In this last chapter, two topics take centre stage. First of all: what do we need to do to maintain the current ecosystem, so that we stay ahead of the competition in the race? Can such a system actually be created, and is this something worth striving for? The second question is to what extent the quality of life in the Eindhoven region can contribute to the further economic blossoming of the area. Which parties come into play here, and under whose auspices should this fall? On the basis of my interviews and analysis of the region I have arrived at a number of insights and recommendations.
Reinforcing the Ecosystem
1. Cooperative planning, cooperative action
The very first recommendation is that we need to permanently reserve time for considering together the ecosystem, with its corresponding strengths and weaknesses, on different stages and in different complements.
‘This is necessary to retain the region’s unique ecosystem’, says Hans Duisters.
Brainport Industries is already involved in this. This organisation’s activities are focused on themes that are relevant for the ecosystem. But fixed delineated plans, scenarios and blue prints must be avoided, because they can have a boomerang or constricting effect. Because what makes Eindhoven and surroundings so valuable and unique today, would never have occurred to the main actors from the Operation Centurion and DAF period, nor would they have been able to foresee or steer it.
Which is why there is little sense in focusing on outcomes that can only be guessed at. The international economy does not work like this either, explains Jan Pelle. ‘It’s like sailing on a river or stream. One moment you’re bobbing along without a care in the world and the next you have to navigate a tremendous acceleration. Which is why my advice is, go and see if you can find Lady Luck.’
The inception of this ecosystem cannot be seen separately from the specific Brabant culture and the identity of the sandy soil. Let us continue to cheer with our hands in our pockets. Let us be wary of arrogance and boasting. It is inherent to our DNA, it makes us strong.
“ Because what makes Eindhoven and surroundings so valuable and unique today, would never have occurred to the main actors from the Operation Centurion and DAF period, nor would they have been able to foresee or steer it ”
Thinking in terms of manipulability is a tricky business. Examples from the past (and not insignificant ones) have shown that such exercises are almost always overtaken by reality. Even so, we should not be frightened of new ideas that could reinforce the foundations of the ecosystem and the milieu of innovation. But they should be able to be named as game changers. This means that, on the basis of the existing competencies and capacities, innovation is sought that can contribute some form of value to the Eindhoven and surroundings’ ecosystem. Such game changers should be multidisciplinary, integral, holistic and pioneering. And as such ensure that we do not doze off or start to live off our reputation that is sooner or later doomed to evaporate. Game changing places great demands on the region’s ability to adapt: ideas have to be developed and transformed into products that are, in turn, taken to market. And all this at the desired speed. It is to be expected that entrepreneurs will lead and that the knowledge institutes, government and financers will feed this process.
“ In other words: working and competing with each other at the same time. John Blankendaal calls this ‘the turnaround from classic outsourcing to enterprising cooperation.’ ”
2. Soft values
System integration is the region’s key competency and this capacity is tightly woven in the Brabant culture in the region and the characteristics that this embodies. With keywords like trust, hard work, reliability, joint ventures, ability for sharing, confidence from modesty, etc.
In other words: working and competing with each other at the same time. John Blankendaal calls this ‘the turnaround from classic outsourcing to enterprising cooperation.’
We should cherish these soft values and convey them to future generations. Nevertheless, at the same time, the fact remains that more often than not the region keeps its light under a basket. We should allow ourselves to be prouder of our achievements and to present them more convincingly to the world at large as something exceptional that has come about here purely on the basis of the qualities and capacities of Eindhoven and surroundings. And the region itself should realise that many people in South East Brabant earn a good living doing this.
3. Bold enough to think big
Let us be bold enough in our region to tackle the major social themes (like energy, water, food and healthcare), say several CEOs, those at Philips at the head. These are problems with enormous range that require global solutions and for which the region’s universally praised innovative ability could serve as a joint game changer. It is precisely here that our key competencies are most opportune. After all, these are major challenges and require an approach employing a wide front, comprising actors from all sorts of disciplines working together in harmony, taking the necessary steps in unison that take them forward individually or in joint ventures. It is just like with the state-of-the-art machines that roll out of the ASML factory: they derive their strengths from not just the superior technology but also from the sophisticated interaction between main producer and suppliers.
