WHICH CAME FIRST: THE ECOSYS­TEM OR THE STP?

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You'd think a coun­try like Hol­land didn't have any press­ing na­tional chal­lenges that needed to be tack­led. But Floris de Gelder, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of the Utrecht Sci­ence Park in the Nether­lands, puts us straight. “We do have sev­eral loom­ing chal­lenges to ad­dress. Other coun­tries seem to think it should be the ris­ing sea lev­els, but we have 800 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in wa­ter man­age­ment in a coun­try be­low sea level,” he laughs. “It's im­por­tant, of course, and it's ex­pen­sive and we have a lot of won­der­ful knowl­edge which we use in our own coun­try to showcase. Another im­por­tant chal­lenge is the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. The mix is chang­ing very fast and main­tain­ing the price of health­care is be­com­ing a pri­or­ity. We need to take steps now to make sure that when we have more of the el­derly and less of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion, we can still keep health­care stan­dards high,” he says.

At Utrecht STP, in­ci­den­tally, life sciences and sus­tain­abil­ity are two prom­i­nent ar­eas of fo­cus. Like many in­stances in the Nether­lands of sec­tor-spe­cific STPs evolv­ing in cer­tain ar­eas, de Gelder as­sures us this is not by de­sign but is some­thing that just tran­spired or­gan­i­cally. “No STP is

“OUR AGENDA NOW IS TO TELL A GOOD DUTCH STORY. THE NETHER­LANDS IS PRAC­TI­CALLY ONE LARGE CITY – WE ARE 17 MIL­LION PEO­PLE, HOME TO FIVE OF THE WORLD’S 100 BEST UNIVER­SI­TIES, HAVE ONE VERY BIG AIR­PORT AND ONE HAR­BOUR. WITH IN­CREAS­INGLY BIG CI­TIES BE­COM­ING SUC­CESS­FUL PLACES OF IN­NO­VA­TION, WE CAN TELL OUR STORY BET­TER IF ALL THE STPS IN THE COUN­TRY SAID IT TO­GETHER.”

FLORIS DE GELDER Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Utrecht Sci­ence Park

di­rectly owned by the gov­ern­ment so there is re­ally no over­ar­ch­ing man­date dic­tat­ing the sec­tors and ar­eas that we should fo­cus on,” he says. For a so­phis­ti­cated so­ci­ety like Hol­land's, it's nei­ther nec­es­sary nor good for the gov­ern­ment to be on the front line of the STP business, de Gelder says. “We can act much faster and be more dy­namic the far­ther we are from gov­ern­ment over­sight. What we have, and pre­fer, is a small gov­ern­ment work­ing at the high­est level of ab­strac­tion and peo­ple on the ground work­ing with the busi­nesses.” By and large, all STPs in the Nether­lands are cen­tred on univer­si­ties and the ecosys­tems that evolve around them are un­der­stand­ably linked to the univer­sity's spe­cial­i­sa­tion. “In the case of Eind­hoven, the STP was in­flu­enced by the en­vi­ron­ment Phillips had cre­ated over the decades and also the Eind­hoven Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy,” he says. Sim­i­larly, Delft Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, with its ex­per­tise in typ­i­cal Dutch in­ge­nu­ity in wa­ter man­age­ment and civil en­gi­neer­ing, led to the spawn­ing of sim­i­lar com­pa­nies around it, and the Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity spawned Food Val­ley which is re­garded as one of the largest food, nu­tri­tion and food se­cu­rity clus­ters in the world. “The stronger and bet­ter fo­cused your ecosys­tem is, the more business it at­tracts,” he says.

De Gelder be­lieves that their ca­pa­bil­ity around life sciences prob­a­bly started with a small group of pro­fes­sors and sci­en­tists with the right kind of en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. “They were a small part of a large univer­sity but they had great re­la­tion­ships with the business com­mu­nity. Soon the busi­nesses around life sciences picked up the fastest, at­tract­ing more com­pa­nies,” he says. This way the com­pa­nies and ecosys­tem were feed­ing into each other and it is dif­fi­cult to say which came first, only that they can now of­fer one of the best and stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ments for re­search in that area. Also, be­cause over 2,500 stu­dents live on the STP cam­pus, there is an air of con­stant ac­tiv­ity, no mat­ter what time of the day, he says.

Though Utrecht Sci­ence Park is sit­u­ated on the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Utrecht, it is not for­mally con­nected to the

univer­sity. This was a con­scious decision made dur­ing its for­ma­tion, ac­cord­ing to de Gelder. They chose be a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which works for the provin­cial gov­ern­ment, city coun­cil, the univer­si­ties in the area, and the business com­mu­nity. “Though the land is owned by the univer­sity and it is part of our board of direc­tors, the sci­ence park is in­de­pen­dent. For the univer­sity, the core business is ed­u­ca­tion and re­search and this is some­thing else al­to­gether. To run a good STP, you need ex­cel­lent hos­pi­tal­ity skills, be out­go­ing and speak the lan­guage of en­trepreneurs; knowl­edge that the univer­sity by def­i­ni­tion doesn't have. Now, all of us are part of the ecosys­tem, on an equal ba­sis and ful­fill­ing dif­fer­ent roles. So with a small, dy­namic, cred­i­ble and in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tion lead­ing de­vel­op­ment within a univer­sity cam­pus, we have man­aged to com­bine the best of both worlds.”

Most of the 82 com­pa­nies at Utrecht are Dutch and a majority of them spe­cialise in life sciences re­search. The year 2009 was a turn­ing point for the STP with the en­try of its first MNC, the French company Danone. “Danone de­cided to es­tab­lish the re­search head­quar­ters for Europe in med­i­cal and baby nu­tri­tion in USP. Be­fore this we too were grap­pling with ques­tions like should we have large com­pa­nies in our STP and, if so, do we need to im­pose spe­cial con­di­tions on them to en­sure they don't be­come too dom­i­nant. For us it was an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment. We had small com­pa­nies emerg­ing from our in­cu­ba­tors, we had medium-sized, fast-grow­ing com­pa­nies, but the big MNCs were good for rep­u­ta­tion and cre­at­ing vol­ume. They also have larger re­search bud­gets and at­tract in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tists. That year was also when we were think­ing about our value propo­si­tion, whether we were telling a good story and de­liv­er­ing some­thing the world was wait­ing for. But be­ing able to at­tract a company like Danone, which be­lieves in open in­no­va­tion, showed us we were on the right track,” he says. Utrecht doesn't want fences. When you stand out­side Danone, you can see what's hap­pen­ing in the build­ing. You can see the pi­lot plans, look into the rooms where the new prod­ucts are tasted, de Gelder says. “And a company with a great rep­u­ta­tion and high level of knowl­edge is al­ways great for a sci­ence park. They act as a mag­net for other com­pa­nies. Danone's en­try in­vig­o­rated the stake­hold­ers, made a real team out of us and helped ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of the next phase of the STP

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