Wednesday, 5 June, 2019

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The amazing economic transformation of his home town of Eindhoven in the Netherlands was described by Sander Van Amelsvoort at the recent Hunter Economic breakfast in Newcastle.

Van Amelsvoort is Director of SJS Strategy, and the Immediate Past President of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce Australia. He provided an international case study in collaboration between the business sector, local government and a university that has resulted in development of a vibrant innovation ecosystem.

Eindhoven was synonymous with the electronics company Phillips. In the 1990s, Phillips undertook a massive restructure. Headquarters shifted to Amsterdam and the company shed thousands of jobs in Eindhoven. Another significant regional company, DAF Trucks, filed for bankruptcy. One-third of Eindhoven’s workforce, 30,000 people, lost their jobs. The resulting economic downturn spelled the end for numerous smaller businesses, including the meat wholesale business owned by Van Amelsvoort’s father.

From crisis, Eindhoven has successfully transitioned its economy over two decades. It is now the heart of one of the most innovative regions in Europe. With only four per cent of the Netherlands population, the Greater Eindhoven area - now known as the 'Brainport' region - generates 44 per cent of the country’s patents and 19 per cent of its private investment.

How can Eindhoven’s experiences inform development of the Hunter’s innovation ecosystem?

Smart + Together = Strong summarises the winning formula for Eindhoven, Van Amelsvoort stated. He offered the following advice based on their experiences:

No cut-and-paste solution

Too many regions have tried to become the next Silicon Valley. There are unique reasons why Silicon Valley developed in the way it did. You need to understand the region’s unique endowments. What is your heritage, and what are key capabilities built over the years? How do you leverage your strengths?

Collaborate to compete Knowledge needs to be shared. Eindhoven responded to their crisis by bringing together three key institutions – the university, the business chamber and the city council – to drive change. To optimise this ‘triple helix model’, you need to align your knowledge institutions with capabilities provided by other assets and resources. Do not make it too complex. Avoid fragmentation and duplication.

To create consensus, draw together the relevant actors to agree on and pursue a strategic vision for the region. Convince them of the necessity and the benefits of collaboration. That is not easy.

Bring together the resources, people and networks with the shared purpose to develop the entrepreneurial and intellectual potential of the region. That shared purpose should include attracting to the region both talent and innovative firms.

These elements provide competitive advantage. Van Amelsvoort noted, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

Trust is needed

Trust is another key element in Eindhoven’s success. Jan Mengelers,President of the Executive Board of Eindhoven University of Technology was quoted as saying: “The ‘top 50 people’ [in the Brainport region] all have each other’s phone number. And if one of them calls you, you pick up. Even on the weekend. And if something needs to happen, then together you get it done in no time. That is the unique strength of Eindhoven.”

You work together to get the region ahead, even if it does not serve your purposes in the short term. That is a real advantage for smaller and smarter cities. If you look at the really big cities, such extensive alignment and commitment can be more difficult to achieve. Do not underestimate the value of the network that is here today [at the Hunter Economic Breakfast], to collaborate and create a shared sense of purpose, Van Amelsvoort explained.

Never let a good crisis go to waste

Nothing substitutes for having your back against the wall. It allows you to do things that you previously thought were not possible. The period that Eindhoven went through in the late 90s and early 2000s could have easily turned the region inward. That has happened elsewhere.Countries decide it is a big scary world out there and choose to close themselves off from it.

In Eindhoven, they chose to collectively embrace a new reality. That is part of the conversation that needs to take place, in Eindhoven and increasingly across the world. Rather than seeing themselves as isolated entities, Van Amelsvoort concluded, key actors came together with the shared purpose of creating that single over-arching goal, the prosperity of the Brainport region.

Click here to download the breakfast presentations.

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