“ Because knowledge and ability may be top class in Eindhoven and surroundings, the cash till is still not ringing sufficiently ”
It is precisely here that the Eindhoven region is teeming with expertise. This could be utilised even better if the region was able to expand these competencies into the alpha and gamma sciences.
This would open a new world to the region’s industries. There are increasingly more signals that the coupling of technology and social innovation invests products with tremendous added value. This is for example also the path that Philips Healthcare has taken. Berry Eggen and Henk Tappert: ‘If you were able to link the worlds of alpha and gamma with system integration, this would position us for tackling social themes.
Because knowledge and ability may be top class in Eindhoven and surroundings, the cash till is still not ringing sufficiently. This is not so strange. Since the arrival of Philips in Eindhoven, the emphasis has been on the development of new technologies and technical innovations. Many CEOs share this blood group. As a result, the marketing and sales still lag behind. Here lies a task for the future. If we are able to get new ideas to the market more quickly and become more responsive to social changes, the ecosystem will become even more robust.
4. Long live manufacturing
Against the background of a report from MIT, the Brookings Institute and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, it is important for us to see the significance of the cohesion of things in this ecosystem and to comprehend that the high-end manufacturing industry is actually the backbone. Not solely because of its contribution to the country’s treasury coffers, but also as a result of the enormous effect on R&D, the derived employment that this brings about and the contribution to the balance of trade. Strikingly, we currently see moves that are to lead to an initial recovery of industry in the USA. Obama has this high on the agenda for his final period in office. The background for this is a recent report from the MIT that ascertained that the American ecosystem displays serious voids. The Apples of the world have already outsourced so much manufacturing and assembly to China and India that they are not even able to manufacture their own prototypes themselves in the USA. A stark contrast with our region, where the art of making is still held in great esteem.
This quality still delivers masterful results. This is most visible in the graduation show of the Design Academy students. However bizarre, weird and complicated what they dream up is, prototypes can almost always be made here. In other words: all competencies are available for prototyping and custom-made series. It is consequently of unbelievable importance that the manufacturing industry remains connected with the region.
For someone like Wim van der Leegte, this is an emotional matter. ‘We have a passion for making things’, says the figurehead of the Eindhovense Fabrikanten Kring.
5. Industry 4.0
On our way to Industry 4.0 it can be assumed that the importance of information technology will increase in the complex systems that the region is yet to build. This can already be observed within ASML, where more than 1,000 engineers work on embedded systems, but also at companies like VDL Sioux, and Prodrive. The municipality of Eindhoven has noticed that several software companies from India have established themselves in the region recently. The arrival of an international knowledge institute in the field of information and software development could reinforce the region and bring it more into line with the cooperation between this sector and the existing knowledge industry in the Eindhoven region. A branch of Stanford University would really be a splendid boost for the area. And why not; if you really dare to dream, the sky is the limit.
What does not sit so well here is that central government has kept emphatically to the side-lines. Entrepreneurs in the region often look jealously at the situation for our Eastern neighbours who, according to Huub van de Vranken, enjoy ‘a coherent and consistent industrial policy.’ ‘The Netherlands doesn’t have this’, he indicates. More national support would be a real boost, certainly because an increasing number of foreign companies are trying to get their foot in the door in Brainport, because the region is perceived as a vital economy for the future. Martin Saris: ‘We see that there’s growing interest from international companies who want to create a footprint in the Brainport region.’
6. Recognition from The Hague
We are ourselves gradually becoming more convinced of the unique proposition that the Eindhoven region disposes of with its ecosystem and milieu of innovation. The problem, however, is that the echo from this cry still insufficiently reaches ears in The Hague. Within the government institutes and bodies, there is not yet a sharp picture of the absolute importance of the Eindhoven region for the economic future of the Netherlands. This is apparent from, among other things, a recent WRR report concerning future revenue models. So here lies another mission for the region. It is especially important for politicians and government to disclose where ‘the tricks of the trade’ are hiding in Eindhoven and surroundings. This is not just about establishing that the region makes a substantial contribution to the GNP (the policy makers have now realised this), but more especially in the multiplier effect: the enormous R&D efforts, the countless patents that this generates, plus the many jobs that are created in the extensive network of suppliers. In other words, the acquisition perspective of the whole is greater than the sum of parts.
