Photo: Rob van Gijzel, mayor of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is working to build closer ties between his thriving tech community and Waterloo Region’s. He spoke to a gathering at regional headquarters in Kitchener June 11.
Worn furniture, well-used vending machines. A loose, open-concept layout, and a gutsy swagger to the place.
Rob van Gijzel liked what he saw in the Velocity Garage when he toured the Communitech Hub last year. He plans to try it out in his home city of Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
He carries a bit of sway in such matters. He’s the mayor.
“I want to have this pioneer feeling because entrepreneurship is a tough job,” van Gijzel said in an interview June 11 during a return visit to Waterloo Region. “You have to go through blockades. When you are there in such an environment, you try to pull each other over (the tough times).”
Van Gijzel led a sit-down economic tour of Eindhoven at the regional council chambers in Kitchener. He took local municipal leaders, university representatives and executives into Eindhoven’s manufacturing upheaval of the 1990s, and through a remarkable turnaround driven by the tech sector and the knowledge economy.
Last year, Forbes Magazine declared Eindhoven the world’s most inventive city, citing statistics gathered by the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation.
Eindhoven boasts 22 patents for every 10,000 citizens. San Diego, Calif., the runner-up, has 8.9 per 10,000.
Those statistics might be of interest to the nationwide membership of the Canadian Digital Media Network, based in the Hub. Over the last two years, the network has helped 101 Canadian companies “land” in cities in 18 countries, and it would like to add Eindhoven to the list.
For companies wanting to connect with Europe, “it’s really a good entry point for them to go to Eindhoven,” said Lisa Cashmore, manager of the network’s Soft Landing Program. “We can leverage that across the country.”
Eindhoven and Waterloo Region have been sending delegations back and forth for several years. They have a lot in common, these two municipal friends, and they seem to find more to share with every trip.
At 750,000, the population in the greater Eindhoven area is a bit larger than the one in the economic region covered by Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc. (CTT). CTT plays the lead role in keeping the connection active.
Both have seen market trends wallop key employers: BlackBerry, maker of smartphones, in Waterloo Region; and Royal Philips, best known for consumer electronics, in Eindhoven.
Both have offset a decline in manufacturing jobs by creating favourable conditions for a rise in tech-sector employment.
Both expect to learn from each other. CTT and its Eindhoven counterpart, Brainport Region Eindhoven, signed a strategic agreement last fall.
“We are now going to a deeper dive of opportunity,’’ John Jung, CTT’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “Not only to learn, but maybe have our businesses do things together, and attract industries, jobs and talent to each other.”
“This is bringing those six degrees of separation to two or three.”
Waterloo-based Teledyne DALSA a maker of semi-conductors and imaging systems, has a facility in Eindhoven.
Between a re-organization of Philips, and the bankruptcy of truck maker DAF, the Eindhoven area lost 10,000 jobs in the 1990s — not counting the ripple effect through suppliers.
Local government, industry and post-secondary institutions formed the “Triple Helix” to shift the region to a knowledge-based economy. The region’s 21 municipalities — small and large — seeded a stimulus fund to help new companies get started. The fund helped launch 400 projects, open 33,500 training opportunities and create 4,000 jobs.
It also built trust among the Triple Helix partners involved in the recovery, van Gijzel said. And out of that formed Brainport Region Eindhoven to push economic development as a regional municipal strength rather than a local one.
“You cannot have a marriage if you want to be the boss,” van Gijzel told his audience.
A region-wide economic development strategy is under way in Waterloo Region.
Eindhoven’s emergence as a tech centre — the Intelligent Community Forum named the region the Intelligent Community of the Year in 2011 (the City of Waterloo earned the honour in 2007) — still runs into bumps and disappointments.
Governments and banks should build more room for risk-taking in their funding policies, van Gijzel said. Approval processes often amble when they need to sprint.
And Eindhoven’s incubators and accelerators could do with fewer walls and more plain-old face-to-face collaboration of the kind, he said, he saw in the Communitech Hub. It’s something learned from the relationship with Waterloo Region.
“We cannot do everything,” he told the audience. “We need friends in the world.”