Scrap wood kitchens and toilet paper

The Amsterdam Circular Challenge is a competition between teams of young professionals and students in the final stages of their education. The competitors are challenged to find solutions for circular economy issues in Amsterdam. The challenge is a springboard for competitors to start their own business and a boost for the city’s circular economy. Following the event’s success in Amsterdam, the challenge may find its way to other cities or even a national platform.


Turn waste into a product people are willing to pay for.


Go out and test if your product has market potential. If needed, adjust your idea.

During the annual Amsterdam Circular Challenge, high potentials try to solve the world’s problems while at the same time making money. The two are not mutually exclusive, according to initiator Pieter De Stefano. The first teams have already launched their innovative products. 

The challenge revolves around actual waste issues affecting Amsterdam-based companies and organizations, explains De Stefano. “Teams consisting of students and former students have six weeks to design a valuable product with a sound business case. The goal is to use the product locally and to make money at the same time.”

last year, the teams worked on a solution for housing corporation Eigen Haard. The corporation was stuck with enormous loads of waste from renovation projects. After six weeks, the winning team designed a way to use scrap wood for the making of doors for the boring kitchen cabinets in the houses. Similarly, a case for water company Waternet led to the idea of making t-shirts from the pulp resulting from used toilet paper in the Amsterdam sewers.

A sound business case

All wonderful ideas, but how do you make a solution into commercial success? De Stefano: “It’s very important to focus on the business end during the six week challenge. A sound business case is essential for market success. It’s something we paid insufficient attention to during previous editions of the challenge, even though the goal is to turn contestants into entrepreneurs.”

De Stefano asked Business Models Inc. to guide the teams during the challenge with making their business cases. They learned to use the ‘Business Model Canvas’, a framework for developing and designing a business model. “During the first week, the teams fill out the framework and present it to each other. This generates a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It’s also a perfect way to kick off the challenge, because the team members get to know each other quickly.”

Testing ideas

During the challenge, business case generation is a bit unusual, says De Stefano. “Normally, an entrepreneur designs a product based on customer demand. During the challenge, however, things are the other way around. You have this waste, which you turn into a product. Then you look for potential customers.” This underlines the importance of going out into the world and testing whether or not a product has market potential. “In the case of insufficient demand, it’s still possible to adjust the idea.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the next weeks focus on business plan validation. Is the product meeting a customer demand? Is the concept feasible and are people willing to pay for it? “In the final phase of the challenge, we discuss which roadblocks the teams have encountered and if they need to adjust their business plan. This teaches them to be flexible and not to hang on to a product which should be different, according to the outside world. For some teams, this is a real wake-up-call.”

National edition

De Stefano is ambitious about the future. “We’re currently examining the possibilities for a challenge in Rotterdam, maybe even a national challenge.” Whatever the future brings, the competitors of the Amsterdam Circular Challenge have already contributed a lot to the city’s circular economy. Take for instance the winning team from 2015. They had the idea to create furniture from the canals’ pruned water plants. “They now have a successful company and were present at the Dutch Design Week. In other words, the challenge goes beyond nice ideas.”

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