Marc Cootjans

Brainport, the hub of the high-tech manufacturing industry in south east Brabant in The Netherlands, is growing as never before. One of the parties facilitating this growth is the Rabobank. This cooperative bank is pumping some 700 million euros into the further development of the Brainport region over the next two years. Last year, Rabobank already spent 300 million to support start-ups, scale-ups and other innovative projects. This money is in addition to the regular forms of funding.

Focus on innovation

“Brainport is an extremely important region in Europe,” says Marc Cootjans, director of the Rabobank cooperative. “The region is very strong in a lot of areas, such as automotive, chips and medical technology.” For example, the chip cluster around ASML and NXP is an extremely important player in the world. The automotive sector is experiencing a renaissance. Initiatives such as Lightyear (a solar car) and PAL-V (a flying car) are viewed with apprehension around the world.

Brainport is strong in automotive, chips and medical technology

Rabobank has long been active as a partner in promoting innovation because the bank wants to contribute to the wellbeing and prosperity of the region, and the whole of the Netherlands for that matter. That goal is achieved primarily through innovation. The focus on innovation and high tech is another reason why Rabobank is actively supporting the Dutch Technology Week.

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    During these events, young people are encouraged to consider a future at one of the hundreds of high-tech companies in the Netherlands. Finding enough skilled professionals and knowledge workers is one of the biggest challenges for the Brainport region.

    Cooperative bank

    The bank has dedicated start-up teams that are entirely focused on supporting start-ups and scale-ups. “Our role is threefold,” says Cootjans. “We are, of course, the financial partner. But we are also very good at providing advice. Moreover, we have a solid network and can put customers in touch with each other. Precisely because of our vast experience, we are able to help start-ups and entrepreneurs who are already further along in their growth path. And help them avoid making mistakes.” For example, the bank can connect a company involved in robotics, which operates in an industrial environment, up with the agricultural world.

    As a cooperative bank, Rabobank is deeply anchored in the community – that is a historical fact. The bank tries to connect entrepreneurs to each other. This is not just a sales pitch, as evidenced by the meetings that Rabobank organizes under the name Money Meets Ideas. The name says it all: Rabobank brings its wealthy clients into contact with budding entrepreneurs who have an idea for a product or service. “The entrepreneurs, who we select rigorously in advance, get to present their idea in front of 50 to 100 investors.

    Innovation loan

    This is of interest to our high net-worth clients, and not just because investing is currently a better option than saving in most cases. Many of the investors are themselves entrepreneurs (or have been) and enjoy helping others along their way. In recent years, some 25 companies have been started this way.” In a lot of cases, the bank helps to co-finance the start-up that has resulted from such a Money Meets Ideas meeting. After all, the risk-bearing part is already being borne by the investor and the start-up.

    Which is not to say that Rabobank doesn’t take any risks. For example, the Rabo Innovation Loan has been around for years. This is what is known as a subordinated loan, and as such, it carries risk for the bank. “We take the risk together with the entrepreneur, who also puts their own money into the project,” says Mr. Hubbard. It is a widely used instrument, which has been issued at least 25 times this year, and is low-threshold by nature. Ideal for a start-up, and sometimes, also for (partially) financing the first growth phase. The Brabant Development Agency also participates in a lot of cases as a third partner (in addition to the Rabobank and the entrepreneur).

     The Place to be in Europa

    Rabobank’s involvement with Brainport goes beyond just helping to develop a favorable business climate and funding innovation. “Currently there is a shortage in the housing market. We are doing everything we can to address this problem,” says Cootjans. The labor market is also tight. In itself, it is not that difficult to get highly qualified personnel in the Brainport region. “This is a very cool region. If you want to work in the high-tech sector, this is the place to be in Europe,” says Cootjans enthusiastically. More problematic is attracting professionals on an MBO vocational training level. The bank is constantly working with the government, knowledge centers and the business community to tackle this challenge as well.

    Rabobank is active during Dutch Technology Week with a number of DTW Talks. In the DTW talk on starting and growing in the medtech sector, the bank will be speaking with, among others, the founder of Hable One, which has developed the smallest braille keyboard for smartphones for the blind and visually impaired.

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Ewout Kieckens is a Dutch journalist in Rome who writes about Italian lifestyle and culture. He has written books on diverse subjects such as the Vatican and Italian design. He is very interested in innovations, especially Italian contributions to progress.