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Eindhoven, Netherlands (2010)
Manufacturing innovation, by design
Published Sunday, March 21, 2010


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Posted: March 20109

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In the Eindhoven Region, they make things. 

Officially designated in Dutch as Samenverkingsverband Regio Eindhoven (SRE), the region has long been the industrial center of Holland, with 730,000 inhabitants and a workforce of 400,000.  A manufacturing center in a high-cost nation, however, is a very dangerous thing to be in the 21st Century.  The percentage of people employed in manufacturing in Europe has declined sharply since the 1970s, by amounts ranging from 25% in Italy to 60% in Britain.  Yet the employment rate in the SRE exceeds the European average and its top industries are all involved in making things: from high-tech materials to information and communications technology, and from automotive and health technologies to processed foods.  Eighteen percent of all Dutch automotive jobs are in Eindhoven, and nine percent of all life technology employment. 

What has made it possible for Eindhoven to succeed where other traditional industrial hubs have failed?  Eindhoven excels in two ways.  First, the region displays a relentless drive for innovation using information and communications technology (ICT) to continuously improve every aspect of business practice, education, governing and lifestyles.  And second, it is committed to interconnecting the components of a modern knowledge-based economy so that they power each other's growth.   

Open Platform for Innovation

The SRE consists of 21 municipalities, of which Eindhoven, Helmond and Veldhoven are the largest.  It is home to multinational companies such as Philips, the healthcare, lighting and consumer product giant, and ASML, maker of photolithography equipment for the production of silicon chips.  The Eindhoven University of Technology, with more than 7,000 students, is considered one of the top three research universities in Europe.  The High Tech Campus Eindhoven founded by Philips houses over 80 companies employing another 7,000 residents.  Thanks in part to this concentration, 36% of all Dutch R&D spending takes place in the SRE.

Yet is not just handful of big companies and universities that drive research & development. The region is best understood as an open platform for innovation in which everyone plays a part: business, government, educators, researchers, designers, even kids.  The engine that keeps this platform moving is a public-private partnership called Brainport Development (www.brainport.nl).  Its members include employers, research institutes, the Chamber of Commerce, the SRE, leading universities and the governments of the region’s three largest cities.  A small professional staff meets regularly with stakeholders to identify their strengths, needs and objectives, then looks for opportunities for them to collaborate on business, social or cultural goals.  Any stakeholder of Brainport has the opportunity to create new initiatives or partner with other stakeholders. 

This kind of collaboration is a Dutch tradition that arose over the centuries-long process of reclaiming land from the sea.  For all of the time spent in meetings and negotiations and agreements, it appears to be a powerful competitive advantage.  It takes only a very short list of projects to see why.

Collaborative innovation takes place within the framework of a regional plan called Brainport Navigator 2013, which focuses effort on key growth industries.  High-tech systems and materials are supported by a public-private Lighting Institute, as well as a Brainport project to create an Innovation Center for Safety & Technology and POINT ONE, the local focus of a national subsidy program for nanotechnology and mechatronics. 

Life technologies?  There is a Brainport Health Innovation project focusing on making long-term progress at the intersection of healthcare and technology, and a High Med campus for companies investing in maternal and early child care.  A Technology and Food Network program promotes the use of high-tech systems and materials to innovate in food and nutrition.  The Automotive Technology Center involves 125 organizations in collaborative innovation projects that, from 2005 to 2008, generated 4.5m Euros in new investment. 

The start-up of new high-tech systems and ICT companies is stimulated by incubators with names like Catalyst, Beta II and the Device Process Building.  Design Connection Brainport manages a wide range of projects in design and technology, in order to encourage the industrial design expertise that is as essential as information technology to all of the SRE’s industrial clusters.   

Digital Quality of Life

A vibrant economy may be the measure of Brainport's work but it is not the sole focus.  The organization's leaders realize that sharpening the region's competitive edge is as much about quality of life and the training of the next generation as it is about industrial policy.  Talent is the resource in shortest supply in an innovation-driven economy.  Brainport brings the same imagination, collaboration and drive to creating and retaining talent as it does to economic development. 

