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To innovate smarter, compete in the International Ecosystem


China is just as smart as us, perhaps even smarter because they have more people, and they have just as much money. But what gives the Dutch high-tech industry an international lead is that we innovate more smartly. “We've moved from collaborating to innovating together. We do this in the ecosystem. "This is what makes the difference internationally," says Bert-Jan Woertman, director of Mikrocentrum. "The close collaboration between Mikrocentrum and Tech2B is an excellent example of innovating together. Tech2B connects (digital) ecosystems and strengthens organisations like Mikrocentrum by digitally positioning them in a network ecosystem," says Sjors Hooijen, CEO of Tech2B.

Learning from each other

“In the application of high-tech products and systems, you always need people. There is no automated value chain," says Bert-Jan, who has been at the helm at Mikrocentrum for two years but has been active in the high-tech industry for over twenty years. Always in a role in which he brings people together. Because that's what Mikrocentrum does, he says when asked to pitch. Bringing people together to inspire and learn from each other. “You no longer compete as individual companies, but as an ecosystem, as a value chain. If that ecosystem works a little smarter and faster, everyone benefits." This motivates him personally and the team at Mikrocentrum, who explicitly want to be part of this ecosystem. It is the companies that provide the themes, that spot the trends that Mikrocentrum responds to with events, training and the High Tech Platform. Bert-Jan Woertman: “We listen to the companies that know what is going on and tailor our offer to that. We facilitate the encounter; our core business is quick switching. That's why we need to be constantly alert.” Mikrocentrum's teachers also come from the high-tech and manufacturing industry and are at the heart of daily practice. “We always look for people who are applying knowledge.”

Social innovation determines success

And whether the meeting takes place at a Precision Fair or Plastics Fair, at a knowledge event like the Clean Event or in a course: learning from each other and innovating together gives the Dutch high-tech and manufacturing industry an international lead. Bert-Jan refers to a study by Professor Henk W. Volberda (University of Amsterdam). At the introduction of the Top Sectors policy, he investigated the success factors of innovation. 23% of the success comes from technical innovation; 77% is determined by social innovation. “How you connect the dynamics with the rest of the world. The social system around a technical innovation determines the success," says Bert-Jan Woertman. The Dutch high-tech and manufacturing ecosystem occupies a unique place in the world. The Dutch have traditionally been used to poldering; there is horizontal communication. And there is a lot of mutual trust. “Trust might just be the biggest asset."

Eager to Learn

You must continue to work on knowledge development. Because the world is changing fast, for example, due to the advent of Artificial Intelligence, AI. How do you ensure that the SME manufacturing company also gets on board? The Mikrocentrum director is not too worried about this. “Sometimes they need a little more time, but ultimately they embrace new technology." He notices that there is quite a thirst for knowledge in the companies. Mikrocentrum is very pleased that it can offer certain courses for participants from the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg free of charge through Brabant Leert and Limburg Leert. “With the help of the province, it costs the participants nothing. That's a golden discovery. "We saw, for example, with AI for engineers, the number of enrolments shot up by a factor of 8 to 10 when the training became free." This concept works particularly well for courses where the benefit for the participant lies slightly further in the future, such as with AI. The free offer lowers the threshold. Bert-Jan: “For knowledge that companies need tomorrow, there is always room in companies. But for courses for the day after tomorrow, the participants first have to justify it to themselves and then convince their manager. By offering the course for free, you remove these hurdles and participants really enrol for themselves. In the end, everyone benefits from this: the participants learn from teachers who come from the industry and are already applying AI, and they learn from the other participants. Then the ecosystem takes a step forward." He does see AI as an important development for the high-tech and manufacturing ecosystem. The sector will have to embrace new manufacturing technology to drive productivity. “Doing more with fewer people. Everyone sees that. Then you end up with AI: doing things smarter, better and more efficiently."

More regional outreach

Mikrocentrum sees great opportunities in connecting in and between regions. For example, in collaboration with Hi Delta, a successful networking fair, ZIE, for the manufacturing industry in South Holland has been organised; the celebration of 40 years of the High Tech Platform takes place in Eindhoven, Twente as well as Rotterdam. And the Techcafé is going on tour this year. Bert-Jan Woertman sees it as an opportunity for Mikrocentrum to connect more in the regions. “At the interface where innovations arise, such as in the port of Rotterdam; or at the intersection of technology domains, we bring networks together. What we did with ZIE in Rotterdam is very much appreciated by the companies there, but also by companies from other parts. They can expand their network in Rotterdam.” Mikrocentrum will operate more nationally in the future. “Because the Dutch high-tech and manufacturing industry continues to grow. The current contribution of the high-tech and manufacturing industry lays a solid foundation under the economy. And we can be proud of that." But no one in the ecosystem may rest on their laurels, he warns. Everyone must continue to invest, also in the further development of the ecosystem.

Bert-Jan Woertman - Director Mikrocentrum

Sjors Hooijen - CEO Tech2B 


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