My visit to Brainport Eindhoven – Mixing the passion of startups with the power of corporates
5 March, 2021 by
My visit to Brainport Eindhoven – Mixing the passion of startups with the power of corporates
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The main aim of StartupDelta has always been to create One Single Hub together with all the leading innovation hubs in the Netherlands. This year I am visiting all the hubs again to hear what they have accomplished during one year StartupDelta. To hear what they have done to strengthen their own startup ecosystem with their key players; how they connected with the other hubs and how they have strengthened the Netherlands as a whole. The results are impressive. The innovative power of the Netherlands comes from our strong regions. No doubt!

Brainport Eindhoven is a perfect example that we can all be very proud of! Take the High Tech Campus Eindhoven in the heart of the region. It was my first stop on my Startup Tour NL as a StartupDelta Special Envoy, last year.

Brainport has a thriving startup ecosystem. High Tech Campus Eindhoven has paved the way for making open collaboration a strategic advantage for fast-growing high-tech companies. With a global presence in technologies like semicon, photonics and robotics combined with design, Brainport is a dominant high-tech hotspot in the world.

Global players like ASML, Philips, NXP, VDL, DSM and many others reside here in the region, in combination with – for instance – the Technical University, and a strong automotive cluster in Helmond.

That is why I thought this was the most appropriate place to launch the latest initiative from StartupDelta named COSTA in which corporates aim to create top-notch cooperation with startups and speed up the mutual learning curve. C-level decision makers from KPN, Shell, Philips, AkzoNobel, Port of Rotterdam Authority, ENECO, ING, KLM, DSM, Thales Nederland have committed themselves to this programme under the guidance of KPN's CFO Jan Kees de Jager. In the Netherlands we virtually have the highest density of corporates per square mile. What an opportunity to work with! When startups and corporates work together, innovation can be accelerated, new business models developed and products and services enter the market at a faster pace.  Costa aims to make the Dutch startup ecosystem stronger, smarter, faster and more sustainable.

The Rotterdam Erasmus University will give the programme the necessary scientific and professional guidance with prof. Justin Jansen, and also Corporate Venturing Network will be closely involved. I asked Jan Kees to lead the programme, because he not only has started a company himself, but he also knows what it is like to run a corporate as well as – as a former State Secretary – to relate to policy and politics. On the 24th of May Jan Kees will have the first meeting of COSTA during  Startup Fest  Europe in Amsterdam.

Looking at Brainport: why do we have such an impressive number of startup success stories coming out of Brainport? The answers may lie in a recent report by Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Professor Henk Volberda leads continuousresearch into innovation. He concludes that “most CTO’s don’t realize that only 25% of innovation success depends on technology investments. The other 75% comes from factors including leadership style and co-creation with trusted partners.” That is exactly why we think COSTA will be an asset to strengthening the Dutch ecosystem.

Let me share three examples to illustrate Brainport.

1. Staying Light Years Ahead in Photonics

By 2045, it’s estimated the world will need 1000 times the current capacity to process data. Existing semiconductor technology can’t keep up with this pace of change. So we need a different approach to cope with the growth.

Fortunately, a suite of technologies known as “photonics” has reached a tipping point and is already providing answers. New chip designs are leaving the cleanroom and starting to scale up into a rapidly growing world business. Again the epicentre of development is Brainport. Thanks to pioneering work led by researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology, the cost of manufacturing a photonics chip in Europe has dropped from €200,000 to around €10,000. This is a dramatic difference which has opened up possibilities for high-tech startups and small businesses.

Photonics is the engine driving other key innovation areas

Photonics is also helping to revolutionize medicine and aviation – such as the development of “needleless” technologies for monitoring diabetics’ blood sugar levels and tiny cameras smaller than pills that can travel within arteries. Sensor applications in smart power grids, aeroplane wings, autonomous cars, intelligent buildings and industrial process control will contribute significantly to more efficient use of resources and meeting today’s environmental challenges. Dutch startups like Effect Photonics & Technobis are working closely with customers on their path to scaling internationally.

Local Chip Fabrication is key

Last September 2015 saw the launch of commercial Indium Phosphide chip production on High Tech Campus Eindhoven. The company, Smart Photonics, has developed a unique pure-play approach, which dramatically cuts development costs and accelerates the time to market. This chip production line is at the heart of the commercial ecosystem that’s being built in the Netherlands.

