Beware of fragmentation, we need one strong proposition

“Using this view, I can perfectly explain what Brainport stands for,” says Paul van Nunen when he casually walks up the wooden floor of the roof garden with a cup of coffee in his hand. It’s noon and together we see Strijp-T bathed in the golden September sun. Although he’s the director of Brainport, moments later he is energetically pulling at two iron benches to anchor my portable light stand. “You can concentrate on your photography. I will keep an eye on your equipment so the wind doesn’t damage it.” In the hour to come, we will discuss the pending end of the Regio Deal and how Brainport can keep supporting Eindhoven Engine. We will also learn that Paul’s demonstratable willingness to cooperate and can-do attitude are what he values most.

“With the Regio Deal coming to an end
in 2025, we have to come up with ways to fund Eindhoven Engine.”

Paul van Nunen, director Brainport Development

 

Not the straight road, I look for the small and bending one

“I believe we are obliged to do the right thing, not only at home but also at work,” says Paul when we sit down after the photoshoot. Somewhere deep inside of me, I have a vision of where we have to end up. During my career, I learned that the best route to that goal often leads down a small and bending road. Finding and navigating these roads is my job, and I love doing so together with all my colleagues at Brainport. It keeps us excited.”

“Of course, you can look like a strong leader if you say that everybody has to keep their mouths shut and keep their heads down and so forth. It probably looks good in the papers too. For me, that’s the straight road. But I can tell you one thing for sure, after a year you will have accomplished nothing. Solutions often stare you in the face. I call those birthday party solutions. They are easy to point out but actually enacting such a solution is something else.”

Making things happen is quite a job

“We know that we need multidisciplinary teams to come up with meaningful solutions to the everyday challenges in our society. Organizing these teams is an easy idea to suggest and get behind. It sounds nice. To ensure that the right disciplines meet each other by organized coincidence takes effort and is quite a job. You need driven people who believe in this idea of open innovation. People like Katja Pahnke and Maarten Steinbuch who are determined to create a NATLAB 2.0 and ensure that multidisciplinary teams see the day of light. The Brainport region is quite the place to achieve this.”

Beware of fragmentation

“With Brainport, we are building ant nests. In that sense, bringing disciplines together and organizing coincidences. For that, you need personal attention and a location. Eindhoven Engine is a great place for that. The trouble is that we too often count on throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. On the one hand, this is a strength of this region. There is always a brainiac coming up with a new plan to start a brand-new initiative. But we have to watch out for fragmentation. Don’t start something completely new before Eindhoven Engine has had the chance to develop itself properly. I think the Engine has to grow and so we have to say to the region, ‘if you want to work with multidisciplinary teams on meaningful solutions, we do it at Eindhoven Engine’.”

“If you want to work with multidisciplinary teams on meaningful solutions, we do it at Eindhoven Engine.”

With one strong proposition to the Hague

“In order to grow, Eindhoven Engine needs continuity and, with the Regio Deal coming to an end in 2025, we have to come up with ways to fund the Engine. I think Jan Mengelers is right when he says that initiatives like Eindhoven Engine need a structural grant from a regional or national government just to pay for their indirect structural costs. With the Regio Deal, we’ve built something special with Brainport. But that’s my plea for a structural grant from the government. We have achieved so much. It would be such a waste if we had to start all over again. Luckily, the government in the Hague recognizes our success, but this is when we must stay focused and avoid fragmentation. We won’t get support from the Hague if everyone comes up with their own proposition, so let’s combine, using Eindhoven Engine for instance. In that way, I will become the ambassador of Maarten and Katja.”

Eindhoven Engine, make your progress visible

“People always need to know what they get in return for their investment. And that’s the problem with investments in high-tech platforms: results can take years. It’s hard to give people insight. Eindhoven Engine can help to make our progress visible. Their calls have a short duration of three to four years and produce tangible results, like those of the neonatal care project with their artificial womb. As long as the new calls of Eindhoven Engine have a strong correlation with the key technologies of Brainport, we can go to the Hague with a strong case for funding and continue towards our goals.”