A Brainport project called Technific aims to interest primary and secondary school students in science and technology careers.  Technific has developed an award-winning game called Medical Investigators, in which the student is an investigator accused of committing a crime. His goal is to prove his innocence by collecting evidence throughout the game using an electron microscope, infrared equipment and DNA testing.  Each completed experiment helps the students advance to the next level. 

About 8,000 schoolchildren in the region take part each year in a program called The Inventors, in which they work with designers and engineering firms to build special film props for use in an adventure movie for children.  The adventure challenge the students to compete in creating their own inventions and presenting them on a Web site.  Another 1,500 kids take part in BrainTrigger, in which they work with local companies to develop innovative solutions in the fields of sustainability, mobility, safety and health.  Brains Award Eindhoven is a competition for and by students in which they explore their own entrepreneurial qualities. 

For adults, Digital City Eindhoven attracts a half-million visitors monthly to a Web-based social media tool that encourages residents to learn more about the region.  A WMO Portal involves 20 organizations in answering resident questions on health care, social services and housing.  Bestuuronline puts political meetings in the city of Eindhoven online, while Virtual Helmond involves residents of that city in decision-making about planning, building designs and street furniture.  Croplook is a real-time crop information system.  For any 25x25 km area, it reports on what is planted, yields and total biomass production.  ExpatGuideHolland is a Web site for foreigners who are relocating into the region.  It strives to simplify the stressful process of moving into an unfamiliar place and increases the region's attractiveness to international knowledge workers. 

They know how to have fun in Eindhoven as well.  An online game called SenseOfTheCity allows anyone with a GPS-equipped mobile phone to create a personal map of the city and identify what they like best and least.  A 12-day festival called STRP, which attracts 225,000 visitors, features music, film, live performances, interactive art, light art and robotics.  GLOW is another festival that celebrates Eindhoven's history as home to the Phillips lighting division.  The center of the city of Eindhoven is transformed for 10 days into an open-air museum of design in light, much of it interactive, for 65,000 visitors. 

Investment in Glass

With so much riding on the the region's broadband infrastructure, quality of service is a top priority. Eindhoven is one of Europe's most active regions when it comes to investing in fiber-optic networks.  The investment takes many forms.  The private carrier Reggefiber has cabled two cities with 125,000 residents and is currently deploying in cities with another 117,000 people.   

The decision to make these investments was triggered by leadership from the public sector and cooperative projects.  Kenniswijk ("Knowledge City") was a fiber pilot project funded by the Dutch government that connected 15,000 houses to a fiber network.  This was followed by OnsNet ("Our Net"), a cooperative formed by two local residents, Kees Rover (a retired banking executive) and Henri Smits (director of a local housing corporation), who were determined to improve the quality of life in the small village of Nuenen.  The two successfully lobbied the Dutch government to capitalize deployment of fiber to 7,500 of Neunen's 8,000 homes, achieving a 97% penetration level within 3 months of start-up. 

The success of OnsNet is less about capital, however, than about community.  OnsNet organized workshops for the community to explain what the project would mean to them.  Property owners were asked to pay for the "last-mile" connection from the core network into their buildings.  The concept of ownership – both actual and emotional – was vital.  The case for citizens to put their own money into operating the coop was simple, according to Kees Rover: they were investing in a home improvement that would increase the value of their property.  The citizens of Nuenen own 95% of OnsNet and join technical and operational executives at meetings to identify new ideas and solve current problems.  And the pace of innovation has been unceasing.  An online exercise and weight-loss program, with a "virtual fitness coach," is popular.  A "Window on Nuenen" channel provides access to video cameras strategically positioned around town, which allows the housebound elderly to stay connected to the life of the community.  The OnsNet community TV service trains locals in the use of video equipment and makes it simple to upload video clips.  Clubs and societies post video of their meetings and events.  A local church offers live broadcasts of baptisms and weddings on a paid basis.  Parents and grandparents chat over video with children and grandchildren far away. 

