The Delft-based research institute for applied research joins PortXL’s Rotterdam innovation ecosystem as a knowledge partner. Explaining about this partnership and what goals it seeks to achieve is Deltares’ Lucas Janssen, Head of Catchment and Urban Hydrology department and account manager for start-ups and SMEs in The Netherlands.

The Netherlands has five research institutes for applied research and Deltares is one of them. Lucas has 850 colleagues and their expertise is on water, underground and infrastructure. In doing this applied research they already cooperate extensively with Dutch SMEs, but they seek to further strengthen this bond and extend it to the field of start-ups and scale-ups.

Deltares has two offices, one being “Deltares Campus” in Delft, which is where most of its employees are working, approx. 600-700 of them. The others are in a smaller office in Utrecht, but the Deltares Campus in Delft is really interesting because it contains a lot of research and lab facilities. For water and ground applications alike.

Leading up to the PortXL partnership

The reasons are twofold – firstly technological developments are increasingly rapid, making smaller companies more apt to follow them compared to a large organisation such as Deltares. Secondly, entrepreneurship qualities are important within a large organisation, but they need to be developed together with entrepreneurs who have the courage to start a company themselves and have their own ideas on the business and the market. Interacting with these entrepreneurs will assist the Deltares teams in improving these skills.

From that point it takes a lot of effort to scout all the individual start-ups and scale-ups that could be of interest for Deltares. Hence, the strategy is to connect to a limited number of accelerator environments and through the accelerators connect to the relevant start-ups and scale-ups. PortXL is the first Dutch accelerator program that Deltares has signed a contract with and we are very excited to see what’s going to happen.

The role of Knowledge Partner

Deltares is a knowledge partner of PortXL, which has a bit of a different stake compared to the other corporate partners. But we are looking forward to giving this a good place and to get our colleagues connected to this initiative and work together. With the 850 colleagues and so many accumulated years of experience, we really do have a lot of expertise that we also want to disseminate. It is a task of these research institutes for applied research to share their expertise with companies so that they can make business. We want our expertise to be used and first of all it is located in the brains of my colleagues but we also have software that comprises all the knowledge that we’ve been researching on and made available for the start-ups and companies we’ll be working with. As Deltares, we have an open source / open data policy, so that really puts us in a good position to share all the things that we know with these companies.

The Entrepreneurial Challenge at Deltares

Approximately 40-45% of our budget is from two ministries in The Netherlands, but the remainder we need to find on the national and international research & development market. This is quite the challenge, as most of my colleagues are scientists – very relevant for a research institute – but more of them need experience in business development and project acquisition. We think we can learn from entrepreneurs about market knowledge and how to best package our technological solutions.


The Technologies for Deltares

Deltares is in a broad field of technologies, on the one hand looking for technologies that we are also working on, but at the same time complementary technologies are also of interest. Specifically interested to see what’s happening in the field of data acquisition, sensoring, remote sensing, data science, machine learning, decision support system – things like these, all very IT orientated.

There is also another stream that is the field of energy transition, filled with hardware solutions and that would also be interesting to be involved with. That can be hardware related to energy conversion systems in rivers or in seas or in systems that make use of ground water, energy, soil, groundwater energy.

Lucas’s own field is that of remote sensing and earth observations and he is interested in what is happening with sensoring in general. That can be from space, aircraft, drones to in situ measurements and how you are going to combine these in the most effective way.

Previous start-up experiences and expectations

Since the start of Deltares Lucas was heading the department of economics and innovation for the first 7 years and a larger innovation program for Rijkswaterstaat on the Deltares side: “I’ve been involved with the “Climate KIC”, where I was also coordinating Deltares activities and these have to do a lot with involving start-ups. I’ve been organizing challenges, also on the Deltares campus, for SMEs and SUs. But this is really the first contract with an accelerator organisation, and I have a good feeling about this because I think that there’s a good fit between PortXL and Deltares.”

There are two reasons for this: 1) Working on the Rotterdam harbour and the problems of these corporates really relates to the field of Deltares. Among the start-ups and scale-ups that will be in the upcoming program there will be a significant number that we would be interested to coach. 2) Proximity. We are close by geographically speaking. Innovation systems part of the “global village” are also regional systems. Having the easy opportunity to be here – at the Rotterdam Science Tower – and 20 minutes later be at the Deltares Campus and vice versa will really help. I believe that is also true for the start-ups and scale-ups, they can come to Deltares, be in our premises and talk to more colleagues.

In short: Let’s start!