Amsterdam Science Park: epicenter of innovation
Bringing people together to accelerate important developments: the Amsterdam Economic Board and Amsterdam Science Park have much in common. The area in Amsterdam East is fast becoming the hotbed of exact sciences. How did director Leo le Duc, a member of our Network Council, manage that?
Leo le Duc prefers to look a few years ahead. When he took office in 2015, he announced in the Parool daily newspaper, that the then barren and windy Amsterdam Science Park was to become the hotbed of exact sciences. In 2023, he again looks ahead for another five years: Amsterdam Science Park should then be much more of a residential area, an area through which innovation flows. An area where students and researchers live in short-stay housing. By then, LabQ will also be there, a building that will become the epicenter of Dutch quantum innovation. If it is up to Le Duc, in five years the motorway A10’s exit towards Amsterdam Science Park will also be in the making. So the area would also be easily accessible to the innovative entrepreneurs and scientists who contribute to the smart, green and healthy future of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.
The Amsterdam Science Park is a collaboration of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the City of Amsterdam, with the goal of bringing education, science and business together. The campus focuses in particular on the themes of deep tech, sustainability, life sciences & e-health, and high-tech systems and materials. Buildings and outdoor spaces are geared towards meetings between large companies, startups and scientists. The large colourful picnic tables, called Connectables, are frequently used for this purpose, as are the co-creation spaces and laboratories. “Companies looking for knowledge on these topics can come to us,” Le Duc said. “That is an important reason for me to join the Network Council of the Amsterdam Economic Board. Still too many companies in the region do not know of our existence.”
The Amsterdam Economic Board and Amsterdam Science Park are not only on the same page when it comes to networking ambitions, but also in terms of content. For example, the two organisations have been working together for years on the AMdEX initiative, which develops a ‘digital notary’ that provides contracts to organisations that want to share data, while remaining in control. “We are both brokers and connectors who understand how to get parties involved on an issue,” Le Duc said. “For AMdEX, the first test cases are now being done and I hope this will allow us to play as much of a role for data in five years as the Internet hub AMS-IX does for Internet connections.”
Under Le Duc’s leadership, many companies managed to find their way to the Amsterdam Science Park. For example, in the AIR Lab, researchers and Ahold Delhaize are collaborating on socially responsible algorithms. These offer recommendations to consumers and to transparent AI technology for controlling the flow of goods.
Several R&D projects are also underway with ASML, Nikon and Unilever, among others. “What has disappointed me personally over the past seven years is that developments are not as rapid as I might have hoped. At first I thought I could just put companies and professors around the table and things would work out. But we soon noticed: we speak a different language. Companies think about the short term; they want results as quickly as possible. Professors want to know how many PhD students the companies want to finance. In a first meeting, of course, that can also be off-putting.”
Meanwhile, the approach has somewhat changed. Le Duc “We first let companies and science sniff each other out with events and lectures, like the Amsterdam Data Science network does. For example, we now have a couple of innovation centers at the computer science institute, where long-term research lines are running, and where companies periodically get to see results. That works well.”
The recently opened Matrix One building also houses SustainaLab, where Amsterdam Science Park brings together students, businesses and researchers around sustainability. “It’s a space for co-creation. Companies work in their own labs on their own projects and here they meet people who can help them further. For example, with the social science side of an innovation: how do you make sure people will actually use it?”
No green washing
The relationship between science and business has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Earlier this year, several dozen students occupied a UvA building and demanded that the university sever its ties with Shell. In February, the UvA announced it would not initiate any new collaborations with Shell ‘or similar companies’ for the time being. Le Duc is following these discussions with great interest. “It is indeed important to prevent polluting industry from green washing by funding science, or by influencing research results.”
At the same time, fundamental research is in need of corporate cash. These can go well together, as long as it’s well-organised, Le Duc says. “Scientists working with companies would agree, for example, that publication is guaranteed, regardless of the research results. Subsequently, quite a few companies have dropped out. We research fundamental issues and challenges for our future. If companies want something for the short term, they are better off hiring consultants.”
On the map
Le Duc sees great opportunities for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. As far as he is concerned, the Amsterdam Economic Board may push a little harder to put the region on the map as a promising and innovative area. “The Brabant region is doing very well at the moment, with Brainport and High Tech Campus Eindhoven. We have fantastic universities here, good companies and startups and a hugely innovative sector. The only thing is: the people of Amsterdam don’t know that, the Netherlands doesn’t know that and too few companies know that. The other day, the research director of Bosch – good for an annual research budget of five billion euros – came to our campus to celebrate the relaunch of the joint Delta-Lab. That should be national news, but nobody knows about it.”
This story, too, requires perserverance, Le Duc knows. “Brainport came into being around the turn of the millennium. The parties found each other in a period of crisis, but invested enormously in marketing the area. It took years for them to get the level of prominence they have now. We should also join forces here and promote the high-quality knowledge and innovation that the metropolis has. We hope that companies will also want to give this a big financial boost. It may take a while, but that should not stop us from getting started.”
Text: Mirjam Streefkerk
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