The spirit of broadband cooperation is contagious.  Twenty-one social service organizations in the SRE have formed a broadband consortium (www.breedbandeindhoven.nl) to share access to their individual networks.  Brainport is currently doing a demand study among social organizations for deployment of a wireless access network across the region.  The nonprofit Eindhoven Fiber eXchange Foundation (www.efx.nl) was established by the City of Eindhoven and the Eindhoven University of Technology to further accelerate fiber deployment and use.  It interconnects service providers throughout the region, which lets all the players make the most efficient use of their assets.   

Connecting the Components

Eindhoven region companies are pioneering on multiple fronts.  Venture-backed companies include Dialogs Unlimited, which provides software for speech-based applications, and Kalydo, which makes production software for putting 3D games online.  Another start-up, Schiebroek, has developed an "energy roof" that embeds heat exchangers invisibly into roofing.  But the story of two other companies illustrates how coordination and matchmaking from Brainport enables local companies to do well while contributing to the welfare of the community.

Paradigit is a systems integrator founded in a university dormitory that built a fast-growing business producing build-to-order PCs and name-brand systems. Through membership in Brainport, the company identified an opportunity that turned into a program called SKOOL.  This program pro¬vides over 800 Dutch primary schools with a combination of hardware and software that vastly simplifies the integration of information technology into education.  Students receive SKOOL laptops from Paradigit.  When students start up the laptops for the first time, the systems automatically connect to the SKOOL server, download all of the applications specified for that school and configure themselves.  SKOOL provides remote management of all servers and PCs at its client schools, as well as an online interface for students and teachers to communicate and share content securely.  So "bullet-proof" are the hardware and software that SKOOL's technical support department consists of just three people. 

DAF Trucks is one of the world's largest manufacturers of heavy vehicles.  You could be forgiven for thinking that DAF makes big things that drive down the road, but what they really produce is reliability and low cost of ownership in transport.  Every DAF truck is loaded with sensors that monitor the performance of hundreds of systems.  When onboard computers detect problems, they connect via mobile phone to DAF's servers so that DAF's tech support department can diagnose problems and alert the trucking company.  If a DAF truck breaks down by the side of the road, it automatically alerts DAF, which arranges to dispatch help from a local dealer.  The pride and joy of DAF is its training center in Eindhoven, where it provides both face-to-face and Web-based training to dealers across Europe. DAF's success brings transport industry workers and executives from throughout Europe to Eindhoven, which has helped make the company an anchor of the region's automotive cluster. 

Eindhoven faces the same economic threats as the rest of Europe: an aging population, disruptive technology change and rising competition from low-cost emerging economies.  The region's response has been to raise its game in terms of talent, public and private-sector investment, bandwidth and business ingenuity.  They are betting that future generations will continue to find Eindhoven to be one of the world's best places to make things.  



Top 7 Conversation

J.M.L.N. Mikkers, Mayor of Veldhoven, representing the Eindhoven Region of the Netherlands, speaks with ICF Co-Founder John Jung

Eindhoven Introduction Video


Top Seven Intelligent Community 2009-2010, Smart21 Community 2008


Labor Force

Top Industries
High-tech systems and materials, automotive, medical technology, industrial design, food processing.

Broadband Penetration
74% households, 87% businesses, 80% government, 75% educational & nonprofit

Degrees Awarded Last Year
Community college 13,680; undergrade 3,680; graduate 850

3-Year Job Creation
24,000, 3,500 depending on ICT

Key Leaders
Mayor Jack Mikkers, City of Veldhoven

Arjen de Koning, President, Paradigit Group

Amandus Lundqvist, President, Eindhoven University of Technology

Learn about the Brains Eindhoven Student Innovation Competition November 2009

Join BrainsEindhoven on LinkedIn


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