ELAt, the Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen triangle, is a geographical area of high-tech activity in the Dutch, Belgian and German cross-border region. The total ELAt area covers 14,269 square kilometres, has a population of nearly 5.9 million, a workforce of 2.9 million and an aggregate GDP of € 157.5 billion (2005). High-tech, knowledge based industries account for a direct share of 20% in the GDP. The driving force of these industries creates large multiplier effects on the economy. The estimated R&D spent in ELAt is four billion euros, representing 2.5% of ELAt’s GDP.
Knowledge is clearly the driving force behind prosperity and well-being in the global economy. The speed and intensity at which new scientific and technological knowledge is transformed into socially and economically relevant activities is well known. This was clearly stated at the 'March 2000 summit' in Lisbon when the European heads of state and government leaders gave themselves the challenge of turning Europe into the world’s leading knowledge economy by 2010. Easier said than done. Today, eight years after the summit and with only two years left to reach the target, there is little or no indication that Europe will be able to deliver on the promise. Recent studies clearly indicate that Europe is not moving forward as it should have done and certainly is still removed from reaching the Lisbon 2010 target of 3 % GDP spent on Research and Development.
The good news, however, is that a number of regions and smaller countries in Europe are clearly positioning themselves to reach that Lisbon target, as observed in the United States. One of the better examples in Europe is certainly Finland. A country with only 5.4 million people and spending around 3.5 % on Research and Development, Finland has been delivering remarkably strong economic growth figures for a long period. Another example region is Cambridge in the United Kingdom, which has become a model of success as a knowledge economy region in Europe. And, of course, Øresund is a fine example of a cross-border growth region.
The Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen triangle (ELAt) provides sufficient “critical mass” to place this region on the European map. Much more important is the fact that this European region can play a dynamic and leading role in the European knowledge economy of the 21st century.
1. This region has a high concentration of outstanding knowledge centres, i.e. universities, higher technical education institutes and research centres. Leuven’s university has a leading position among the 25 most renowned European academic research centres and is determined to expand and reinforce this position while Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has a long tradition in research and development and RWTH Aachen is one of Europe’s the most renowned engineering universities. In the research field, the IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre) institute in Leuven is Europe’s largest independent research centre in the field of microelectronics and is becoming increasingly active in nano-electronics and bio-silicon. TNO has centres in Eindhoven and Helmond and there are three Fraunhofer institutes in Aachen along with a research centre in Jülich. In addition, there are at least another twenty universities, business schools and polytechnics.
2. There is a well-developed entrepreneurial culture that provides the ELAt region with many outstanding role models as shown by the numerous spin-offs from universities and engineering institutes: in Leuven more than 90, in Aachen more than 300 and Eindhoven several outstanding spin-offs, all created in the last twenty years.
3. The ELAT region has the necessary physical structures such as incubators, research parks and industrial parks. These include the I&I and biotech incubator in Leuven, the Haasrode research Park, the Arenberg Research Park, the DSM Chemelot research park in Geleen (Sittard), the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven (HTCE) and the incubators on the HTCE and the TU/e campus, the TZA and MTZ incubators, research and business parks in Aachen and the Avantis cross-border business park.
4. There are the “Technology Transfer cells” at the universities. One of the better models in Europe is certainly the KU Leuven R&D transfer cell, which recently received the “2008 IPTEC Tech Transfer Award”. In 2006 this IPTEC prize fell to Stanford University (USA) and in 2007 Tsinghua University in China.
5. The available financial instruments such as seed capital and venture capital can to a certain extent compete with other top regions in Europe, but they lag behind UK and USA regions. There is a tremendous experience in this field, and numerous companies have made their IPOs in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
6. The location of many international companies in the region over the years has made the region quite prosperous. A lot of companies have settled here not only for the unique geographical location but also for the very well developed innovation eco system, the proximity of partners in their value chain, the educational system in the region and the high productivity and skills of the workers within this region compared to the rest of Europe.
7. Of course, networks are present in different business areas and technology fields, including Mikrocentrum, DSP Valley, Leuven.INC, TEFON, ATC, LifeTec Aachen-Jülich, CAR e.V. Flanders’ DRIVE, FMTC, LifeTec Network, etc.
8. Supporting innovation and strengthening the innovation ecosystem is well defined in Government policy and there is a clear notion that knowledge economy is an absolute necessity for a prosperous future. The “triple helix” concept – i.e. the complex dynamics between government, industry, and knowledge centres or academia – is a familiar term these days.
9. Last but not least is the fact that the quality of life in this region is good.
Critical mass is needed in a globalising economy. The scale of competitive regions varies from five to ten million inhabitants. The ELAT area has a population of six million, the individual ELAt regions accounting for less than one million each. The ELAT region can without any doubt play a key role in the worldwide network of knowledge regions. It is a unique region that can put together the world’s best in design, manufacturing, research and development, marketing and distribution on the largest scale. Rarely are all of these elements located in one country, or even on one continent.
The estimated R&D spent in ELAt is four billion euros, representing 2.5% of ELAt’s GDP. From the 2.9 million active population, more than 520,000 are working in fields with higher added value. This means that one in every five jobs created in this region is in the high-tech field. It must therefore be possible by joining forces and by using synergies and complementarities to increase this figure. This will have a tremendous effect on the economic growth of this region and will give the region a decisive sustainable competitiveness in Europe.
To understand the full potential of the clusters in ELAt, the partners initiated a process to identify, define and describe the clusters and the innovation ecosystem they are part of. This action was the starting point for a collaborative process, involving innovation stakeholders (companies, research institutions, universities, intermediary and network organisations and government) towards the creation of a joint innovation strategy. The strategy addresses those topics where collaboration on an ELAt scale optimises the value and yields of joint action, which cannot be achieved outside the ELAt constellation.