(Editor’s note: Dispatches Europe tracks the tech scene – startups, scale-ups and mature companies – in Eindhoven because so many of our highly skilled internationals are engineers, physicists and developers. This post is part of our Tuesday Tech series.)
It’s common for newly arrived outsiders to be more bullish on their new city – and more conservative – than locals. That’s certainly the case for us at Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven.
I told my wife and Dispatches co-CEO Cheryl recently that we’re arriving exactly at the time that Eindhoven is about to become a major European city in both size and economic influence, more important than Amsterdam and Den Haag. It already is Europe’s deep-tech innovation engine.
The days are just about over when people say, “Eindhoven? Where is that?” Now, we’ll be competing not against Nijmegen and Venlo for media attention, talent and capital, but against Singapore and Mountain View.
Eindhoven is positioned to become the – I really apologize for resorting to this cliché – the Silicon Valley of Europe. But it’s true. ASML is projected to be the most valuable company in Europe as soon as next year, and the number of tech startups here is increasing every day. With these changes, the global tech giants are in a mad scramble for talent.
A pivotal moment
We went to the Extreme Tech Challenge event recently at High Tech Campus Eindhoven where Lars Reger, CTO of NXP, spoke and basically invited startups to come work with the global chip company. I don’t think that would have happened back in 2015 when we first arrived. NXP and ASML both were spun out of Philips. Not that different than how Intel and other dominating firms emerged out of Fairchild Semiconductor and other post-World War II electronics companies, laying the foundation for Silicon Valley.
It wasn’t until a later generation of entrepreneurs including Nolan Bushnell at Atari, Gary Kildall at Digital Research, Steve Jobs at Apple and Jim Clark at Silicon Graphics that tech companies started to form independently of parent companies.
Again, not that different here as startups and scaleups such as Accerion, SMART Photonics, Amber, Onera, Sendcloud and others are emerging from Eindhoven as global companies, independent of Philips. But is Eindhoven ready?
Cities are like people: Willie the Shake once said some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. It doesn’t work out so well when cities have greatness thrust upon them, unwilling and unprepared. Berlin is the classic example. It went from being “affordable” as recently as 2018 to a housing crisis because of wildly increasing demand and slow construction and incredible pressure on the labor market as Elon Musk builds a Tesla Gigafactory there.
Eindhoven was not born great. Even as Philips’s headquarters, Eindhoven was basically a collection of villages. It has had the luxury of achieving greatness, with very incremental growth since the exit of Philips to Amsterdam in 1989 and the emergence of ASML as the dominant tech company in the world.
So, we have lot of work to do to be ready for our starring role as Eindhoven steps out upon the world stage:
• As population density increases, local officials need to consider extending better transportation services to outlying areas. Buses running to Leende, Soerendonk and the airport don’t cut it. The surrounding mini-cities will be the release valves as population pressures on Eindhoven grow. Valkenswaard, Oirschot and especially Veldhoven – where ASML plans to hire 5,000 new employees during the next four years – are going to need something like Amsterdam’s tram service. It’ll be expensive, but necessary. Vienna built Aspern, an entire new section of the city, then connected it to the centrum with its own subway service. Eindhoven can do it, too.
• Eindhoven has one international school, International School of Eindhoven, an outstanding institution. It needs at least two new international schools and they need to be the American equivalent of high schools. Newly arriving parents with younger children should be directed to Dutch schools with immersive language programs so their kids quickly can become fluent. If Eindhoven doesn’t have a place for the older children of the people ASML and NXP are recruiting, the parents will opt to go to Singapore, Sunnyvale or Bellevue, which have good schools.
• Speaking of schools, the Netherlands as a whole needs to come up with a plan to make sure foreign university students have housing. These are the kids who are our future recruits in the global war for talent. The situation at all Dutch universities is critical, something we know from personal experience.
• Eindhoven officials need to let Eindhoven Airport do what airports do … let people and goods fly. The idea that an airport should “close” at night is absurd in the 21st century, when we’re all living, working and traveling 24/7.
• Eindhoven – and the Netherlands as a whole – needs a more tech-oriented, business-savvy media. The Dagblad covers crime and sports, topics that don’t really enhance a community in any meaningful way. It’s a sad state of affairs that to find a solid story about ASML, you have to go the New York Times.
• The Netherlands needs to neutralize the drug cartels. Obviously, this is a federal issue. But nothing kills a society deader than corruption. Ask the Mexicans. Again, I’ve seen it on the ground in the Balkans and Middle East. When your country is a transit point for billions in drugs every month, some of that money is going to paying off cops and government officials. And journalists and even politicians end up dead. If your citizens start to lose confidence in the political process, the police, internal security and the judicial system, then you have a real problem that’s nearly impossible to fix.
A binary decision
I’m sure some of my Dutch fiends, and not a few expats, are going to see this post as lecturing.
But Eindhoven is facing a binary choice: Cities only grow or die. I know … my hometown of Louisville was withering on the vine until recently, the victim of intentional neglect and brain drain as was the case with so many former industrial towns in the United States. Now, we see economic stasis contributes to the rise of Trumpism and extreme politics and where that can lead.
Recently, Louisville has gotten a reprieve with expanding traditional heavy manufacturing. But no city has a future if it’s depending on cars and appliances … 20th century smokestack industry.
By comparison, Eindhoven is in the ideal position for global domination with ASML, NXP, the largest R&D campus in Europe and its new AI and 5G innovation centers, a top technical university and not one but two venture builders cranking out startups, LUMO Labs and HighTechXL.
Technology – whether it be in semiconductor, photonics, software, robotics, AI or fintech – is the only hope for real and sustainable economic growth in the 21st century.
About the author:
Terry Boyd is co-founder of Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Boyd has been a military reporter, business reporter and an entrepreneur, selling Insider Louisville, a pure-play digital news platform, in 2013.
Boyd & Family are long-time expats and have lived in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.