As a trading nation, the Netherlands is known worldwide for its world-leading ports and long-standing shipping prowess, but the landlocked city of Eindhoven – located in the province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands – has made knowledge its currency and built up a 'Brainport' instead.  

The birthplace of electronics giant Philips, Eindhoven reached a critical juncture in the 1990s when the company’s fortunes hit the rocks and the city was forced to rethink its place in the world. It decided to reinvent itself as a technology, design and knowledge hub, stewarded by the Brainport Foundation, a close-knit partnership of companies, knowledge institutions and authorities which determines the strategy of the development organisation Brainport Development.

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Smart move

Brain power now fuels the local economy. Dubbed 'the smartest kilometre in Europe', High Tech Campus Eindhoven hosts about 170 companies and more than 11,000 product developers, researchers and entrepreneurs and an estimated 85 nationalities. 

Eindhoven University of Technology is a research-driven and design-oriented technology university that ranks number one globally for universities that have published the most research with innovative companies in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. An automotive campus carries out research in the field of automotive technology and smart and green mobility.

Meanwhile, Brainport Industries Campus, a new offering, of which the first building consists of 105,000 square metres, is home to multiple factories of more than 20 hi-tech industry suppliers. In the middle of it is a vocational training centre for some 1000 students, based on requirements of the industry.

“The campus was built, developed and designed for the hi-tech value chain specifically. The companies came up with the type of campus they needed. We develop physical sites where these specific industries can be seen and felt, and also to address societal issues,” says Naomie Verstraeten, manager of Brainport’s international programme.

These knowledge sites, heavy on academic-industry collaboration, give Eindhoven – only the fifth largest city in the Netherlands with a population of just 230,000 – an outsized influence. “We are a small but important player,” says mayor John Jorritsma.

R&D haven

The industry in Brainport Eindhoven is responsible for one-fifth of the total private R&D in the Netherlands; and the Eindhoven city-region is responsible for almost half of all patent applications in the Netherlands. Start-ups are a key driver of the innovation culture of Eindhoven and the local knowledge economy. “We provide a unique environment for start-ups,” says the mayor. There are several incubators and accelerators, mostly focused on hardware rather than the software and services start-ups that obsess many other cities.

One local success story is Additive Industries. Born three years ago in a small room but already with nearly 200 employees, it pioneered the first 3D printing technology for metal and now supplies products to Airbus, ASML and other industry heavyweights.

To provide the right facilities and atmosphere for even more start-ups and entrepreneurs, as well as cater to a growing population, the city is developing new sites and reshaping its skyline. “A booming region also has to build, so that’s an opportunity for investors,” says Mr Jorritsma. 

The city plans to invest, alongside developers and investors, €5bn in urban development projects in the next five years.

Among the signature schemes, ‘Eindhoven XL’ is a zone covering 55,000 square metres in the city centre, next to the central railway station, designed as a place for 20,000 people to live, work and play. Elsewhere, standing as a visible testament to the city’s transformation, the old Philips factories have been refashioned into Strijp-S, a vibrant area of start-ups, nightlife and hipster coffee shops that some have nicknamed a ‘little Berlin’.