Next Icons | Ank Bijleveld: “Innovation is essential for the future of Twente."

Monday 01 July 2024
Next Icons | Ank Bijleveld: “Innovation is essential for the future of Twente."

A lot of great things are happening in Twente in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. The stories of our Next Icons are incredible. But is Twente recognizable enough as an innovative high-tech region, or will we forever remain in the shadow of regions such as Eindhoven? Who better to ask than Ank Bijleveld-Schouten, chairwoman of the Twente Board and former Minister of Defense. She explains her vision for our region.

This story was previously published in the Next Icons Magazine. You can read the entire magazine here.

How does it feel to be back in Twente? 

Ank: “Good, although, I never really left. I have always lived here. I do find it special to be back in Enschede where I once started my career. But whether I find myself in The Hague or Twente, the most important thing in my work is to see what is happening in society and what it takes to live well. That is why I really like the concept of Bruto Twents Geluk (Gross Happiness in Twente). It is about socioeconomic development in the region with the goal of working and living well. We need The Hague to accomplish that."

In your role as chairwoman of the Twente Board, are you also the link to The Hague?

Ank: "In a way, yes. Entrepreneurs nominated me to become the chairwoman, which I think is very special. It is brave and bold of entrepreneurs to nominate someone who knows the government and The Hague well. At the same time, it is also important to keep improving the connection between Twente and The Hague. From my role as chairwoman of the Kapittel voor de Civiele Orden (Chapter of Civil Orders), I travel to The Hague every Tuesday so I can meet with people to talk about Twente. This is necessary because they need to know who we are. Fortunately, Twente has positive connotations in The Hague, but it remains important that we invite members of parliament over to show them the great things that are happening in our region in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship." 

There are plenty of success stories here. What is needed to put Twente on the map even more as a top technological region?

Ank: "We should be even more proud of Twente. After all, isn't it wonderful that we have icons such as Bram Nauta who are eager to stay here? We are now in the process of developing a vision for 2050, which we have to translate into our vision for the shorter term as well. Let’s take Brainport as an example. They have ASML, but we have many more smaller high-tech companies such as Demcon and Thales. If we unite those companies and innovative SMEs, we can really put Twente on the map. By doing so, we need to look carefully at whether we might be working on the same things separately. If yes, we need to create smart connections instead. This means that we occasionally have to step out of our own shadow, but also that we must take action, not just talk. This is done step by step and that is fine. It took Eindhoven 30 years to become great. If we can do it faster, that's a nice bonus.”

Should our region compete with Eindhoven?

Ank: "No, I don’t think so. The Netherlands is a small country so a company like ASML needs our SMEs, too. Everyone must participate in a healthy innovation ecosystem. This applies to the business world, but government and education must work together as well. You can already see this happening at Chiptech Twente and MedTech Twente, for example. All organizations as well as all individuals must participate. For example, we need to educate technical staff to enable innovation. To meet the demand, we need more women in engineering as well as knowledge migrants. The current cabinet formation is putting some pressure on this matter so it is extra important for The Hague to know what things are like here in Twente and what we need in order to grow. Innovation is essential for the future of Twente. If you don't innovate, you will stay where you were. The Hague is starting to understand this. The report Elke Regio Telt (Every Region Counts) has helped a lot. The trickle down philosophy from west to east does not work. We are currently designated to be an experiment region. This gives us a chance to showcase what we do."

With Next Icons, we showcase the wonderful innovations from Twente. What would you like to say to our Next Icons?

Ank: "That they matter. They should be incredibly proud of their companies. And they should take risks and not be afraid to ask for help. They are obviously very busy working on their own companies because that's where their passion lies. But when they take the next step to scale-up, they need good support to do so. When that time comes, they should dare to knock on the door of Novel-T or the Twente Board. We need everyone in the ecosystem for that, which means we need to know where to find each other. So let's make sure we show ourselves. If the Next Icons present themselves well, they also put the region on the map and can take real steps towards making an impact."


About Ank Bijleveld

Ank Bijleveld has chaired the Twente Board since September 2023. Throughout her career, she has always divided her time between Twente and The Hague. She was a city councilor in Enschede on behalf of the CDA, became the youngest member of Parliament under the cabinet of Lubbers III, took office as mayor of Hof van Twente and returned to The Hague in 2007 to serve as State Secretary of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations in the Balkenende IV cabinet. After being Commissioner of the King (and Queen) in Overijssel, Ank became Minister of Defense under the cabinet of Rutte III. She then served as acting mayor of Almere, before returning to Twente to chair the Twente Board where strong ties with The Hague come in handy.

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