This white paper is written to initiate a constructive dialogue about how to make the Eindhoven-Brainport region more future proof and globally visible. It is largely based on the MSc thesis “How to make the innovation ecosystem of Eindhoven future proof: Insights from an innovation system foresight study” by Jolan Hulscher, a recent graduate from the Innovation Management master-program of the TU/e.
Technology-driven companies, local governments, research institutes and universities are looking increasingly for opportunities to collaborate in so-called innovation ecosystems to fuel economic growth, international competitiveness, and social well-being. The Brainport- Eindhoven region in the Netherlands is a prime example of a well-functioning innovation ecosystem. Eindhoven was praised by Forbes in 2013 as the most inventive city in the world, and Business Insider and The New York Times described the Eindhoven region as a role model for design and technology experimentation. Historically, the region’s current success has been driven by companies like Philips and DAF, but also by cutting-edge technology manufacturers like ASML and NXP, the availability of high-end research facilities, and various top-level universities and schools such as TU/e and Design Academy Eindhoven. Most innovation work in this region is done on campus locations such as the High Tech Campus Eindhoven (HTCE), TU/e Campus, Automotive Campus, and Strijp S. Especially the HTCE is often praised as “the smartest square kilometer in the world.”
However, the past and current level of performance of the Eindhoven region does not give any guarantee of its success in the future. Moreover, due to globalization and scarcity of resources, regions are increasingly competing for talent and resources. As a result, it will become more and more difficult to survive and stand out. In this white paper, we, therefore, explore how the Eindhoven region can be made more future proof? Or more specifically: what are the conditions, to be created in the next few years, which enable the regional ecosystem to become more future proof and viable in the long run?
Learning from other regions
Any regional ecosystem’s current state is the result of a long history. As such, the Eindhoven ecosystem is similar to for example the Munich ecosystem: both ecosystems have been largely created around a few technology-driven companies that over time became multinational corporations, which pulled the entire local ecosystem forward. The shadow-side of this history is that Eindhoven and Munich now tend to attract mainly risk-averse (e.g. engineering) talent. Another implication of the dominance of a few large corporations is that the Eindhoven and Munich regions have an underdeveloped shared identity (going beyond e.g. Philips or BMW), which in turn undermines the ability to send a clear message to the outside world. This is especially clear if one compares the Eindhoven region to, for example, the Cambridge ecosystem that has been flourishing for a very long time.
In this respect, the Eindhoven ecosystem can learn two things from the Cambridge case, especially how the latter has developed over the last 70 years:
– How to transform the mechanism of ‘scalable efficiency’ into ‘scalable learning’, involving a shared commitment to learn deeper and faster as the basis for performance;
– The need for a stronger shared identity and message that is consistent with the ecosystem’s history, is sufficiently distinctive and appeals to a broad global audience.
Notably, these two perspectives are highly consistent with the Brainport National Action Agenda that was recently submitted to the Dutch government. But the transformation to scalable learning and a stronger shared identity also go beyond this agenda, by creating an additional set of conditions for long-term viability and performance of the Brainport ecosystem.
1. From scalable efficiency to scalable learning
The rise of exponential technologies, major demographic changes, and individual empowerment are currently transforming the nature of work, the workforce and the relationship between employer and employee. This requires fundamental changes in how innovation ecosystems, like the Eindhoven-Brainport ecosystem, operate.
In this respect, an innovation ecosystem draws on an operating mechanism that guides/informs how work is done and organized. This mechanism comes in two types: scalable efficiency and scalable learning (coined by Hagel and others). Scalable efficiency has long been the driver of the nature of work in the Eindhoven ecosystem. That is, the vast majority of work involves routine, predictable, standardized and highly integrated tasks. For example, stage-gate procedures have long served to guide and structure new product development activities in and around the large corporations in Eindhoven; these procedures divide the work process in distinct stages, separated by decision points or so-called gates.
By contrast, when the operating mechanism is scalable learning, the nature of work is defined and organized around addressing key challenges/problems, providing new services, and establishing new relationships. As such, the Eindhoven region needs to transform its ‘scalable efficiency’ approach into one driven by ‘scalable learning’, which would serve to embrace the learning-driven entrepreneurial culture that has been fueling extremely vibrant ecosystems like Cambridge.
To become future proof, the innovation ecosystem of Eindhoven must, therefore, use the force of scalable learning as a catalyst to technological innovation. To do so, the regional ecosystem needs to create conditions for scalable learning to emerge and sustain itself. Essential to this transformation is that it cannot be done top-down. Instead, the key stakeholders of the Eindhoven ecosystem should identify an ‘edge’ that embraces scalable learning and scale it via third-party resources until it achieves sufficient critical mass to sustain itself.
One way to jumpstart this process is by directing the interactions and collaborative ties between the various (open) innovation hotspots toward scalable learning: the HTCE, TU/e campus, Automotive Campus, Strijp-S, (new) Brainport Industries Campus, and any other location with major innovation activity. Here, we assume that each of these campuses has its own unique profile, but is willing to reinforce scalable learning in its collaborative ties and programs with (one or more of) the other campuses. Evidently, there are a lot of key decision- makers inside each of these campuses (e.g. the CTOs of the large corporations residing at the HTCE) that have to come on board, but we believe that a critical first step is to ignite (in a bottom-up manner) scalable learning at the edges between various campuses. Figure 1 provides a visual image of scalable learning between the various innovation hotspots (campuses) in the Eindhoven region.
