Innovation
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‘Which other port area is located near a metro station?’

In Rotterdam we are continuously searching for answers to make the port smarter, more efficient, better and more sustainable. How have partners in the port addressed this, why, and what could they have done smarter?

Isabelle Vries column

Isabelle Vries, General Programme Manager

The Rotterdam Makers District comprises the RDM Rotterdam and Merwe-Vierhavens (M4H) areas and is the place to be for innovative manufacturing industry. Young companies can develop here to become established businesses. Isabella Vries is the General Programme Manager on behalf of the Rotterdam Port Authority and the Municipality of Rotterdam.

‘I’m actually a graduate of the agricultural university Wageningen. So it wasn’t a really logical step for me to start working in Rotterdam. Although I’m perhaps a planner in my working life, in my personal life that’s much less the case. I was only thinking of coming to Rotterdam “for a year”. At that time people still looked at me with pity at parties: “What, you’re accepting a job in Rotterdam...?” But I found the dynamics and commitment of the people working in this port city incredibly appealing. I’ve been living and working here now for 30 years... It’s unbelievable how much has changed in that time!’

Innovation from the east

‘I’ve found the transformation of the former port areas fascinating for some time, particularly in relationship to the smart port theme. At one point I was appointed as Environmental Adviser for the Kop van Zuid project, which was then still a desolate port site. I now live with my family in almost exactly the same place in which I did my research.

As lecturer at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences several years ago, I was already teaching: ‘We’re no longer about the “port out, city in” model. We’re in the middle of a CityPorts 3.0 phase. The Port Authority no longer has a retreating or defensive attitude in this; it has taken on a development role. It has realised that the east side is also a great place for port innovation. The port areas within the ring road are certainly valuable, particularly for small or medium-sized enterprises, known these days as scale-ups or grown-ups. These kinds of companies generate a lot of innovative power.’

In this area we make less of a distinction between the port-related sectors and other types of companies. After all, technologies that are used in the automotive, healthcare or construction sectors can also be relevant for the port.

Isabelle Vries, General Programme Manager

Second life

‘RDM has been given a second life. And I think Waalhaven can be rediscovered too, which would also be great for the opportunities in Zuid. These areas offer relatively high employment close to the city and links can also be made with education and knowledge development. Deltalinqs, i-Tanks, SmartPort, Techniek College and STC are all here, and not without reason.

In the direction that the Port Authority is taking, there’s now a huge focus on the Merwe-Vierhaven area. Together with the municipality, the area is being transformed under the name Rotterdam Makers District. The transformation isn’t about creating a place for either living or for working, but is based on the common interest of innovation of the economy and the business climate.’

Technical companies connect with creative entrepreneurs

‘Together with RDM, this area, commonly referred to as M4H, can offer so much for start-ups and scale-ups that want to be easily accessible. High-quality and developing companies will already be starting in the former fruit warehouses in early 2020. ECE (Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship) and Port XL can be found here too. Because, which other port area is right by a metro station or is just a 15-minute bike ride from Rotterdam Central Station? In this area we make less of a distinction between the port-related sectors and other types of companies. After all, technologies that are used in the automotive, healthcare or construction sectors can also be relevant for the port. And what is waste for one sector can be used as raw material in another. In this area, it’s easy to link technical companies to the creative sector; there’s space to experiment and produce prototypes.

I also consider it important that the companies that are already there and those that are yet to arrive come into contact with each other. That’s why we’re connecting RDM and M4H and are organising events in exciting places. I meet the most amazing creative and dedicated entrepreneurs and that’s perhaps the nicest part of my work. The Havenmakers (Port Makers) serie which can also be found on social media, features these port makers. To show the city, the port and the world that they are here and have something to offer. In my opinion, this, too, is how we work towards a smart port.’

Innovation

Rotterdam aims to be the world's smartest port. To maintain our leading position, we need to keep on innovating. Innovation is a crucial means of realising the envisaged changes in energy transition and digitisation in the port of Rotterdam.

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