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Restructuring research funds: issues, innovation and competition

Updated on May 7, 2015
Prof. Alexander Rinnooy Kan and Prof. Beatrice de Graaf, duo-chair of the Dutch national committee for the scientifical agenda
Prof. Alexander Rinnooy Kan and Prof. Beatrice de Graaf, duo-chair of the Dutch national committee for the scientifical agenda

Fundamental innovation and gradual improvement of products and services support economic growth. That's not just valid for nowadays society, but for the human being in itself. Inventions -and off course human creativity- have allowed mankind to develop. The natural body of society is the habitat for inventors. Not obedience but chaos seem to be at the base of evolution. Today's best products and main steps in technology are seldom directly linked to Nobel prize nor Phd works. The debate on science policy, including restructuring funds and management of the funds in the Netherlands has grown since november 2014, when “new governance and the NWO” was sent to the parliament.

Decisions about the direction of research funds are limited by the rationality of insiders in research positions and not naturally driven by general interests of the society, as it should be.

Recently, professor Alexander Rinnooy Kan and professor Beatrice de Graaf, chairing the dutch Committee for the National Scientifical Agenda, organised a national 'poll' for destination of the research funds to issues. On the website of the committee, anyone could submit ideas and proposals until May 1st. 11.656 submittals were made. The result was shown in one picture with the main issues that get support by the suppliers of proposals. Depending on the number of submittals, the word is larger.

Results of the public poll for issues to spend taxpayers money in research
Results of the public poll for issues to spend taxpayers money in research

National science agenda and business plan competition: how are these connected?

Most of the financial sources for research are linked with traditional and public institutions. Are these institutions the best environment to start a company?

Society is spontaneous and chaotic: that makes it the best driving force for innovation, while (academical) formality seems limitative. Interesting new, basic research is almost never supported by private business; in the business plan competition private business companies fund almost 100% of the research.

I interviewed two experts in the field of start-ups and business plan competitors, Harald Kerres (Kites & Darts) and Claire Arens (Xebra) to share their views after years of participating and organising a business plan competition, called New Venture, introduced in 1998 in the Netherlands to support the growth of innovation and the economy. The department of Economic Affairs has supported the competition, year after year, with a substantial part of the costs of the competition.

I asked them their opinion on the outcome of the national poll on themes for the national scientific research agenda.

Kerres: “The positive impact of this poll from Rinnooy Kan and De Graaf is that everyone, who has submitted a question or proposal, feels connected and becomes a participant in the process. It can have the effect among the contributors that everyone can start research at 'kitchentable' talks. In research the essence is in the originality of the hypothesis (question) if you will become a hero or a loser. Everyone can be participating, all the time, to science. At the other hand, the results of this 'market research' should not be used to dictate the experts at universities and research institutions. The contributions that I have done with participating in the business plan competitions is almost always related to high tech research. The national research funds for applied research in the Netherlands have decreased with 10-25% since 2011. At the same time, the New Venture competition has changed the attitude at many universities to a more entrepreneurial one. Innovation has really developed over the last years.”

Arens: “The most important issue in the research funds is that small and medium sized companies don't have the experience and capacity yet to be succesfull in submitting proposals. If the funds would be available for those companies who really need the money to start, that would be a major step forward. The New Venture competition is better suited in attracting new initiatives and supports small teams to become more professional. The competition has created a community and has been a driving force for innovation since the moment we started in 1998. I am very proud to have delivered a contribution to the changing attitude at universities. The number of excellent proposals over the years has been impressive. The national research agenda is connected with New Venture competitions in many proposals, for example from the topsector-policy. Many proposals are focusing on improved sustainability of products and services. For the future, I think the ambitions for business plan competitions should evaluate the success and keep improving. The ambitions need to be as high as the most excellent teams can show.”

Taking the experience seriously, we can say innovation has not to be imposed but proposed. When it is driven by societies needs, people's curiosity and potential profits, it's one of the most inspiring activities in which people can partecipate.

Harald Kerres (Kites & Darts) and Claire Arens (Doe-Tank)
Harald Kerres (Kites & Darts) and Claire Arens (Doe-Tank)


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    • Ernst Vuijk profile image

      Ernst Vuyk 

      3 years ago from Utrecht

      Small companies and especially start-ups are seldom experienced in getting access to research funds, even when these companies are directly a spinn-off from universities. Many start-ups face the 'death-valley' of the innovation phases. That's the moment when larger companies pick the results. General facilities like the tax reduction for start-ups are necessary to create an innovative economy.


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