What does it take to revitalize a region after a major industry sector pulls out? Although the answer depends on the context, the region of Twente, a rural area situated in the eastern part of the Netherlands has shown how it is done. Through an entrepreneurial spirit, a strong regional network and having embedded knowledge institutions into its region it has regenerated itself.
The collapse of an industry
Following the collapse of the textile industry in the 1950s, unemployment rates spiked and infrastructures remained unused. The region of Twente was in a desperate need for new impetus. Starting its education life in 1961 as a technical university, the University of Twente (UT) turned out to be a central part of the answer to the region’s issues.
The university has, through a strong entrepreneurial institutional culture, its human resource strategy and strong regional network, helped its region back on its feet. However, whilst the university was a driving factor, it certainly was not developing the region alone with an essential factor being the regional networks and their willingness to engage with UT. The buy-in of local SMEs, regional government and the Saxion University of Applied Sciences were also key drivers behind regional innovation and growth.
The role of the University of Twente
The joint unwavering commitment to the regional innovation and growth in the region of Twente have enabled the University of Twente to become a world-class entrepreneurial university in the past few decades, and deservedly crowned as the number one in the Valorization University Awards in 2015 held in Amsterdam. The university facilitated in the region an average annual production of 100 start-ups, which to date have created 20,000 jobs, and launched 1,000 spin-offs, a sum that accounts for 10% of the fastest growing high-tech companies in the Benelux countries.
Both universities have embraced entrepreneurship as the way forward. Through Designlabs, FabLabs, and integration of business in the curriculum students become equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset and work with business on a frequent basis. This has already led to a wide number of student start-ups, amongst which Booking.com, Takeaway.com or more recently SciSports. With the support of Novel-T, the innovation and acceleration arm of the regional stakeholders, SciSports has just received a €1.8m investment to expand its business and make the next step.
Proximity is key
The strong relationships in the region are key to its success. Rather than looking at cooperating with multinationals, the UT has focused its efforts on its neighbors and on some occasions, spin-offs. Its science park hosts a wide range of businesses (e.g. DEMCON) and research facilities that collaborate with the university. MESA+, its 1.250m2 high tech nanolab has resulted in a number of spin-offs by researchers which are hosted in the High Tech Factory, a commercial UT nanolab that currently hosts over 20 companies. To facilitate these steps, the UT also hosts and supports several venture capital firms such as Cottonwood, Twente Technology Fund and the Dutch Student Investment Fund.
This unique ecosystem has allowed for intellectual capital generation, launching platforms to find its application in practice, and orchestrating a regional ecosystem to anchor the practices into the fabric of society. By our definition, this leveraged role of the universities has become increasingly important, particularly across Europe, not only in fostering economic growth and job creation, but also stimulating the platforms for art, culture, and creativity.
However, change does not happen overnight. The University of Twente has propelled the economic and social transformation process in Twente region in slow, but steady steps. Although the role of government should not be undervalued in this, to a large extent the institutional innovation strategy has been shaped by its leadership, and through their human resource strategy, by its staff. This is what makes it so difficult for universities to make the leap from their current way of going about things to becoming more entrepreneurial and innovative. The University of Twente has gone through a long but stable process of embedding its organization with an entrepreneurial culture. Through hiring staff with the right mindset, and enabling them to practice entrepreneurship in their daily work the university has a greater impact on its students and regional society.
Read more on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Twente at: www.ub-cooperation.eu