Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Delft U. Builds Innovation Hub

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Delft U. Builds Innovation Hub

Article excerpt

Delft, the Dutch city famous for its locally manufactured blue-and-white pottery and historic center, hopes someday to be even better known as an innovation hub. A new technology cluster is emerging in and around the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), one of three technical universities in the Netherlands and a force in European applied and fundamental research.

Across Europe, cities with renowned technical universities are establishing technology parks to give not only graduates an opportunity to become entrepreneurs but also enterprises with strong R&D needs quick and easy access to local expertise. Especially in tiny Netherlands, competition to attract and retain bright minds is huge. High-tech giant Philips, for instance, has established a technology cluster, the High-Tech Campus, directly on its corporate research site--in close collaboration with the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU Eindhoven).

Knowledge Valorization

The buzzword in Dutch engineering schools these days is "knowledge valorization," a relatively new term that has emerged in the country's ongoing discussion on the need to turn knowledge into value and gain an edge in Europe's increasingly knowledge-based economy. Key valorization goals include carrying out research programs funded by public-private initiatives, collaborating with small and medium-sized businesses, placing research facilities at the disposal of companies, and helping alumni and academic staff start their own technology enterprises using knowledge available at the university.

One of several knowledge valorization initiatives to emerge from TU Delft so far is the Young Entrepreneurs Society (YES!Delft). The initiative, established in association with the Municipality of Delft and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, encourages and supports students, researchers, professors, and entrepreneurs in all phases of launching and running high-tech startups. It includes a three-year incubator program that provides office facilities and on-site equipment such as a clean room, a network of coaches and industry contacts, and access to the university's labs, wind tunnel and other technical facilities. Also, a two-year extension plan, known at the "Growth Center," is available to startups that have completed the incubator phase but require additional time and support to establish their business.

Seed money of up to 12,000 [euro] (US$17,000) is available to YES!Delft ventures through the TU Delft and the Rabobank Delftlanden. Venture capitalists have also shown growing interest in the program. Last year, their investments in 39 startups were more than 5 million [euro], nearly a tenfold increase over the previous year. Around 80 percent of it came from foreign investors. Startups typically need about two years to complete a prototype before venture capital flows, according to Lesley Fockema Andreae, manager of the YES!Delft incubation center.

Each year, YES!Delft accepts between 12 and 15 startups. "We are very selective," Fockema Andreae says. "Only around 10 percent of the applicants make it. We're more interested in quality than quantity." The program, which has between 40 and 45 ventures under its wing each year, has been instrumental in the launch of several companies: Ampelmann, for instance, has designed a ship-based self-stabilizing platform for safe, easy and fast access to a wide variety of offshore structures by actively compensating for the wave-induced motions of an offshore vessel; Epyon offers ultra-fast charging solutions for electric vehicles using nanotechnology; and Ephicas provides innovative aerodynamic solutions for trailers, trucks and buses.

Aerodynamic Startup

Ephicas was launched in 2006 by two young Belgian aerospace graduate students: Gandert van Raemdonck, who is currently researching aerodynamic flow behavior around bodies with a broad, flattened front for his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, and his younger brother Hjalmar with a masters in composites. …

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