A regional approach to boosting agrifood & agtech

‘Twente Groeit’ is a public-private collaboration between agtech and food & agriculture in Twente, a region in the eastern Netherlands. It aims to foster connections between the sectors and to identify potential for synergies and innovation.

‘Twente Groeit’ [Twente Grows] kicked off in April with a dialogue session. Some 120 people from a wide variety of disciplines took part, including farming, scientific research, and business. The initiators include the Province of Overijssel, LTO Nederland (the Dutch agriculture & horticulture organization), Innofood (the network organization of food companies in the eastern Netherlands), and Rabobank.

Multidisciplinary

Miriam Vollenbroek, Professor of Supportive Healthcare Technology, says that Twente Groeit is a unique initiative that should eventually develop into a structural, multidisciplinary collaboration. “We want to explore how to make F&A [food & agriculture] and agtech the top sectors in Twente and how to differentiate in these areas. As a scientist, I hope to contribute to the health & technology theme. The area’s universities can play an important role here by imparting knowledge to students and incubating projects.”

How do parties within the health sector view this collaboration? The food industry in particular has not always had a positive impact on our health, explains Vollenbroek. “So there is much to be gained here. By cleverly combining F&A and technology, I'm convinced we can foster synergies.”

“Twente Groeit is bringing together universities & entrepreneurs”

- Laurens Oppers, LOBD

New technologies

Business development organization LOBD has been working with Rabobank and local universities, Twente and Wageningen, to see how the latter can best support farmers. “Technologies like sensors can contribute to agriculture by making it more sustainable,” says Laurens Oppers, Director LOBD. “We are already testing sensors on farms in the province of Overijssel. It's all about combining scientific knowledge with farming practices. I see a lot of potential here.”

The sensor pilot made it clear that Twente has much scientific know-how to offer, says Oppers. “We want to make the most of that knowledge under the umbrella of Twente Groeit. My task now is to bring together the universities and entrepreneurs to see if we can develop an actual product.”

Bringing together stakeholders

Evelien Bras is Business Acceleration Manager at Novel-T, one of the initiators of Twente Groeit. “Novel-T got involved early on because our role is to stimulate entrepreneurs in the eastern Netherlands. We have experience in developing business models and our main role here is to supervise processes. We also have an extensive network of contacts among initiatives in the region.”

The brainstorming session in April helped to bring together stakeholders, says Bras. “The aim was to exchange knowledge and experience informally. The main question was: How would Twente's interests be best served by co-operation between F&A and technology? And what kinds of projects would that include? A number of ideas came out of the session, like co-operation with neighboring Germany, integration of the value chain, and raising the profile of the F&A and tech sectors in Twente. How can we help them attract young talent, and how can we launch innovations successfully?”

Innovative initiatives

Twente Groeit offers plenty of opportunities for the eastern Netherlands, says Joep Kockmann, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Rabobank Enschede-Haaksbergen. “That much was made clear at the April event. It was great to see people from different backgrounds engage in dialogue to start finding innovative initiatives and projects.”

“This is the first time the sectors are being linked in Twente. At Rabobank we believe the combination is crucial to the future of agriculture, so we are doing our bit by bringing different parties together.”

International approach

Kockmann adds that the Twente initiative is looking to build links well beyond the region. “Rabobank is international and Twente Groeit will be as well. After all, finding smart solutions in agrifood and agtech could lead to innovations and improvements all over the world. The bank is committed to supporting that as part of its international strategy.”

Actionable projects are expected to emerge from Twente Groeit within months, says Kockmann. “Ideas are now being worked out and we will have a follow-up meeting at the end of 2018.”