“It only takes two hours to get from Eindhoven to Lille”!

Door Jos van Erp, Program director High Tech NL + Representative Holland High Tech,
verslag van de reis naar Noord-Frankrijk voor High Tech NL Young Professionals 

Holland High Tech logo
Holland High Tech logo

“It only takes two hours to get from Eindhoven to Lille”!

The North of France is a region in transition. An economic history based on coalmining, steel and textile production has been left behind. A few decades ago, this area seemed lost, in an economical point of view. But the French didn’t wait, complain and lean back. On the contrary. They replaced traditional industrial activities by a high variety of modern, high tech products and applications, taking advantage of their geographical position in Europe. The cluster policy –pôles de compétitivité- which has been introduced about eight years ago, supports this switch to a new innovative structure which must lead to a stable economic balance. High Tech NL is about Human Capital, Innovation and international perspective. The High Tech NL Young Professional program (Hyps) has its focus on exchange of knowledge, building networks and learning from others.  That is why a study tour to The North of France, taking place Thursday 28th and Friday 29th November 2013, has been prepared for a selected group of Young Professionals.

Kaart van de regio Nord-Pas de Calais
Kaart van de regio Nord-Pas de Calais


‘Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis’

12 participants, highly related to High Tech NL, subscribed to the study tour. Young Professionals, among them three international knowledge workers, an entrepreneur and two High Tech NL alumni, gathered at 07.30 hours at the High Tech Campus. They were looking forward to take a seat in the exclusive coach after having a cup of coffee at the High Tech NL office. Privileged people? Perhaps, because they had the same coach as Queen Maxima took only a few weeks ago. At the other hand, the coach was classroom at the same moment. As soon as the bus took off, the study books were distributed. Between Eindhoven and Antwerp we took the opportunity to get to know the region Nord Pas-de-Calais in detail. First we had to determine what we are really talking about. Is it only the department called Nord, numbered 59? Or do we talk about the former official region Flanders, Artois and Picardie? We decided to focus on the economic region Nord Pas-de-Calais, joining the departments 59 and 62. Images in our study books tell the story of a surprising region. About brick buildings and tiles, broad beaches and related sport activities, a network of belforts being part of the Unesco list of heritage, fortifications by Vauban, carnival at Dunkerque, first world war memorials, the Blockhaus of Eperlecques, the V2 missiles developed in Peenemunde, Germany, and ment to destroy London being launched at Eperlecques, the beautifully renovated Piscine in Roubaix, the recently opened Louvre-Lens, the traditional archery, Maroilles cheese and Potjevleesch. Of course we discussed the perception of The North in the eyes of other regions in France and abroad. The famous movie “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”, which was launched in 2007 by the well known film director Dany Boon, and became very popular immediately, gives a good impression of that issue.

Three pillars of economy

When we left Antwerp behind us we focused on the economic aspects of the region. The Agro food sector was discussed. Who hasn’t heard of Bonduelle and Danone? Did you know the word “Patat” refers to a French race of potatoes? It was in the North that after the second world war the first shopping malls were opened. Auchan is a very well known chain of hypermarkets around the country having its home base in the North. And did you know that 70% of all mail-order business is located in this area? The North is part of the same geological zone as the Ruhr area in Germany, The Borinage in Belgium and the South of Limburg where coals are found. For that reason, The North has a rich industrial history of coalmining and steel production of which the city of Douai was the capital and Dunkerque the location for steel production (Arcelor Mittal) and shipping. Is it a coincidence that the most powerful nuclear plant of Europe –the Gravelines plant- is located in the same area? The area around the twin city of Roubaix-Tourcoing has been the “capital of textile production” for a very long time. It is not surprising that these three pillars of the economy completely lost their importance over the last four decades.

The economic region Nord Pas-de-Calais

At the motorway from Gent to Kortrijk the participants had to prepare individually a pitch about their company, their function, markets and expertise and future developments. We wanted to surprise and inform our first hosts; Mrs Michèle van Hasselt and Mrs Anneke Saliou of the NBSO (Netherlands Business Support Office) in Lille. Time was restricted because it only takes two hours to get from Eindhoven to Lille!

NBSO and Réseau Franco-Néerlandais: A rich network

We could park the bus at the citadel parking place near the city centre. It took us only 15 minutes to walk to the NBSO office which is situated in a main street near the Place Charles de Gaulle. Mrs Van Hasselt –general manager of NBSO Lille– and Mrs Saliou, management assistant, had prepared the office for the delegation. We all had a cup of coffee or tea and a chair. The participants shared their pitch not only with our hosts, but with each other as well. This is how they really got to know each other. Mrs Van Hasselt asked a lot of searching questions, and she concluded that Dutch high-tech industry is even more surprising than she already had thought. It was only the day before that NBSO Lille had the Dutch ambassador as a guest among others. The reason was the celebration of the 15th anniversary of NBSO Lille. During this time NBSO Lille has supported a lot of Dutch companies to enter French markets and French companies to do the same in The Netherlands. As Mrs van Hasselt uses to say: “we know the answer to every question related to business due to our rich network”. Which we can fully confirm, because the program of this study tour had been prepared by NBSO together with “Réseau Franco-Néerlandais”, an institution which is part of University Lille 3 and has the objective to connect French educational organizations to Dutch similar organizations. That is why Miss Nettie Abbring and Mr Philippe Noble –director of Réseau Franco-Néerlandais– joined the delegation and had lunch with us. Before saying goodbye, Mrs Van Hasselt emphasized the idea that business relations between The Netherlands and France can be developed, especially concerning high-tech industry. “Always pay attention to your business partner every now and then, even if you don’t have a message. It will be appreciated!”.

