News - June 23, 2011

Universities and businesses joining forces to target markets

The Minister for Economic Affairs is rewarding the academic world and business community for coming up with a shared vision. Wageningen is being held up as an example to other knowledge institutions.

Businesses that invest in research will receive tax breaks. Maxime Verhagen, the Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, will be reserving 500 million euros for this purpose. He will also be maintaining funding next year for the technological top institutes threatened with closure, including Green Genetics and Food & Nutrition, the two that are relevant to Wageningen. These promises were made by the Minister last Friday in The Hague.
In doing this, Verhagen is rewarding Dutch businesses and knowledge institutions for their plans to collaborate more. In February, the Minister promised 1.5 billion euros for nine so-called priority sectors - though it should be noted this is money that is being taken from DLO, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and development cooperation. The next step was for the business community and knowledge institutions to come up with joint plans. Wageningen UR was involved in two of the nine 'priority sector teams': Rector Martin Kropff represented the scientific world in the Agro-food team and PSG director Ernest van den Ende had the same role in the Horticulture team.
Investing in knowledge
They presented their viewpoints on 17 June. The researchers and business people are very keen on public-private partnerships. The business community is prepared to invest in knowledge while the knowledge institutions in turn promise to do more demand-driven research. The priority sector teams expect the government to provide support for exports, for instance through free trade and access to markets in key countries. They also point to the importance of collaboration when developing trade relations. So no lone businesses trying to hawk their wares; instead, the entire supply chain should be involved in trade missions: producers, processing companies, logistics companies and knowledge institutions as well.
Verhagen had plenty of compliments for Wageningen during the presentation. He praised the long-term collaboration in agriculture and horticulture between businesses, knowledge institutions and the government, describing Wageningen as an international showpiece that should serve as a role model for other knowledge institutions. 'Wageningen comes up with answers for the agro-food sector's questions but its basic research is also among the best in the world.'

'We have suddenly become the ultimate role model'
Wageningen UR is well represented in the priority sector teams with Ernst van den Ende and Martin Kropff. That is thanks to the much lauded collaboration between researchers, businesses and the government. Van den Ende: 'This golden triangle has almost become a mantra; the press has picked up on it and it is being repeated everywhere.' Kropff: 'We have suddenly become the ultimate role model. We have to be careful we don't get killed with kindness. You need to be aware that good things are going on elsewhere as well, and point them out.'
The research managers say the priority sectors might have dominated their diaries over the past three months, but it was worth it for the results. Van den Ende: 'There are a lot of executives and a lot of opinions in the horticulture sector. Now we have a stronger position because we were able to take charge of things in a small team.' Kropff: 'Before, agriculture and food used to be two separate sectors. Now they are combined and we have a single agenda for the first time.'
Van den Ende: 'I think the best thing is that horticulture is now seen as a priority area. For years, all the talk was about the chemical industry or the life sciences, but now horticulture is in the picture. That is based on some simple sums: its economic importance just happens to be immense.'