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EBB for 11 June: Open Day at High Tech Campus Eindhoven was a celebration of all things tech

(Editor’s note: The Eindhoven Business Briefing is part of our Tech Tuesday series. Dispatches covers tech because so many of our highly skilled internationals are engineers and entrepreneurs.)

If Open Day is anything, it’s a peek into the future – not just the tech, but how humans engage with the technology.

A little kid (and we mean “little,” like five) puts on the VR headset at the Playsight exhibit, clutches the controls and masters training meant for adults going to work in a fulfillment center. Something, it turns out, a lot of those adults struggle with. The little boy needs about 60 seconds to figure it out without any coaching.

There’s your insight into the future of tech.

Dispatches was in charge of the startups assembled for High Tech Campus Eindhoven’s Open Day in the AI Innovation Center, and we had 11 companies, including inPhocal, Axelera AI, Vention, STENTiT and SMART Photonics, among others. What surprised us was how much attention all the startups got, with lines of people waiting to talk with team members and check out the tech.

Curious visitors surrounded the tables where Vention, which executes clients’ advanced device designs, displayed their latest creations, including fire-fighting equipment for VR training. “For me, it’s about inspiring the kids,” said Vention’s Jim Berveling. “If you inspire them, at some point they’ll inspire you.”

The event included all zones of the Campus, including the Conference Center, where companies and research institutes such as Faulhaber, Salvia, TNO/Holst Centre and E Ink were holding court. Several Campus companies including Philips opened their buildings. Perhaps the company with the greatest presence was chipmaker NXP, which had multiple displays in various locations rather than opening its headquarters. About 50 companies participated.

For most, Open Day was about fun and just catching up on what’s going on at High Tech Campus. And to that end, thousands of people – including a significant number of families – attended. But many companies were doing business including, Axelera AI, with Karin den Heijer answering queries from the representative of a South African platinum mine about the company’s AI-enhanced technology that can do things like spot workers who aren’t wearing protective gear or who are wearing it incorrectly.

In my informal poll of exhibitors, those who’d attended the most recent Open Day back in 2022 thought the crowd was down a bit – Open Day attracted more than 10,000 people in 2022 – due to competing events such as ASML holding their own open door event. But the majority added that they were amazed by the engagement.

The count at the Philips Pop-up store was about 5,000 people in the shop. Extrapolating on that, we estimate between 7,000 and 9,000 people attended Open Day.

One of the most popular exhibits was the Redesign Life Foundation’s VR driving simulator and electric racing kart display. Redesign Life is redesigning the foundations of the way people experience sustainable mobility, said Chairman Peter-Paul Laumens. Oh, and you got to virtually experience driving an electric formula car. “We had a constant queue,” Laumens said.

No expats, no tech

One thing that struck us was the number of expats who attended Open Day. In fact, Bridge the Gap, a firm that helps parents get their kids in the right school system in Brainport, put up a map and asked visitors to put a pin in their city and country of origin. At the end, the map was covered from Alaska to Australia.

While Eindhoven’s tech ecosystem is apolitical, the outside world is not. Anti-immigration crusader Geert Wilders’s party, the Party for Freedom, now has the majority in the Dutch parliament. Wilders’s policies of ending all immigration worries tech giants such as ASML, where 40 percent of workers are from outside the Netherlands. Worries them to the point that some are considering moving.

It’s increasingly clear that Wilders’ new government isn’t going to care whether ASML stays or goes.

Both Wilders and coalition partner Pieter Omtzigt (NSC) campaigned for a reduction in the number of highly skilled internationals coming to the Netherlands as well as closing off the universities to non-Dutch students. Which is weird because none of the other authoritarian leaders, including Hungary’s Victor Orbán, have advocated Wilders’ brand of xenophobia when it comes to global talent.

That said, the PVV didn’t have a great night in Sunday’s European Parliament elections.

McKinsey projects the global semiconductor industry will double by 2030 with revenues passing the $1 trillion mark. With highly skilled internationals the lynchpin, you’d think Wilders would want them to stay. Instead, he hammers on immigration every day. This is a populist trend throughout Europe, with growing resentment on the part of farmers and rural people that they’re being left behind by the urban elite in uber-technical societies and that immigrants are corrupting European culture and causing the ongoing housing shortage.

But as we’ve said before, kick out the expats and who’s going to do the work?

Eindhoven left off the list … or was it?

We’re sworn to secrecy, but we know several startups/scale-ups in the Eindhoven ecosystem are looking at closing big capital raises this summer. That’s the good news. The bad news is even though we have ASML, the most valuable tech company in Europe, and NXP, a crucial global chip supplier, that doesn’t seem to translate into Unicorns.

Amsterdam, on the other hand, does produce those startups with billion euro valuations. Which is a good thing, because on the latest Top 40 startup hubs ranking from Startup Genome ranks the Netherlands as a whole, which we assume includes Eindhoven.

Mews, a cloud-based property management system for the hospitality industry, is the latest Dutch Unicorn, with a 1 billion euro valuation.

The 2024 Startup Genome list doesn’t have a lot a lot of surprises. Silicon Valley is still No. 1, with London close behind. NYC, Tel Aviv and LA round out the Top 5.

Europe doesn’t make the list until the Netherlands (that’s right, not Amsterdam) at No. 13, followed by Paris at No. 14 and Berlin at No. 15.

Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Munich are ranked at the tail end of the Top 40.

Otherwise, the United States and Asia own the list. Which we don’t see changing anytime soon, considering the difference in rigor, dedication and intensity the Americans, Indians, Chinese and Japanese bring to the game.

You can go on endless holidays, or you can change the world. But you can’t do both.

A recent report finds that European startups grow at one-quarter of the rate of those in the U.S. The Startup Genome list ranks hubs by key metrics, including the number of exits and availability of funding.  

Quick hits:

• An affiliate of Taiwan chip titan TSMC is collaborating with Eindhoven-based chip maker NXP in a project to build a $7.8 billion factory in Singapore to make processors for the auto and mobile end markets.

•CNN is reporting China is doubling down on its plan to dominate advanced technologies of the future by setting up its largest-ever semiconductor state investment fund, according to information posted by a government-run agency.

• ASML and imec opened the High NA EUV Lithography Lab on ASML’s Veldhoven campus. The lab will allow the engineering teams from ASML customers to start working with the company’s latest photolithography machine as they prepare to use High NA in high-volume manufacturing.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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