The Rotterdam Businesscase (De Rotterdamse Zaak)

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Main actors

City Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2012/07

De Rotterdamse Zaak is a work-based learning company in which both students and senior entrepreneurs support and consult entrepreneurs in marginal economic areas to improve their economical independence.

The project concentrates on entrepreneurs (SME's and Self-employed Workers) who enterprise below the poverty line and who have a lack of (financial) means to find solutions for the challenges they are up against. The concept of De Rotterdamse Zaak is based on the combined experience and expertise of former entrepreneurs who provide senior coaching and counseling, and young students of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences who consult at a junior level with practical support.

Together, they draw up business plans, cost calculations, marketing strategies and annual reports. For the students, it’s a chance to gain practical experience. For the experienced entrepreneurs, it’s an opportunity to put their skills to good use again. And for the struggling entrepreneur, it’s a last chance to save their business.

From 2012 to May 2015 more than 400 entrepreneurs have already benefited from the specific services De Rotterdamse Zaak offers.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all


This project was shortlisted for the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2015 in the following category: Cooperation.

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Size and population development
623,798 (Rotterdam); 1,404,088 (Greater Rotterdam Area)

Main functions
largest cargo port in Europe

Main industries / business
transport and logistics

Political structure
The city is governed by a mayor and a city council. The mayor is appointed by the national government for a renewable six-year term

Administrative structure
14 submunicipalities

In the Poverty Survey of 2014, the Central Bureau Statistics Netherlands estimated that one out of six Self-Employed Workers live in poverty. Within the Greater Rotterdam Area around 7,500 entrepreneurs enterprise below the poverty line. The persistent weak market conditions puts the marginal enterprises under further pressure.

The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Entrepreneurial Sound Board and the Municipality of Rotterdam got together to examine how they can enhance entrepreneurial and management skills and created the concept of De Rotterdamse Zaak. The objective is to enable Entrepreneurs living below the poverty line to increase their income and profitability by improving their entrepreneurial and management skills to preserve their economic independence.

De Rotterdamse Zaak is a work-based learning company where students of Business Economics/Financial Management/Commercial degree programmes of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and expert Senior Entrepreneurs of the Entrepreneurial Sound Board Foundation support and counsil entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs have no financial means to seek professional business support, which means there is no competition with the regular entrepreneurial coaching market.

The services provided by De Rotterdamse Zaak include: streamlining business administration, increase debit and credit control, annual report preparation, draw up profit and loss account, business plan, marketing plan, sales plan, cost calculation, etc. The scheme seeks to give entrepreneurs cost effective guidance on strategic business planning to improve their revenue. The coaching and support is on a temporary basis, usually for a period of six months. 

At the offices of the Chamber of Commerce there are one or two meetings on a weekly basis for Entrepreneurs-in-dire-straits, where 10 to 15 Entrepreneurs attend a presentation of the partners of De Rotterdamse Zaak, followed by a short meeting (quick scans), which gives the Entrepreneur the opportunity to indicate whether he/she needs practical support from the De Rotterdamse Zaak and/or coaching from the Entrepreneurial Sound Board and/or financial support through the Regional Bureau Self-Employed. The quick scan will result in a follow-up meeting for an intake interview with De Rotterdamse Zaak or/and the Entrepreneurial Sound Board and/or Regional Bureau Self-Employed Workers to apply for a supplementary allowance, or no service at all. The intake interview with De Rotterdamse Zaak takes place with both a Senior and a Junior Coach. Together with the Entrepreneur a problem analyses is made. Agreements on which service lines will facilitate the Entrepreneur-in-dire-straits and what further steps the Entrepreneur needs to make are laid down in a contract, signed by all parties. The closure of the agreed procedure is also formally established.

