Leeuwarden wants to become the European capital of water technology

Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland, specializes in water technology. Already an important hub in The Netherlands, the city is quickly becoming a European hub as well.

The low-lying province of Friesland in the north of The Netherlands is historically known for its close connection with water. Fishing has been a way of life for centuries for many people on the coast in the north and west. The lake area near Sneek is the heart of the Dutch sailing industry. And in years when winters get really cold and all the canals and lakes in Friesland freeze over, tens of thousands of people take part in the world’s largest speed skating event. And now Leeuwarden wants to become the European capital of water technology.

Key sector water

The Dutch government has selected nine so-called key sectors (‘topsectoren’). These are nine especially competitive areas of the Dutch economy, which the government wants to excel. This is realized by investments and guarantees as well as reduction of red tape and bureaucracy.
Recently StartupJuncture wrote about Wageningen, where the key sector Agriculture & Food and the key sector Horticulture form the pillars of the the local economy as well as for the research at the Wageningen University. In Leeuwarden the same is true for the key sector Water, or more specifically the subsector water technology (other subsectors are maritime technology and delta technology).

Competition from countries like China, Singapore and Israel is increasing, reported the FD recently. Still, knowledge about water technology remains an important Dutch export product. Some of the key aspects and strengths of water technology in The Netherlands are:

– Widespread availability of clean drinking water
– Recycling of waste water
– High quality water research institutions
– Water distribution networks

The WaterCampus Leeuwarden

Currently acting as the Dutch hub for water technology is the WaterCampus Leeuwarden. The WaterCampus is a public private partnership of the Province of Friesland, the municipality of Leeuwarden, networking organization Water Alliance and research institutes Wetsus and CEW. By facilitating cooperation between businesses, governments and research institutions, the WaterCampus wants to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship to help solve global water problems.

The WaterCampus Leeuwarden now has set its goal to become the European hub for water technology as well. Leeuwarden is participating as an ‘innovating city’ in the Compact Global Cities programme of the United Nations, which aims to create sustainable societies. Worldwide, a total of seventeen cities acts as innovating cities, including places like San Francisco, Melbourne and Berlin. Together with Milwaukee, Leeuwarden is one of only two innovating cities in the programme to have water technology as its specialisation.

On February 10 the WaterCampus hosted the 3rd EIP Water Conference, where 700 people from fifty countries talked about the current state of innovation in the water sector.

Water technology Startups in Friesland

Water Campus also supports entrepreneurs in the water sector by providing them with coaching, access to facilities such as laboratories, as well as an international network and funding when needed.

As water is so important in Friesland, it’s no surprise that this province houses several innovative water technology companies. The number of water tech startups in Friesland is still small though.

One of these startups is Fleet Cleaner. They have developed a robot that can clean the hulls of ships stationed in harbours. They claim that by removing attached algae and shells, an average 200-meter container ship can save up to 300.000 euro on fuel each year. In January, Fleet Cleaner won the 2016 Water Alliance Innovation Stimulation (WIS) award. After introduction in The Netherlands, they aim to deploy one hundred cleaning robots in twenty harbours worldwide.

Salttech is a startup that was founded at the Water Campus Leeuwarden and is now located in Sneek. Salttech developed technology to desalinize extremely salty waste from mines and industry (brine) and is so preventing salinization of soil.

Redstack, another Sneek-based startup, was also founded at the Water Campus Leeuwarden. Redstack is producing blue energy, which is energy generated from the difference in salinity of two solutions. Placing blue energy technology in river mouths could open up an enormous potential of sustainable-free energy. A pilot project, in which Japanese company Fujifilm participates, is currently conducted on the Afsluitdijk in The Netherlands.

Startup event: Water Tech Fest

Soon there will be another event in Leeuwarden and this time it will focus completely on startups. From May 25 till May 28, in light of Startup Fest Europe, all kinds of startup-related events are taking place across The Netherlands. Being the capital of water technology, Leeuwarden will organize a Water Tech Fest on May 25 in the WaterCampus. This event is open for startups, investors, professionals and decision makers working in the water technology sector Partners of the event are Startup Delta and The Netherlands Water Partnership.

It will be interesting to see what Water Tech Fest can do to move Leeuwarden forward. The city doesn’t lack ambition and is clearly positioning itself as the European capital of water technology. Now it is time for existing startups to move to Leeuwarden and for new startups to be founded here.

Image by WaterCampus Leeuwarden