Haute Borne gives life to MAUD

Our next visit was at the High Tech Campus of Villeneuve d’Ascq, at a distance of only 20 minutes from Lille. This campus is called “Haute Borne” and has a lot in common with the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. This part of the program had been prepared by Mr Karl Martin, Project Manager of Haute Borne and Chargé d’Affaires, who by the way speaks fluently Dutch, English and German. At the Haute Borne campus about 6.000 FTE are working in long existing companies, start ups and incubators as well as in knowledge institutes. Emphasis is on clusters like MAUD (Matériaux et Applications pour une Utilisation Durable), modern transportation systems, research on IT and Digital applications, agro-biological products and Human Behaviour.  Haute Borne offers services like training and research facilities. Several interesting presentations were given, like the high-tech RF switch technology of the Delfmens company by Mrs Cybèle Rolland, and competitiveness of the Cluster MAUD by Mrs Anne-Valentine Duffrene. She concluded that the cluster policy brought MAUD to life. Companies, research- and knowledge institutes and governments know how to find each other and how to contribute complementary to common goals. Mr Dominique Droma, Manager of Maison de l’Entrepreneuriat and Manager of Cre’Innov, told the delegation that he sees a lot of possibilities to share experiences and exchange students and PhD’s between the Eindhoven area and the University of Lille 1 in order to accelerate innovation. Although time was short –there is so much to say, to see and to ask- we agreed on the fact that this visit was very enriching. A return visit to the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven is one of the possible follow up actions.

An inspiring atmosphere

It was highly surprising to discover the buildings of EuraTechnologies in the former Lomme district. Old industrial sites have been replaced by modern buildings where incubators can find all the facilities they need to accelerate their business development in an inspiring atmosphere. We had a guided tour by Mrs Luce Brotconre and her colleague who showed us around in the building facilities and in the INRIA showroom as well. INRIA is the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (French: Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique, INRIA) focusing on computer science, control theory and applied mathematics. It was created in 1967 at Rocquencourt near Paris, part of Plan Calcul. Its first site was the historical premises of SHAPE (central command of NATO military forces). INRIA is a Public Scientific and Technical Research Establishment (EPST) under the double supervision of the French Ministry of National Education, Advanced Instruction and Research and the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry. INRIA has 8 research centers and also contributes to academic research teams outside of those centers. Before December 2007, the three centers of Bordeaux, Lille and Saclay formed a single research center called INRIA Futurs. In October 2010, INRIA, with Pierre and Marie Curie University and Paris Diderot University started IRILL, a center for innovation and research initiative for free software. INRIA employs 3800 people. Among them are 1300 researchers, 1000 Ph.D. students and 500 post doctorates. The main characteristics were presented by Mr David Simplot-Ryl, Directeur du centre, in the showroom located in EuraTechnologies whereas several main offices are located at Haute Borne.


Lille as a destination

It was already dark when we could leave the bus in the Euralille railway station district in Lille city. Passing Place Charles de Gaulle, we had picked up our guide, Agnes, who lives for more than 20 years in the former capital of Flanders. We did not have to much time left because the bus driver should finish his activities at 22.30 hours, but nevertheless Agnes gave us a good impression of the city centre. Lille was already in a good Christmas atmosphere. The giant wheel was installed and in operation and a lot of Christmas booths had opened their doors. Some participants decided to have Lille as a destination to spend some days with their partner! A table had been reserved for us in Vieux Lille, the historical city centre, at the “Pavé Lillois” restaurant. Nettie Abbring joined us and, despite of the time pressure, we shared some good moments having diner and discussing the impressions of this day. We continued our evaluation “in between” at the Campanile hotel before having a good night rest.

Closer to companies due to cluster policy

We had breakfast at 08.15 hours which allowed us to discuss our expectations for Fridays program. We arrived at 10.00 hours at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Lille (ENSCL), which in fact has an academic level of research and education. Prof. Dr. Rose-Noël Vannier, explained with a lot of enthusiasm how her institute is organized. And what is more, how it fits into several cluster programs like MAUD and Up-Tex (Textiles Techniques).  ENSCL is strongly related to its neighbour, the University called Lille 1, which focuses on engineering, telecommunication and chemistry. According to Prof. Vannier, the cluster policy brought her institute closer to other universities and companies. We had the opportunity to visit three laboratories. Of course, I was happy to find equipment and information sheets of High Tech NL member companies like PANalytical and FEI Company!

