Dutch Mountains, smart glass and more crazy-cool innovations from Eindhoven


Editor’s note: The Eindhoven Business Briefing is part of Dispatches’ Tech Tuesday series covering technology and global management in Europe and Asia.)

Dispatches Media was invited to the Business Meet & Greet, organized by the Municipality of Eindhoven and Brainport Eindhoven economic-development group last week.

As part of Brainport’s International Program, Dispatches and several other companies and entrepreneurs were surveyed in real-time via a smartphone app about why we’d founded companies in Eindhoven.

Access to talent and markets seemed to be the deciding factors.

Though the federal economic-development funding for the Brabant Province is far below Amsterdam and other parts of the Netherlands, Eindhoven and Brainport use their resources to stay proactive in business recruitment, making this region super business-friendly.

Which is why one of its most successful recent startups is returning.

Casper van Oosten, managing director of Merck Window Technologies, discussed his German “smart glass” company that came out of one of Eindhoven’s recent success stories.

Merck Glass began as Peer+, founded by van Oosten and Teun Wagenaar in 2008, one of many, many crazy-successful high-tech startups that have come out of Eindhoven University of Technology, or TU/e.

In 2011, Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck Group acquired 70 percent of Peer+, then all of the company in 2014, rechristening it Merck Window Technologies.

Merck has just invested 15 million euros in a new Eindhoven plant to bring the technology to market this year, van Oosten told the group.

The liquid crystal glass technology originally came out of Philips’ LCD and liquid glass research, technology that van Oosten and Wagenaar advanced at TU/e as Ph.D. students.

That same access to engineering and physics talent brought them back.

“The basics are still the same, so the staff (in Eindhoven) could get up to speed,” van Oosten said. “That was one of the reasons for us to be here.”

The liquid crystal technology, for example, is used in privacy windows, allowing consumers to choose transparency/opaqueness, a simple switch changing windows from open to privacy, he said.

As with so many concepts here, Merck glass is ahead of demand, van Oosten said: “The building industry is not ready, but architects love it.”

Clearly, Dispatches needs to post an overview of both all the companies that have come out of TU/e, and those that are emerging.

Amazon and UPS headed for a shootout?

Right now, Zalando and other e-commerce companies reign supreme in Europe. UPS, FedX and DHL own logistics. Look for that to change almost overnight as Amazon pushes in not just with e-commerce, but with its own transportation matrix.

How can Amazon afford such an aggressive move into the European market? Because in the U.S., 43 cents of every dollar spent online goes to Amazon.

If you look at a map of Europe, one country stands out in terms of location for future fulfillment operations: The Netherlands. Right in the middle of Europe, two hours from everywhere – Portugal to Poland, as we like to say.

So, it’s not a huge surprise that Amazon is spinning up here. But will the Netherlands – and specifically Eindhoven – become its European hub, comparable to Seattle?

Our take is, “Maybe.”

What’s certain is, expat life in Eindhoven is going to get better as Amazon launches Prime here. Netherlands-based expats will actually be able to buy stuff via Amazon besides books. Which is not the case now.

Here’s why: Amazon just announced plans for a new distribution center in the German city of Mönchengladbach. Mönchengladbach is right on the Dutch and Belgian border, and equidistant from Eindhoven, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn. The center will distribute to all three countries.

Here’s how things could get interesting in the future.

Amazon is assembling its own air cargo fleet. Founder Jeff Bezos already announced plans to build a $1.5 billion air-freight hub outside Cincinnati … 100 miles from UPS’s huge WorldPort freight hub in Louisville.

Now, UPS just announced a 130 million euro investment in expanding its Eindhoven facilities with a new packing-and-sorting operation. Eindhoven is just 100 miles from UPS’ main Europe air-freight hub at Cologne Bonn Airport.

It’s easy to see how this could turn into a competition both for airport access and for labor should both UPS and Amazon decide to consolidate operations. And Eindhoven – because of its location and under-utilized airport – could end up the winner.

And don’t forget this: When Amazon began searching for a second U.S. headquarters, the candidate criteria for HQ2 included a stable and business-friendly environment, a tech/education ecosystem that can produce, attract and retain strong technical talent and a progressive community mindset. Oh, and a major sports team.

Eindhoven has all that and more.


Dutch Mountains in Eindhoven

The Dutch here in Eindhoven are a bit different than those in other parts of the Netherlands in that they think big … and deliver. Eindhoven has the Netherlands’ dominant ultra-high tech company in ASML. And we have the coolest research park in High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

Now, we’re about to have the world’s largest wooden building. And a revolutionary one, at that.

We’ve heard about Dutch Mountains for years. Now it appears it might finally become a reality as early as 2020. We say, “might,” because there’s not enough public information about how much such a project would cost – or exactly where the money is coming from – to make it real.

That said, the Brainport economic-development agency is helping with funding, and a developer is involved.

The complex – the largest space would have about 300,000 square feet, or 8 acres, under roof – was conceived via a multi-disciplinary partnership made up of tech companies, startups service providers, architects and developers.

The development group includes seven partners:

AAFM / Asito, BLOC, Dell Technologies, Beveco, SPIE Netherlands, Studio Marco Vermeulen and Urban XChange. Arup, TU/e, the SlimBouwen Foundation and Twice Eindhoven are the “knowledge partners.”

Dell, of course, got our attention. But the developer apparently is Lennart Graaff at BLOC. Will the Dutch government in Den Haag and Amsterdam chip in? We don’t know.

Dutch Mountains is planned as the ultimate all-in-one complex, with homes, offices, event spaces, a hotel and research centers. Moreover, all systems including IoT will be easily upgradeable and spaces reconfigured according to needs.

And if it’s half as cool as the website portrays it, it’s going to be a destination for urban planners and architects.

Dutch Mountains is planned for De Run Industrial Park, an industrial park in need of reinvention. Something that hasn’t been easy for a region beaten down during the Great Recession.

Stay tuned ….

Quick hits:

• The innovation never stops here. Inhabitat is reporting that Eindhoven will get the world’s first vertical forest that’s not for rich people.

Vertical gardens are a thing across Europe, from Milan to Paris. But so far, they have been an amenity in wealthy neighborhoods.

Eindhoven’s Trudo Vertical Forest will be an example of how “good architecture can tackle both climate change and urban housing issues,” according to Inhabitat.

Trudo Vertical Forest is a project by Stefano Boeri Architects in Milan, and is slated for Strijp-S, a section of Eindhoven that’s been transformed from old Philips factories to a collection of innovative housing and retail projects.

Lightyear, which is working to bring the first practical solar car to market, has received the Climate Change Innovators Award in the run-up to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The award is given to companies that “help combat climate change through breakthrough innovations.”

Lightyear is yet another startup coming out of TU/e, which has a stellar solar car research and development program that has dominated the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge race across Australia for years.

• Speaking of CES, Hugsy made CNN’s live coverage with its technology for newborns and preemies. You can read more about Hugsy’s revolutionary approach to comforting babies here.

• The Netherlands – and Eindhoven in particular – has some of the cleanest air in Europe. But not clean enough, apparently.

A big project that includes 30 mini-air purification plants will clean pollutants and soot from the air in EIndhoven’s center city for the next three months. The clean air will be blown into the city – the first time air in a public space in a municipality has been mechanically purified.

The project is a public/private effort that includes TU/e. The goal is to have a pollution-free centrum, and the city is considering a ban on diesel trucks and, eventually, all automotive traffic in the center city.

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