De Rotterdamse Zaak is an example of close cooperation of Entrepreneurs, Education and Government. The main partners involved in the initiative are:

  • Rotterdam University of Applied Science: At the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences 33,000 students follow the degree programmes of applied sciences of which a large number are financial-economic-commercial programmes. The work-based learning company has been developed by students and this has resulted in more than 50 student placements and a multitude of students working on project based assignments. Interns who perform well continue their career with the work-based learning company as peer coaches for (new) interns.
  • the Entrepreneurial Sound Board Foundation: The Foundation Entrepreneurial Sound Board is a national foundation in which Senior former Entrepreneurs provide their entrepreneurial experience and expertise on a voluntary basis to guide and help advance an Entrepreneur's venture in a sound board/coaching style. It was founded 35 years ago and consists of around 300 voluntary advisors who coached and counseled 3000 Entrepreneurs in 2013.
  • the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam: De Rotterdamse Zaak started off as an initiative in Rotterdam. Since the Regional Bureau for Self-Employed implements the Decree on (financial) Assistance for Independent Businesses for most municipalities in the region, this led to a considerable influx (one third) of self-employed-in-dire-straits. In November 2013 the councilors of 26 regional municipalities and the Secretary of State Klijnsma signed a convenant to extend support throughout the region and to fund the scheme jointly.

The approach of the parties involved was to jointly develop a project with a mutually valued outcome (co-creation), which offers substantial results to the group of marginal entrepreneurs. This joint venture also includes the funding of the work-based learning company.

The annual costs of the program (EUR 302.000) are shared by the parties as follows:

  • Regional Municipalities: EUR 177.000
  • Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences: EUR 100.000
  • Grants Equity Fund GAK a.o.: EUR 45.000

A private fund has committed itself to support the foundation until 2018 to start up a minimum of 4 new Business Cases in the Netherlands.

The pilot project started in 2012, and in 2013 the first full year of the De Rotterdamse Zaak was up and running. In May 2015 a total of 448 Entrepreneurs took part in the scheme.

In 2014 the Research Centre for Entrepreneurship & Business Innovation of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences started to conduct a three year research into De Rotterdamse Zaak. The key questions are: 

  • what are the business successes and failures of this particular group of entrepreneurs and what interventions  (services) are required to support this group? 
  • What are the effects of De Rotterdamse Zaak on the business sustainability and income development of this group? 
  • From which economic model will De Rotterdamse Zaak acquire funds in the long run?

The cost of the research are estimated at EUR 200,000, half of which is funded by the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. The deficit is to be subsidised by third party funding organisations.

The triangular Entrepreneur - Senior Coach (former Entrepreneur) - Junior Coach (Student) creates a win-win scenario.

In the Senior Coach the Entrepreneur will find a sound board, advisor and mentor, who will encourage the Entrepreneur to regain control and draw up a plan for the restart. The Junior Coaches provides practical assistance for the restart (streamlining/sorting out the administration, drawing up a cost-calculation), drafting of reports to plan out the various aspects of the restart (business plan or acquisition plan). In the process the Entrepreneur will have a better understanding of the business principles, gaining insight into a viable business restart. The Senior Entrepreneurs share their know-how and expertise in support of the Entrepreneur. The practical aspects required are in the hands of the Junior Coaches. The core of the scheme is the ‘pupil-journeyman master' principle. Whereas the Senior Coach masters old-school expertise, the Junior Coach bring new-school knowledge (social media and marketing) to the table. The students are offered a placement, work on project based assignments or their graduation research and in this capacity they support the Entrepreneur-in-dire-straits on various levels to implement the new business strategy. While the students contribute their knowledge to the Entrepreneur and society, they are also advancing their practical experience, learning fundamental skills and developing coaching expertise. The students are coached by the former expert Entrepreneur and will have the opportunity to extend their network.

In collaboration with both the Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment and the Association of Netherlands Municipalities De Rotterdamse Zaak was introduced to other cities/regions in three so called National Knowledge Sessions and quite a few regions have shown interest to set up their own Zaak (Case). For this purpose a national foundation has been established to assist other regions in setting up a pilot of their Zaak (Case) through a (free of charge) franchise model. Meanwhile the municipality of Utrecht followed suit, the De Utrechtse Zaak (the Utrecht Business Case) has been launched.

- EUROCITIES awards entry form: De Rotterdamse Zaak / The Rotterdam Businesscase

- EUROCITIES awards 2015:

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