Photonics building their own Delta programme

Today, a new organisation PhotonDelta, is gearing up to become a pro-active “European business accelerator”. The choice of name is deliberate! Its role is to link world-class photonics research with businesses, working to amplify existing initiatives. They are building a Europe-wide “end-to-end ecosystem” of researchers, chip designers, foundries and software developers rising up to meet new challenges like the exponential thirst for more bandwidth. Europe still has a 5-year head start by having all the pieces of the puzzle in place.

2. A prescription for healthy international growth

In December 2015 we witnessed one of the largest acquisitions so far in the history of the Dutch biotech sector. The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical concern AstraZeneca reportedly paid €3.1 billion for a 55% share in a young Dutch company Acerta Pharma. They were founded just four years ago!

Encouraging Genuine Innovation

The city of Oss has been home to life science innovation and research since 1923. Organon began by making insulin. Their later work with the oral contraceptive pill Lyndiol is legendary. But today, many important drugs are discovered outside the labs of large pharmaceutical companies. As open collaboration becomes the new standard, researchers who began their careers in Organon have been encouraged to spin-out their own companies.

Breakthrough drug development has also been accelerated by the privatization of world-class facilities clustered around the Pivot Park innovation district in Oss. Shared specialized lab facilities like their Ultra-High Throughput Screening System mean lower drug discovery costs, plus faster time to market. It’s an approach that’s producing spectacular results.

3. Building a campus-wide turbo accelerator

An open approach brings measureable advantages, as researcher Lilia Planiyan reported in the collaborative innovation study for the World Economic Forum. And in their latest report, the US Brookings Institute also gives examples where cities and local stakeholders have collaborated to build what they term "innovation districts" which bring clear economic advantages.

At High Tech Campus Eindhoven, close cooperation between multinationals and high-tech startups has become part of the local DNA. It began in 2003 when Philips Research decided that it could no longer invent effectively in splendid isolation. They tore down the park gates and attracted dozens of technology companies like ABB or Medtronic to help build an informal, trusted ecosystem. It is also unique because that intensive mix of bright people and businesses cannot be copied. Nor can it be built anywhere overnight.

Several of today’s successful international companies, like MedimetricsNXPCivolutionIntrinsic-ID or Genkey were founded at High Tech Campus Eindhoven by former Philips employees. They took the entrepreneurial route and spun out their technology from the mother corporation. Even though many of these spin-off's make most of their revenue in the Americas, Asia or Africa, they see the advantages of maintaining a research base in the Netherlands. In that respect, the whole Campus is one big turbo accelerator!

Assistance from startup to scale-up

There’s increasing demand from young high-tech companies to be part of an ecosystem beyond the early startup-phase. On their journey to becoming a scale-up, the founders need access to several different skill sets. That could mean research and testing facilities while building the prototype. And later-stage scale-ups like Smart Robotics have discovered that moving from a research environment to a business creation cluster like the High Tech Campus has been key for their acceleration to a global market. The same strategy holds for Microsure and Preceyes, brilliant medical robotics startups that recently spun out of Eindhoven University of Technology.

Pivot Park, the Campus and PhotonDelta are just three examples of how collaboration amongst trusted networks can accelerate the Netherlands’ position to the top.

Let me close with pointing out how closely involved Brainport Eindhoven is involved in StartupDelta on a personal basis.

Peter Wennink is CEO of ASML based in Veldhoven. ASML is global leader in chip-making equipment. Wennink emphasises that, as well as funding, high-tech startups need to build international credibility for their breakthrough technologies. ASML recently launched the MakeNext Platform that supports this vision.  Brainport Eindhoven has a huge concentration of big names. So what if an informal network of tech specialists were to join forces with those with back-office power in their name to fast-track the validation of these technologies? That’s surely the key to scaling up faster. Together with Rob van Gijzel mayor and chairman of BrainportDevelopment he and Peter Wennink are in the Circle of Influencers of StartupDelta.

Three of my advisors of Startup Delta, Victoria Martinez, Ramon Haken and Guido van Gageldonk are also from Eindhoven and inspire me and my team with exciting new developments from the Eindhoven region.

Joep Brouwers, deputy director of Brainport joins the bi-weekly regional meeting of StartupDelta and Fancy van de Vorst is one of our fast acting team members.

Alliances between like minded people who cooperate and challenge each other, share visions and ideas are crucial to building a strong ecosystem together. Learning by doing, taking risks and making the next ambitious steps possible. We are proud to have Brainport Eindhoven in our midst!

Neelie Kroes, Special Envoy for Startups & Sigrid Johannisse, Director StartupDelta

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