With the new Upfield building erected between Unilever and Friesland Campina, there are now three eye-catching buildings on Wageningen Campus’ business strip. These large R&D centers suggest that they dominate the innovation on the campus, but this is incorrect. Most of the innovation happens in small start-ups.
The small businesses in the collective business buildings PlusUltra I and II may not be quite as noticeable, but their data speaks volumes. In 2021, there were 201 businesses on Wageningen Campus; 14 corporates (multinationals) and 187 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), among which 78 start-ups. The SMEs now generate more jobs on Wageningen Campus than the large businesses, says Sebastiaan Berendse, director of Value Creation at WUR.
Berendse estimates that over one thousand people work at the corporates on campus. This is the sum of employees of Friesland Campina, Unilever, Upfield, and DSM, as well as those working at the small hubs of multinationals such as Agrifirm, KWS, and Witteveen & Bos. According to Berendsen’s estimate, the SMEs and public knowledge partners have some two thousand employees. This estimate includes the knowledge businesses on the neighboring Business & Science Park (also known as ‘campus west’) and those working at the ecological institute NIOO and university college Aeres. Plus Ultra I and II on the business strip, where most of the start-ups and One Planet are housed, have some 800 employees.
The large eye-catchers on the campus are proponents of the old innovation model. Businesses such as Friesland Campina and Unilever mainly fund fundamental research at some of Wageningen’s strong university groups or groups elsewhere. That knowledge is then economically valorized into a new procedure or product in their own R&D centers.
The start-ups are proponents of the new innovation model. That model is based on the supposition that innovation is so rapid that no single business can keep up with the developments. Hence, businesses collaborate and exchange knowledge within so-called ecosystems. These ecosystems are made up of a few large and many small businesses, as well as start-ups. The start-ups serve as the motor and executor of new concepts and products. With the help of investors, they can take risks and quickly switch, develop and grow (or fail). This innovation model has developed on the campus in the past seven years.
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