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Digital Subscriptions > Cities Today > August 2018 > How to fast track innovation

How to fast track innovation

Jonathan Andrews reports from Amsterdam on how the city government has developed an eco-system for start-up launches with the intention of positioning the city as both accelerator and customer


Rembrandt Square, Amsterdam
Photo: Luke Ma

Every weekend Amsterdam’s Rembrandt Square welcomes tourists and residents from the early evening until the small hours. What the city and residents don’t welcome is the problem of public urination that comes with being a popular night-time location.

While urinals are located on the square, many visitors see a nearby doorway or wall as a far more convenient place to relieve themselves. Not only does it smell bad but it costs the city a small fortune to clean up.

In a characteristically liberal and socially oriented way, the city opened up the challenge of solving the problem to start-ups. Rather than a traditional ‘stick’ approach of a heavy police presence handing out fines the city wanted startups to think of innovative ways to make people change their “peeing behaviour” around the square. The challenge was one of thirteen listed in last year’s third edition of the city-led Start-up in Residence programme.

Established four years ago by the city’s Chief Technology Officer, Ger Baron, the programme is based on the successful San Francisco model, although with some modifications, to find innovative solutions to problems that the city has identified.

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