young company with a name that caused many a frown in banking circles. But we went for it, because the entrepreneurs Joris van Laerhoven and Dave van der Pol had demonstrated with their co-working space on Kloveniersburgwal in Amsterdam that they were capable of setting up a vital start-up community. Not only that, they had plans for a second location.
We decided to make our old branch on Muntplein available, in exchange for a place in the new community for start-ups and sole traders. It didn’t take long to make TSO Munt Square a reality, ushering in a period in which we learned a great deal. It was a place where our suits stayed in the wardrobe and where, through a process of trial and error, we gained an ever better understanding of what start-ups need in order to grow further. The main lessons learned are set out briefly below.
Lesson 1. Play an active role in the community
As a representative of the bank, you carry a fair few preconceptions, and especially if you want to take part in a community that does things very differently from a corporate organisation. We realised that occasionally popping along for a bit of advice was not the way to go. TSO selects its ‘residents’ carefully, with the ambition to contribute to the community being a prime consideration. To ensure that we weren’t left adrift on that score, we installed a permanent team in Munt Square. That also enabled us to really get to know the start-ups and sole traders working around us. And that proved to be key to our ability to offer effective, customised solutions.
Lesson 2. Start-ups benefit most from your network
At first, you might think that what start-ups mainly need are financial solutions. But in fact most of the ‘residents’ of TSO Munt Square had already secured a Seed or Series A investment. Knowledge and connections turned out to be much more important. A start-up community is all about diversity. With 20 nationalities, entrepreneurs from all kinds of sectors and start-ups in different phases of development, there was diversity aplenty at Muntplein. Despite that, we were able to bring something to the party as a banking outsider: our extensive network of internal specialists, business contacts and knowledge partners contained the answers to many of the questions of our entrepreneurial community.
Lesson 3. Taking part in a start-up community boosts entrepreneurship
With its big, comfortable sofas, pool table and wide range of coffee beans, TSO Munt Square looked rather different from your average bank branch. Maybe that’s why colleagues from ABN AMRO frequently emailed asking if they could bring their department for an offsite session with us . Sadly, there wasn’t room for that, but fortunately around 1,000 ABN AMRO colleagues did visitt the community to work, share knowledge and give advice. Many of them were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and a number of bank employees actually decided to set up their own businesses. Conversely, a number of entrepreneurs from TSO Munt Square ended up working at ABN AMRO.
The story continues
After 18 months, the lights are going out at TSO Munt Square. But that’s not the end of our adventure: One floor above the old co-working space, TQ, the brand-new start-up community from The Next Web, has opened its doors. Once again, ABN AMRO is closely involved as a founding partner. That means we can immediately put the lessons we have learned from TSO into practice. Our first achievement is the start-up liaison, an enterprising employee from outside the bank whose task will be to bottom out the questions, requirements and needs of start-ups. We are looking forward to an instructive new partnership, and wish TSO every success in its new location.