This is not a theoretical exercise. There are already many collaborative ties between the various innovation hotspots in the Eindhoven ecosystem. A good example is the Innovation Space initiative as well as InnovationLab at the TU/e that have been developing ties with the HTCE. For example, in TU/e Innovation Space large numbers of students work on real-life problems in multidisciplinary teams in collaboration with firms residing at the HTCE. In this setting, students develop their imagination, creativity, and curiosity in working on major challenges with help of new innovative ideas and methods. Similarly, the HighTechXL accelerator at the HTCE has recently been reinforcing its interactions with TU/e InnovationLab’s pool of startups and entrepreneurial talent.
Another case in point is the interaction between TU/e campus and Automotive Campus, for example in terms of (former) TU/e student teams, like Team Fast, that move to the Automotive Campus to develop their technology to the next stage. To reinforce the interactions between the HTCE and the creative industry at Strijp-S, Manus VR (a spinoff of HighTechXL) recently moved to Strijp-S. Also, the HTCE-based institute Solliance brings multiple partners like VDL, TNO, and ECN together in an open innovation-driven R&D model.
Examples of scalable learning efforts resulting in new services are the Photonic Integration Technology Center (created by PhotonDelta) and the employment agency for robots “Smart Robotics”. These are just a few examples of the large number of bottom-up initiatives that thrive on the idea of scalable learning.
2. Develop a shared identity and message
In the past ten years, the Eindhoven region has become much more visible at the global level, as a result of the 2011 ICF award for Eindhoven-Brainport as the most intelligent community in the world as well as numerous articles in international journals and social media platforms. But in the global competition for talent and resources, Eindhoven is highly vulnerable because it lacks a clear profile, compared to more prominent innovation ecosystems like Cambridge (UK), Boston (USA) and Silicon Valley (USA) as well as big urban ecosystems like Paris, London, Singapore, and Berlin.
In this respect, scalable learning will allow the Eindhoven ecosystem to become more future- proof. But it also needs to develop a stronger shared identity and message, especially to be more visible and attractive in the global competition for talent and resources. The landing page of Brainport-Eindhoven’s website is currently branding the region as “Europe’s leading innovative top technology region”. Clearly, this is not a message that differentiates the region effectively from for example the Berlin or Boston ecosystems.
What kind of shared identity and message would make the Eindhoven region stand out, in the eyes of investors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and students abroad? Four requirements appear to be essential here: the shared identity of Eindhoven needs to (a) be consistent with the ecosystem’s history, (b) be sufficiently distinctive, (c) provide a strong platform for future growth, and (d) appeal to a broad, worldwide audience. Notably, this shared message does not have to embrace all innovation activity in the Eindhoven-Brainport region, it merely needs to reflect the common denominator.
An obvious answer to the question raised above is “lighting technology” or “lighting tech”. In other words, the shared identity and message would be:
Eindhoven = the world’s leading ecosystem in Lighting Technology
This shared message meets all the four requirements defined earlier. Eindhoven has a long history in this area, due to Philips’ pioneering role in developing light technologies for office, home, industrial, healthcare, and medical purposes. The lighting technology message also fits ASML’s commitment to photolithographic systems and the new (EUV light) generation of these systems it has been developing, as well as NXP’s mission to develop secure connectivity solutions.
This message also reflects various other research programs in the area of optic and photonic technology, for example in the Holst Centre (OLED in smart environments), Solliance (solar power technology), SMART photonics (using light in photonic semiconductors), and the TU/e Intelligent Lighting Institute. Moreover, many artists and designers residing in the region, including many graduates from the Design Academy, creatively use light in their work.
Overall, this means that many key actors in the ecosystem already have a strong affiliation with light and lighting technology, and various new initiatives also demonstrate a commitment to future work in this area. Therefore, we propose Lighting Tech as the shared message of the Eindhoven innovation ecosystem. This shared message should be used creatively, to combine initiatives and efforts throughout the Brainport ecosystem. This message is not only about light and lighting, it is about all the technologies, infrastructure and stakeholders that are needed to create it.
Combining both perspectives
We can now connect the two perspectives on how to make the Eindhoven ecosystem more future proof. First, we argued that a ‘scalable learning’ model has to be developed, involving a shared commitment to learn deeper and faster as the basis for the ecosystem’s performance and excellence. Second, we demonstrated that the global battle for talent and resources requires a stronger shared identity and external message about the heart and soul of the ecosystem. We proposed “lighting tech” as the shared identity of this ecosystem.
The ‘scalable learning’ and ‘lighting technology’ perspectives are highly complementary in making the Eindhoven ecosystem more future proof. For example, R&D programs that exploit or advance (any form of) Lighting Technology can be given priority in developing new learning platforms and collaborative ties at the edges of the various campuses in the region. This would motivate the global players, research institutes, universities, startups, and other firms to help reinforce the Eindhoven ecosystem’s leading role in lighting technology, while it gives each of these actors sufficient discretion to also invest in completely different technological domains. Moreover, the synthesis of scalable learning and lighting technology also makes for a convincing “what you see is what you get” message to a global audience of potential investors, students, entrepreneurs and other people that may decide to move to Eindhoven: that is, any newcomer attracted by the Lighting Tech message, after arrival, will encounter the sediments of this message throughout the ecosystem.
This shared message has to be systematically communicated via websites, social media platforms, global networks, and so forth. And we have to sustain this message over time. Such a consistent and sustained message provides a clear proposition for the global startup-tech community and serves as a shared identity that the rest of the ecosystem can build on. Figure 2 outlines the resulting perspective on how the Eindhoven ecosystem can become more future proof.
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