Promoting Collaborative Japan-Netherlands Innovation: An Interview with Maarten Hermus of InnovationQuarter
In order to find out more about what’s happening in the Japan-Netherlands innovation space, we sat down with Maarten Hermus, Account Manager focused on Foreign Investment at InnovationQuarter. He assists international companies in horticulture & food in their expansion to Rotterdam-The Hague area.
Please introduce yourself
Maarten: My name is Maarten Hermus and I work as Account Manager for Foreign Investment at InnovationQuarter. As a farmer’s son, I have broad experience in horticultural trade and innovation, and specifically in international expansion of horticultural companies. Horticulture fascinates me as it connects biology and technology in a unique way, offering solutions to the future challenges of our world.
What is InnovationQuarter’s overall mission?
Maarten: InnovationQuarter is the regional economic development agency for Rotterdam-The Hague area. Our mission is to strengthen the regional economy in Rotterdam-The Hague area by stimulating the innovation potential of this unique delta region. In close co-operation with major local corporations, educational and research institutions as well as government organizations, InnovationQuarter supports technological developments with social impact, encourages entrepreneurship and invests in fast-growing companies. We do this through internationalization, investment and innovation support in our region.
Since you’re primarily involved in the horticulture sector, can you give us an idea of how things are going at the moment?
Maarten: We see a continuing trend of investment in horticultural technology worldwide. Growers are shifting from simple tunnels to high-tech greenhouses. In developed markets, we see a trend of increasing data collection and the introduction of decision support tools and AI to assist growers.
Next to that we see that markets with increasing labour challenges, like Japan and the Netherlands, have an growing interest in robotization and automation to enhance/replace manual labour. Labour challenges are increasing and the costs associated with robotization and automation are decreasing. Robots can offer added value in terms of data collection, quality control, etc.
Are there any notable Dutch companies exporting their horticultural products/services to Japan over the past few years?
Maarten: We see strong relations in horticulture between Japan and the Netherlands. A good example is the export of horticultural supplies, i.e. greenhouse and climate solutions, to the Japanese market. Many of the Dutch companies cooperate with Japanese partners to penetrate the local market. An example of such partnership is the cooperation between Inochio Group and Bosman van Zaal for horticultural projects, which was signed in 2020.
How are the Dutch horticultural and agricultural industries performing in comparison to one another with regard to exports?
Maarten: Rotterdam-The Hague area is the Dutch centre for horticulture as we host the majority of the leading greenhouse suppliers worldwide, specialized in the high-tech segment. Our reputation and joint export strategy have contributed to a strong export position.
In 2020, export of greenhouse supplies was up by 19% to €1.8 billion EUR. Success is realized through private sector trade cooperation with, for example, the World Horti Center and Dutch Greenhouse Delta. Public initiatives contribute a great deal too. For example, the Dutch economic mission in February 2021 included a Smart Agriculture track that had a good overlap with horticulture. Also at InnovationQuarter, we’ve been facilitating international trade in horticulture since last year through my colleague Rolf Karst, Project Manager for internationalization in Horticulture. Synergy through cooperation with companies and complementation in initiatives are key.
Are you currently working with any Japanese clients or partners?
Maarten: We support Japanese companies that are considering expansion or relocation in the Netherlands – through me with regards to the horticulture industry, but also other industries which my colleagues are specialized in. At this moment, I am in contact with a few Japanese companies that are actively looking at expansion into the Netherlands. We work on a confidential basis in order to best assist companies.
However, we see a continuous, or even growing list, of Japanese companies increasing their activity in the Netherlands. Some good examples from the past 2 years are; Inochio, Denso and Mitsui all increasing their activities in the Netherlands. In general we see that Japanese companies conduct extensive research before making the decision to expand.
Getting in touch with me, or service providers like Tokyoesque, at an early stage can really contribute to gaining information to support the decision making process.
Do you have any recommendations for Japanese agricultural businesses looking to obtain investment with or partner with Dutch companies?
Maarten: In all the examples I’ve mentioned, there has been success because there is a clear synergy between the Japanese and Dutch expertise. The Denso investment in Certhon is a clear example which demonstrates how Certhon’s horticultural expertise and Denso’s automotive expertise offers opportunities for new robotic value propositions in horticulture.
Synergy gives rise to new business opportunities, and offers opportunities to partner in creating solutions for feeding and greening megacities. I see great cooperation in terms of trade partnership, but also on joint R&D in areas like robotics. In greenhouse robotics, we actively network and share knowledge on business developments via our RoboCrops program. I recommend that all Japanese robotic companies with an interest in horticulture should stay updated on RoboCrops.
What would be InnovationQuarter’s ideal position in the next ten years?
Maarten: In my role at InnovationQuarter, I hope that in the coming ten years the horticultural sector can further contribute to feeding and greening the world. Ideally this would be done by much more active networks, and much higher R&D investments in horticulture. Networks to increase the impact of high-tech horticulture, and R&D to make the sector even more sustainable. Work in horticulture should be cooler and interesting and eating healthy should be attractive and easy.
Personally I hope to be in touch with different people and nationalities, that share the fascination on the combination of biology and technology that horticulture offers.
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