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Innovative companies and leading knowledge institutes in the Arnhem – Nijmegen and Wageningen region join forces around the themes of Food, Health, and Energy. Together they form ‘Lifeport‘, with which they want to grow into an important innovative region in the Netherlands, Europe, and far beyond.

Sigrid Helbig

“Food, health, and energy are important themes that matter if we want to keep things alright in this world,” says Sigrid Helbig, director of The Economic Board, a triple helix collaboration between government, knowledge institutes, and the business community in the Arnhem – Nijmegen and Wageningen region. “And it is precisely in these areas that a lot is happening in our region. We have excellent universities, scientists, and innovative companies here. These include a Max Planck institute, Alliander, NXP, Amplion, and the Novio Tech Campus. We have companies with sometimes billions in turnover and enormous innovative power. We are rather modest and sometimes do not realize that we really have something special in our hands.” All the available knowledge and expertise does not automatically lead to a region that strengthens itself. That has to change, according to The Economic Board.

Mainport status

With the Lifeport concept, innovative companies and knowledge institutes in the region join forces around the spearheads of Food, Health, and Energy. In the Arnhem-Nijmegen region, for example, a great deal of hard work is being done in many areas on new techniques that contribute to faster recovery of patients after an illness.

Researchers in Wageningen and Nijmegen are working on innovations to influence people’s lifestyles in such a way that healthier choices are made. This is done, for example, through the Food and Cognition program where renowned scientists study how nutrition affects our brain.

And solutions are being sought for energy issues and related behavioral change, for example through Connectr – Energy Innovation. At Industriepark Kleefse Waard in Arnhem, the power of knowledge institutions and companies comes together. This is where innovations in the field of new energy originate and grow.

Connectr, artist’s impression

With Lifeport, the triple helix collaboration of businesses, knowledge institutes, and governments within The Economic Board sets high standards. The goal is to obtain a mainport status. So far, the Netherlands has three regions with mainport status: Rotterdam Port, Amsterdam Airport, and Eindhoven Brainport. These areas are recognized by the government as ‘economic core areas of national significance’ and therefore have access to attention and national resources. This has a direct impact on the business climate, facilities, research & development, and infrastructure. “They need to watch you before they see you. Lifeport is like the rubber band that brings the varied bouquet of flowers together”, says Helbig. “Lifeport has to connect the innovations and the accompanying stories.”

Impact on people and society

“The strength of Lifeport lies in innovation combined with the human aspect,” says Pim van Zanen, director of marketing and communications at Radboud University. “We are working in this region with all the companies and researchers on the development of a better world, with the necessary reflection on what the impact is on people and society. That’s a great message to spread together. It fits in with what we stand for.”

Kristie Lamers, director of RvN@, a network organization for SMEs that stimulates innovation and economic growth in the Rijk van Nijmegen region, also sees opportunities for Lifeport. “If you want to participate in large-scale projects, if you want to raise large funds, it helps if you have a strong profile. Of course, you can ask yourself whether these are the only themes that distinguish us, but I understand that you have to make a choice as a region.”

Actually, there has been some discussion about which sectors are the focus, Helbig says: “Why not logistics or tourism? Bottom line is that we are the strongest in the Food, Health, and Energy sectors, that’s our building block. With this focus, you also attract other companies and researchers from those sectors.”

Helbig realizes that this will not happen overnight. She refers to Brainport, which over the years has emphatically put itself on the international map. “Philips almost fell over and everything was done to strengthen the region’s strength. That’s how Brainport came to life, some 27 years ago now. In 2018, they were awarded the mainport status. It’s a long-term business.”


Lifeport was launched last year and has been used regularly on social media ever since. However, it’s not a real movement yet. There is no huge marketing budget available to promote Lifeport. “We started slowly,” says Helbig. “It’s being built from the bottom up, so to speak. Of course, the past year has seen a lot of standstills, but that applies to everything and everyone. We have to keep it up the coming years and together turn Lifeport into something that’s fully embedded.”

According to her, the region certainly sees its importance. “It offers an opportunity to raise funds, but also, for example, to retain highly educated people for the region. It is precisely by working together that companies can maintain and even increase their competitiveness.”

“It’s not just about the glitter,” says Lamers. “Individual SMEs don’t always use Lifeport, but we will certainly actively use it for larger projects involving multiple parties.”

“At some point a kind of flywheel will emerge,” Van Zanen thinks. Then the concept will strengthen itself and there will be a breeding ground for special combinations and more regional cooperation”.

What is currently happening within Lifeport?

Lifeport & Health: Healthcare is the largest sector in the region and an essential link in the regional knowledge economy. Lifeport is a leader in a number of areas:

  • drug discovery & development;
  • digital health;
  • neuroscience / healthy brain.

Lifeport & Food: The focus of innovation and knowledge in the field of agri and food production lies in the Food Valley region. The focus within Lifeport is on the crossover between Food (nutrition) and Health. Lifeport is at the forefront of:

  • Chip and digital technological innovations in the field of food, agriculture and health (OnePlanet);
  • Food and cognition.

Lifeport & Energy: Lifeport has a distinctive proposition in the Netherlands as a manufacturer of the equipment to produce hydrogen. Within Lifeport there is a deliberate focus on making the energy supply and battery storage more sustainable. Lifeport has a strong presence in the Netherlands for:

  • electrical energy technology;
  • sustainable propulsion systems;
  • electrochemical energy storage.

Overarching within Lifeport, high-tech developments take place in combination with Health and Food to help realize a sustainable future. In this way, Lifeport is strong in:

  • chip integration;
  • radio frequency;
  • Artificial Intelligence.