7. In search of the new ASML
We have to get more out of the available technology in the region. Phenom, a Hans Duisters initiative that, with the table electron microscope, fills the gap between light microscopy and high-end electron microscopy and Addlab, a 3D printing initiative by Daan Kerstens and Jonas Wintermans, are wonderful examples of new cooperation in the chain. These kinds of new alliances, of which a number are to grow to world-player status, should be stimulated by the province / BOM. Not the individual companies, but the ecosystem makes the region powerful, unique and, in contrast to the system’s components, almost impossible to copy or reproduce. This ecosystem can only continue to exist if give and take are in balance: Guanxi, as the Chinese call it. We should realise that, as Katz says in relation to the metropolitan revolution, ‘the cavalry isn’t coming’. In other words: you will have to do it yourself as a region.
8. Government role
Where the ecosystem is concerned, the government is expected to be somewhat reserved. It should not be tempted to want to emulate business. Tappel: ‘we can establish that the government isn’t always equally successful at enterprise’. Feld described the role the government is expected to play as ‘setting the table’; making sure that the ‘basics’, such as education, housing, infrastructure, parks & gardens, sports etc. are top-notch.
Here too an extra push in the back would help. ‘To get the basics better organised, we need more decisive governance’, believes Elly Blanksma. Especially fledgling entrepreneurs need help encountering the first obstacles, Leo van Doorne thinks. ‘The start-up climate has to be improved and more venture capital needs to be made available.’
“ We can establish that the government isn’t always equally successful at enterprise ”
9. Reinforcing the networks
The well-developed network structure is one of the major strengths of the region. ‘You bump into each other everywhere’, is heard across the board, from CEOs as well as from authorities and knowledge institutes. The crux of the matter is creating formal and informal networks that are active at different levels. First of all within their own ecosystem, but also between the various sub-ecosystems that have sprouted from it. Particularly between the manufacturing industry and the designers. Of great assistance here can be that Dutch Design Week is the platform where the nerds (pioneers in technology) and the creatives (pioneers in design) can find each other and Dutch Technology Week the event where the creatives can track down the nerds. More of these kinds of connective and special events are needed to create more cross-pollination.
10. More brains and more hands
Without a sufficiently qualified workforce and good education, the Eindhoven region will lose the head start it has acquired in the last decades. Important to keep in mind here is that this does not just refer to international technology top talent but also to skilled professionals at intermediate levels. It is exactly this delicate balance between brains and hands that makes Eindhoven and surroundings stand out as a top technology region compared to other areas in Europe, Asia and the USA. We do not just think up new products, concepts and services here, we develop and manufacture them too. The close ties between the engineers and the skilled machine operators have been spotted before as an important part of the high-end manufacturing industry. The region is consequently very dependent on the availability of a technically skilled workforce. Brainport Industries and education institutes have joined forces to improve the intermediate-level education. This has resulted in a number of new and fascinating initiatives. We can also learn from Germany in this field. There, targeted measures have not just boosted the number of successful students, but a lot of trainee places have also been created.
The quality of life in a society is primarily a matter for the government. Government is to provide for housing, education, healthcare, roads and public transport, environment, sports and culture. But to what extent does this sum of facilities serve the economic prospects of a region? This question is difficult to answer, that much became clear to me when talking to administrators, decision-makers and entrepreneurs. ‘We’re not really completely sure about that’, Staf Depla said, which was something many interviewees expressed along with him. Just as an ecosystem, quality of life would benefit most from people on different committees thinking about what would be evident for the region with regard to this. And subsequently acting on these findings.
“ ‘A city doesn´t need a canal for me to like it’, as Arjen de Koning puts it. ”
Place to live and enjoy
It is of course of paramount importance that the region is an attractive place to live in for a highly educated, mainly technical workforce.
‘A city doesn´t need a canal for me to like it’, as Arjen de Koning puts it.
Attracting talent is a first requirement, but keeping them here is another thing. For that, not only the actual situation but also the perception, or the image, is important. Let us start with the actual situation. Almost all the interviewees think that the basics are sorted.