 La Plaine Images, the Waouh effect!

Our last visit was in the Roubaix-Tourcoing area which was dominated for a long time by textile production companies who disappeared quickly as from the late fifties. Plaine Images, the Digital Cluster of the Lille Region, is a site of excellence fully dedicated to the cultural and creative industries: video game, serious game, animation, multimedia, cinema, entertainment, digital media and cross-media. The site hosts many companies of all sizes with activities ranging from production to distribution. Many international key players chose for this region such as : Ankama, Bigben Interactive, Cosmocover, Hydravision, Wakanim, Novastream, 3DDuo, A-Volute (Nahimic). TV groups are also present. Research laboratories are also present and dedicated to visual sciences, virtual reality, art-science technologies, man-machine interactions, gestural interactions, perception and visual cognition and so on. Plaine Images offers many services to French and foreign companies seeking for collaboration or expansion like spaces, shared facilities, an incubator for the emergence of innovative projects & creation of start-ups and a dedicated team of experts to support and assist all development projects from creation to international development without forgetting partner research.

This was what Mr Tricart, general coordinator, told us during his introduction speech which he combined with having and sharing a tasty lunch. The existence of image technology can be traced back to the analogue techniques of transferring images to textiles. This, by the way, is as well the origin of the existence of the mail-order sector. We were impressed by the various laboratories we visited. We were impressed as well by the presentations and demonstrations of Nahimic technologies by Mrs Gabrielle Frehaut of the A-Volute company as well as by the 3D effects of Idées-3Com by Mrs Sabrina Louvet. We left Plaine Images with the real Waouh effect!

“Au revoir” is not the same as “Adieu”

We thanked Mr Tricart. Then it was time to say goodbye! Good bye et merci Nettie et Monsieur Noble pour tout ce que vous avez voulu faire pour nous ! Au revoir Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing. Au revoir Le Nord ! We leave now, but we will certainly come back !

 Conclusions and recommendations

What did we observe? What did we learn? We agreed about the following conclusions:

  • The North is changing step by step from an old economic structure to a new more stable and innovative structure
  • A long term vision is common vision instead of short term need for return on investment
  • The clusters (pôles the compétitivité) contribute substantially to this process. The cluster policy leads to more interaction between research institutes, educational organizations,  companies and government
  • Regional, national and European institutions are highly involved in this process in The North in cash
  • “Research” seems to have more distance to “Development” demand than in The Dutch innovative ecosystems
  • More interaction between The North and The Netherlands (High Tech Systems & Materials) is highly recommended either on Human Capital issues and on cooperation for Innovation
  • The Dutch high-tech industrial complexes are hardly known and recognized in The North
  • The Technical University of Delft has a strong reputation in The North, especially at educational organizations. The Technical Universities of Eindhoven and Twente only follow at a distance
  • Our hosts and their networks share the idea of getting to know each other better and are prepared to pay a return visit to the Dutch HTSM networks
  • High Tech NL will stay in contact with NBSO Lille, Réseau Franco-Néerlandais and organize a return visit on demand
  • Holland High Tech representatives as well as individual companies and educational institutions will be involved

Obviously this all makes sense. To come to the conclusion that it only takes two hours to get to The North was easy. Observing and asking searching questions brought us to new insights concerning a relatively unknown region. In both senses! It didn’t take us an expensive research institute to bring this message home. All it took was a set of 12 intelligent, interested and involved Young Professionals!

The winner takes it all

And did we enjoy? Sure we did! After evaluating we spend the time in the bus to participate in a quiz. Twelve questions were asked about several aspects of our study trip. They were not that easy to answer. After counting the right answers we came to the conclusion that……. The winner takes it all! Mr Gertjan Yntema, key account manager of Sorama, scored 7 out of12! This year, he not only won the interesting book “The Industrial Landscape of The Netherlands” in the bus. Sorama won the High Tech NL Award 2013 as well after being very successful at the Hannover Messe. Congratulations Gertjan!

And what about the group?

What else did we conclude before arriving savely and enriched at the High Tech Campus?

  • The activities of High Tech NL for Young Professionals and other stakeholders have a high added value in building usefull networks
  • Instead of visiting a High Tech NL member company it would be interesting to organize a meeting with representatives of Dutch research- and knowledge institutes
  • Most participants like to secure their place for the study tours to the Hamburg region and hightech industries in Wallonia next year!

NB: The delegation of High Tech NL Young Professionals likes to thank the people in The North for preparing and coordinating the program. Special thanks for NBSO Lille and Réseau Franco-Néerlandais for all the efforts done to find the right balance in topics, organizations and enthusiastic people who offered us a warm welcome!

Jos van Erp, Program director High Tech NL / Representative Holland High Tech

3 December 2013