Sport and innovation get a lot of attention nowadays. From the national government, there is a knowledge and innovation agenda sports 2015 – 2020, and a programme Sportinnovator with field labs. At the regional level, you have BrabantSport. An initiative of the province of Noord-Brabant which brings together parties that focus on sports for people with disabilities, talent development, and innovation. The latter happens in the Cluster Sport and Technology, in which companies such as Holst/imec and Sport eXperience, knowledge institutions such as TU/e and Fontys, the municipality of Eindhoven and the province of Noord-Brabant have found each other.

Fifteen years ago it was a different story, says René Wijlens, manager of Cluster Sports and Technology. “At the time, sport and technology was another area of which we were wondering how we could broaden it. How do you let people know who are active in it?” Wijlens was then co-initiator of the first National Sport and Innovation Congress. On 8 October, the fifteenth edition will take place at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven.

“If you look at it now, every week you can participate in an event about sport, knowledge, and innovation. When we started this was the only congress in that field. It was an eye-opening congress to offer people who are active in it a platform to meet each other. And that has remained the essence of our congress.” Over the years, the implementation of the conference has changed, Wijlens continues. Last year, for example, there was a tour along the fields “where the innovations happen”. The field labs at Tongelreep and Woensel Noord were visited and there was a visit to the High Tech Campus where Roel Voorwald told about what he and Laurens Oosterwijk do with their company Corporate Vitality.

Because that is also what is happening: it is not only about the sport and how an athlete can get the best out of himself, but it is also about vitality, getting more people active. This year’s programme is in line with this development. Wijlens wants to show what is done with the innovations. “Innovation is fun but it must lead to something.” This year it is a combination of an experience conference with attention for making people vital, getting the best out of themselves, value creation in business economics ‘how to get a business case out of innovations’, and you can experience, in ‘experience rooms’, what others have actually done. In the latter case, the European project Nano4Sport gives an insight into what possibilities sensor technology offers to make people more active. “We are always looking for current themes where we can link to.” Koen Schobbers, e-sport expert at NOS and FOX Sport, is a speaker. He was the first gamer to be awarded top sports status.

“This year as well, we have managed to find speakers who can tell us something about what is happening in a broader perspective.” Wijlens refers to speakers such as Ad van Berlo, a lecturer at TU/e and founder VanBerlo, and John Baekelmans, managing director and Vice President imec. “They are both in vital and smart environments. One from the design point of view, the other from sensor technology. Both are relevant to the development in the vital and smart environments.”

The central theme is “connecting people”. “We want to connect people in different areas of expertise. But it also refers to making connections to people to get them more active. When you think about smart, vital cities, it is also about connecting the people in the city with the possibilities that a city has to offer and connecting them to each other. The story of John Baekelmans will take up on that.”  

Rob Müller, managing director of Nea International and board member of the S&T foundation, sees the role of a national sports innovation congress, even after fifteen years, as a place for inspiration. And it facilitates athletes, non-sporters, companies and knowledge institutions to meet each other. “In this triangle, you can come up with successful products that allow more people to play sports and bring sports performance to a higher level.” His company makes orthopaedic braces to prevent injuries to joints. An example of the “triangle avant la lettre”. In the early eighties, two medical specialists from the Maastricht University Hospital, Dr Cees Rein van den Hoogenband, and Prof. Dr Co Greep, had the idea of transforming the tape bandage into a textile product. They wanted to know whether this could be successful and whether it was sufficiently feasible. They looked for a company in South Limburg that could advise them about the development and production. “It was from this collaboration that our organization Nea International eventually started in the being of 1986.”

What is also interesting for Müller is the Dutch Sports Innovation Award, which will be presented for the tenth time this year. “We always try to lead the way in the innovative character of the products that prevent sports injuries. If we come up with another innovation, we will certainly go for that price.” Should Müller and his company ever win the prize, he sees it as a recognition for those who support the product: his employees and the institutions that have contributed to it. “This recognition is very pleasant and it generates publicity. It supports the innovative value of your product.” Previous winners of the prize included IPOS Technology reins sensors, Arion’s smart running sole, and Smart Goals’ pawns.

Chris Heger, co-founder of Smart Goals won the prize in 2015. “At that time, we were mainly active in the Netherlands and were gradually looking for a way abroad. Being the best Dutch sports innovations certainly helped in the export and the discussions with potential partners.” For him, the jury report was of greater value than the prize itself, he says. “For a whole year, you can say ‘we are the clap skate of 2015’.” The winner receives 15,000 euros: 5,000 cash, 5,000 support and 5,000 press attention.

The National Sport and Innovation Congress is on October 8 at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. Registration for the Dutch Sports Innovation Award is possible until September 18.

Registration for the conference can be done via this link.