Water hubs all over the world connect in Leeuwarden
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Water hubs all over the world connect in Leeuwarden

Water is flexible and powerful at the same time. The same is true of the European Hub for Water Technology, which was created by Water Alliance over ten years. 'The formation of this platform turned out to be as innovative a process as the products developed by member companies,' Alex Berhitu says. 'You have to catch the momentum, and we have done that. With the recent highlight being the connection with water hubs from other parts of the world.'

They stood together on stage at the end of September during the European Water Tech Week (EWTW) in Leeuwarden: representatives of water hubs from America, China, Israel, Singapore, South Korea and the Netherlands. With the signing of the jointly drafted Declaration of Global Cooperation, the Northern Netherlands has become an international hub for water technology developments. This is good news for companies located on or around the Water Campus in the Friesian capital, while the manufacturing industry and other SMEs in the northern region also benefit indirectly from the dynamics surrounding water technology.

International stage

Alex Berhitu has been involved in the development of a European Hub for Water Technology from day one at NOM. As business development manager within the Water Alliance team, he is primarily concerned with the economic growth aspect. What technological innovation is ultimately about is the translation into concrete business. From the NOM the focus is on the northern Netherlands, but with the awareness that a sector like water technology requires an international stage. In addition to business development and spin-off within our own region, the promotion of exports is therefore an important main objective.

Looking at the current ecosystem around the Water Campus in Leeuwarden, Berhitu is proud of what has been built up in a decade. 'It started with a story full of ambitions and now it is all there. From excellent facilities for applied research and the testing and further development of products to attention to financial support, business coaching, chain partners and marketing. We keep in mind that innovative ideas must actually be prepared for the market. Then it comes down to the flexibility of entrepreneurship and the power of connection, especially internationally, because water concerns the whole world.'

Innovation in motion

'With increasing water issues, innovation has been the driving force behind the European Hub for Water Technology from the beginning,' Berhitu emphasizes. 'This sets us apart from the usual big tech giants. After all, affiliated startups and SMEs are much more agile and can offer customized solutions. They look differently at issues surrounding water, and from that innovative climate come products and services that are of interest to a broad market.

It is a special interaction, where within the hub people think about issues and opportunities surrounding water technology from different perspectives. In this way, innovative ideas can accelerate towards the market.' We are not entirely unique in this, because there are more such places in the world, such as the water hubs in America, China, Israel, Singapore and South Korea. All with their own dynamics, but just like us in the realization that we can help each other move forward. After all: conditions, climates, systems and cultures sometimes differ greatly, which is why those hubs are important hubs. For example, by testing technology in different locations and adapting it for local markets where necessary. But also by exchanging about water issues, insights and solution directions. Because what China or America are still looking for, we may have already invented here and vice versa. By sharing each other's best technologies, together we get further on the global market.'

Water hubs all over the world connect in Leeuwarden

Opportunity springboard

The water hubs are each looking for solutions to current water issues, which at their core are all related to scarcity and pollution. "We are therefore pleased that we came to concrete connection during the EWTW," says Berhitu. He is referring to the aforementioned Declaration of Global Cooperation between Water Tech Hubs, by which participants signed on to a joint effort around global water issues. Through innovation, talent development, creating business opportunities, leveraging each other's expertise and mutual promotion, the hubs together have a global stage for the technology developed by member partners.

Such a stage is enormously valuable for entrepreneurs from the regions where the hubs are located. A domestic example is Brightwork from Sneek, which advises water boards, drinking water companies and industries on (waste) water treatment, while sister company BW Products offers technological solutions. 'For us, the European Hub for Water Technology creates a nice international springboard,' says managing director Hans Wouters. 'Through this network we come into contact with serious local customers and realize the first references. Moreover, the hub proves to be a reliable partner to help us on our way in the jungle of rules and procedures we encounter to get business off the ground locally.'


Making meters

To be closer to the fire, Norwegian company Oisann Engineering even deliberately opened a branch at Leeuwarden's Water Campus. During the EWTW, entrepreneur Tor Stolpestad explained why this hub appears to be the right place for scaling up innovative desalination technology. 'No matter how good your technology is, only with the right contacts will you get further. From Norway we had trouble putting ourselves on the map, whereas from the European Water Hub we are really making headway. We meet people here who understand both our technology and our vision. This makes it easier for us to come into contact with suitable potential partners and customers, but also with suitable financial funds. Really a good breeding ground for innovation and business.

Eric Wildeboer has a similar experience. As managing director at Berghof Membranes, he managed to convince the German parent company for membrane production to set up a sales office at the Water Campus. 'Ten years ago I started here on my own, now we have a team of fifteen people walking around Leeuwarden dealing with innovation, marketing and worldwide sales support. Because here on the Campus it happens. We sometimes jokingly say: if you can't find the answer here, you won't find it anywhere. The network is the great strength and that only gets more powerful by connecting with other water hubs. Back in 2014, Alex Berhitu introduced us to the water hub in Singapore, which partly led to the establishment of Berghof Membranes Asian Pacific in 2016. This is how the European hub helps to put ourselves well on the map internationally.'

Reliable partners

As business development manager, Berhitu sees how important good matches are to translating technology into promising business. 'In the end, it all comes down to contacts and mutual trust.' This was also evident during the 'Connection session' during the EWTW in September. The fact is that water technology is also conceived and developed by people. And in order to translate innovative discoveries into international business, it is important that these people know how to find their way, both literally and figuratively. 'For that we need reliable partners, and those are available within the affiliated hubs,' Berhitu observes. 'What happens here on and around the Water Campus in small ways, we are now seeing emerge on a larger scale through the connection between the international water hubs. This allows us from the Northern Netherlands to participate at a global level.'

Learn more about the collaboration between NOM and the Water Alliance

View the Water Alliance website