30 november 2022

Neth-ER networking event showcases the importance of innovation ecosystems within twin transitions

Nienke van Liempt

Nienke van Liempt


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Cooperation between different actors in an ecosystem is key to overcome the EU’s largest challenges. That was the message from different speakers during Neth-ER’s annual networking event, which held the theme 'Ecosystems for the Green and Digital Transitions’. The event included a keynote speech by Ben Smulders, Deputy Director-General of DG Competition. Other contributions came from six speakers sharing their views on ecosystems and Henne Schuwer, president of Neth-ER.

Neth-ER networking event showcases the importance of innovation ecosystems within twin transitions

The importance of research and innovation  

On 24 November 2022, Neth-ER brought together representatives of the Dutch and European knowledge community in Brussels for its annual networking event. This year's theme was ‘Ecosystems for the Green and Digital Transitions’. Henne Schuwer, president of Neth-ER, took the floor for an introductory speech, followed by six speakers from Dutch innovation ecosystems. The afternoon finished with a keynote speech, delivered by Ben Smulders, Deputy Director-General of DG Competition.

Collaboration is key

In his opening speech Henne Schuwer underlined the importance of innovative ecosystems, referring to the theme of the event. The Commission has made the green and digital transition its top priorities, but these transitions can never be successfully achieved without new skills and new abilities found through research and innovation. Innovation is also at the heart of the Commission’s ambition to achieve open strategic autonomy. Europe is in the middle of the economic rivalry between the US and China - and since the invasion of Ukraine the geopolitical framework has changed even more. Looking at the developments at the world cup in Qatar, the EU is realising that European values are not shared by a large proportion of the world. All this stresses the importance of Europe’s independence ambition. Therefore, the EU should exploit its innovation potential, acting independently and cooperating within itself. Schuwer highlighted four priorities to achieve this. Firstly, the alignment of EU and national research and innovation agendas. Secondly bringing together the right actors, all collaboration actors, as regional innovation ecosystems grow from cooperation. Thirdly recognizing the huge role of education in successes of innovation ecosystems. The transitions the Commission foresees demand for more skilled students. Schuwer finished this point on a plea for openness in education since this has always been one of Europe’s key elements. Lastly, supporting building long-term partnerships, will be a success in the long run. In his conclusion Schuwer stressed the importance of collaboration for ecosystems.

Play together

Following Schuwer’s introduction six researchers, board members and students shared their views on the role of ecosystems for the green and digital transitions. Aravind Purushothaman Vellayani, professor at the University of Groningen, underlined the importance of collaboration with regard to making organisations more sustainable. Support from and collaboration within the energy transition between different actors, such as policy makers, students, all types of knowledge and education institutes and companies is vital to strengthen activities. For example, via the Hydrogen Valley and collaboration in the Northern Netherlands called the ‘University of the North’. Nick van Apeldoorn, researcher and program manager at Breda University of Applied Sciences, works within the DIGIREAL ecosystem on Digital Realities, overcoming problems the current complex world faces. He accentuated that the EU is behind in innovation and that strong collaboration and investment are needed to move forward. As an example of how to do this, he shared his experiences working together within an ecosystem with universities, applied sciences, ROC’s and private companies and stressed the importance of collaboration. ‘’If you play by yourself, you’ll be out of the game’’.

Cooperation to tackle problems

Ted Tarusenga, student at Hanze University of Applied Sciences, told he chose his master’s program ‘Energy for Society’ to change the future. The master’s tackles energy problems and bridges technical, societal, and ecological solutions on a local and regional level. As graduate he will possess for example negotiation skills to influence people, which is sometimes an underexposed element in this changing society. Laura Schouten, who studies the same master and works as a researcher at the lectorate ‘Communication, Behavior & Sustainable Society’, underlined the importance of local cooperation and citizens' role in catalysing change. Creating awareness about aspects of the energy transition is a crucial factor for this. Annemie Schols, professor and dean of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences at Maastricht University, explained the important role digitalisation plays in healthcare, for example in tackling challenges like an ageing population and shortage of staff. She underlined the importance of innovation campuses and living labs, by involving companies and start-ups and enacting regional cooperation to tackle these challenges the healthcare system faces. Cyrille van Bragt, member of the Board of Directors at Yuverta, the largest blue green institute for vocational education in Europe, stressed the importance of making a green and digital difference through vocational education. She spoke about the essential cooperation of vocational education with companies, the government and researchers. And equipping students with knowledge and skills for the future to make a positive contribution to a sustainable green and digital transition.

A European market and the role for innovation

Ben Smulders ended the evening by delivering his keynote speech. Before looking at the trajectory of the twin transitions, he took the audience back to the Treaty of Rome, explained that Europe’s influence was diminishing back then and how the common market was created to counteract this. The single European market has shown that Europe’s future lies therein. If we want to preserve the EU as it is conceived, striving for strategic autonomy is vital. The social foundations of the EU are being compromised and the EU must therefore be ambitious. With a more social economy and the Green Deal the EU will be stronger in the world. These initiatives are about EU sovereignty. At the heart of this is the strong single market, which will be led by innovation giving citizens products and services that are life changing. Regarding the recent energy crises Smulders stressed the EU has to develop a common approach to the energy system, in which a two-tier model fits: a reduction of the energy consumption and a shift to more sustainable resources to reduce the carbon footprint. Regarding the digital aspirations of the EU, Smulders highlighted the recent adopted Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA). Regarding the effects of the digital and green transitions there is way more budget now, public investment increased and there’s a lot of room for innovative companies to be involved. Smulders lastly accentuated the importance of a climate in which research and development can be freely conducted and how the EU provides for that with its founding principles.


Written by Julian Zwaal.