Which does not mean that there is no room for improvement. The fame of the High Tech Campus Eindhoven has almost reached every corner of the world. Even so, only 10 thousand of the 150 thousand people in the manufacturing and knowledge-intensive industries earn their living here. ‘This is why the existing industrial estates should be upgraded. This is where the old manufacturing industry is located, but you need to make it more pleasant for the people’, Henk Tappert remarks.
But the idea does exist that there is more emphasis on families than on young single and two-person households and that what is on offer is mainly aimed at the original inhabitants of the region. While the region has become a lot more international, a trend that will only become more apparent in the coming period.
‘Eindhoven has to again become a student city’, says Geert Hurks. ‘With in any case more studies popular with women’, Arjen de Koning adds.
This internationalisation is a determining factor in thinking about quality of life. The International School is a good example of this. The Eindhoven business community, with strong international orientation, labels this as an important facility for the region.
Peter Wennink: ‘At ASML we already have 81 nationalities at work.’
This makes the International School a decisive factor for being capable of attracting foreign top talent. With regard to leisure and free time, the cosmopolitan character does not quite get enough attention yet. There is a task here to lay links between the local Eindhoven culture and other cultures. What could help in that respect is offering Chinese, Spanish and English at all primary schools in the region.
“ Peter Wennink: ‘At ASML we already have 81 nationalities at work.’ ”
Where image is concerned, the Eindhoven region still has a problem. Although the labelling as Brainport and especially the awarding of smartest region have had a very positive influence on the image of Eindhoven and surroundings, the region is still seen as too provincial and not cosmopolitan enough. Broadening the cultural scope may provide a serious boost for this image. Abroad too. There is not much sense in looking for this upgrade in more institutions. Eindhoven has a number of quality cultural facilities (Van Abbe, Muziekcentrum, Parktheater), but will never be able to compete in that area with the metropolitan regions. What’s more, the region is only an hour and a half’s drive away from cities like Antwerp, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Düsseldorf and Brussels, where culture buffs can find everything they might want.
The region has built up an excellent reputation with a number of ground-breaking events of international appeal such as Glow, DDW and STRP. The strength of these events is that they navigate the cross-roads of various disciplines and are linked to the region’s DNA in character and in execution. They are informal and flexible in set-up, have sprouted from the cooperation between various parties and have managed to hang onto their hunger for experiment and innovation despite their public success. There are still major opportunities for further depth in these events. Glow, DDW and STRP now attract many thousands of visitors, but the original structure of hotbed and laboratory still stands. A good example of this is Glow. In Eindhoven’s city centre, this has grown into a mass event with hardly space to walk, whereas Strijp S boasts the innovative activities that attract the connoisseurs. A striking detail here is the resulting new business. Lighting designer Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Contractors are working on a motorway concept for the future.
In brief, confrontations between different sectors that bear fruit both commercially and culturally. And are interesting for creative thinkers and doers to establish themselves in the region. A good example of this is the way in which design has grown into a sub-ecosystem. Ten years ago, almost all the talent in this area left Eindhoven, now the reverse is true. This does demand sufficient affordable studio and work space for these groups, including activities to keep them captivated. Eindhoven has always had its fair share of nerds; in the last decades they were joined by bohemians. It is imperative to leave these groups to confront each other. Such a clash leads to surprising innovations. This does require networks and high-end meeting places such as Usine and Igluu. Another thing that assists in jazzing up the image is restoring the city’s icons, such as De Lichttoren and the industrial heritage in Strijp S.
Eindhoven and surroundings should not just attract knowledge workers from afar, it should also put more energy into developing own talent. Start with the children, I would say. Let them get to know engineering, design, culture, let them get their hands dirty. As they can do in the Ontdekfabriek in Strijp S for example.
Tempt them to choose studies that match the economic profile of the region. Let them think and do, cross-pollinate technology and art, sports, light and so on. And continue this trend as they get older. A fine example is the Aalto University in Helsinki where engineering, arts, design and business are offered at various levels in academic education. We should have something like that in our region, not just at academic level, but also at applied university and at intermediate levels. Because without talent our ecosystem will dry up and the milieu of innovation will lose its foundations.
In conclusion, a very last tip from me: let us make sure at all times to stay close to the sandy soil. The soil of farmers and scientists that has been a lot more fertile over the last century than anyone considered possible. Way past the powers of imagination.