Background of Brainport Eindhoven

December 23, 2015

The Brainport Eindhoven region is well known for its unique high tech ecosystem and the internationally acknowledged successful Triple Helix collaboration model. Eindhoven has been awarded the Most Intelligent Community of the year in 2011 and holds a front runner position in the evolution from Smart City towards Smart Society. Focusing on the strategic areas of Energy, Health and Mobility, the Brainport Eindhoven region aims at solving tomorrow’s societal challenges of regions and cities around the world.

However, Eindhoven started out as a traditional industrial town. The economic crisis which hit Eindhoven in the 1990’s triggered the transition into the modern high tech and knowledge economy it is known for today.

The beginning of industrialization

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the population of Eindhoven increased and industrial companies arrived and took on workers in bulk. Back then, the tobacco industry was dominant, there was the emergence of the timber industry and the textile industry also grew very noticeably. Home-based industry made way for factory labour and mechanised production. The emergence of Philips, founded in 1891 and starting with the production of light bulbs, changed the face of the city. The company started building houses for the rapidly growing workforce in 1909 and in 1920 the light-bulb complex on the Emmasingel was completed. Construction also began on the Strijp-S complex. In 1928, the Van Doorne brothers started a machine factory in Eindhoven, becoming a trailer specialist and from 1934 they operated under the name Van Doorne’s Aanhangwagen Fabriek, or DAF Among other things, the company produced trucks and came up with all kinds of inventions like the roller barrel garbage truck. In the field of cars, too, DAF developed the innovative variomatic gearbox.

Company Town

With Philips playing a dominant role, Eindhoven developed into a ‘company town’ during the mid-twentieth century. The company’s growth can be attributed in part to the production of radios. The many Philips employees lived in houses built by the Philips housing association and visited the Philips health centre, attended Philips’ schools or played sport at a Philips sports association. The Second World War saw a great deal of damage to homes and factories but after liberation Philips was able to ramp up production again. By the beginning of the nineteen-sixties the number of employees had doubled to 40,000. At the same time, DAF’s growth was spectacular, with the 100,000th car rolling off the production line in 1963 .


The character of industrial Eindhoven has changed since 1970. The tobacco and textile industries have disappeared. DAF sold its car division to Volvo but remained successful in the production and development of trucks and coach undercarriages. In 1993 DAF went bankrupt, however, but made a restart in a streamlined form as DAF trucks N.V. Since 1996 the company has been in the hands of Paccar, but the brand name DAF continues. Philips was still the largest employer in the region although in 2008 the workforce had fallen to 11,000 people, partly due to the radical reorganization in the nineties, known as ‘Centurion’. A lot of the production shifted to low-wage countries. This contraction at Philips meant the end of the ‘company town’. But Philips did give rise to successful new companies, like ASML, NXP and FEI Company, and with them the face of the current Brainport where top technology is central.

Triple Helix

The origin of the Triple Helix collaboration model lies in Eindhoven’s economical crisis in the nineties. It was a coincidence that leaders from the local council of Eindhoven (the mayor Rein Welschen), the university (Henk de Wilt) and the Chambre of Commerce (Theo Hurks) started at the same time which the same drive, understood each other, had intensive contacts and also felt trust towards each other. Welschen contacted De Wilt of the TU/e and they formed a Commission for Regional Opportunities, who developed the program Horizon, aimed to enhance a ‘top-technological region’. The leaders created an effective ‘vital coalition’ between the city, business and knowledge institutions (‘a triple helix’) and also resources were available such as money, time and competences. Some insiders argue that the culture in south-east Brabant of entrepreneurship – which has always been necessary on this poor sandy soils – has also contributed to a resilient basis for development. These poor soils enhanced a ‘DNA of cooperation and urge to survive’. So cultural ‘soft’ factors such as the tradition of cooperation and taking initiatives in Brabant, the hands-on mentality and the eagerness ‘to put Eindhoven on the map’ were also important in this process.


Brainport Eindhoven was developed based on programmes and projects, flexible adapting to the changing circumstances based on the assumption that in the high-tech economy there is ‘a need for speed’. After the Stimulus programme (1994) and Horizon (2002) the Brainport Navigator 2003 was developed and Brainport 2020 (in 2011), all programmes with concrete projects. The organisation became more institutionalized with the development of Brainport Eindhoven since 2005, but informal networks still remain very important. The focus in the Brainport Eindhoven region lies in the development of ‘value chains’ which have economic potention: high tech systems and new materials, the creative industry, the food industry and life sciences. The heart of Brainport Eindhoven region is the city of Eindhoven. Among the numerous innovative and renowned knowledge and research institutes located in this region are for example: Philips, DAF, ASML, TomTom, Eindhoven University of Technology, TNO Industries and Technique and High Tech Campus Eindhoven. Knowledge industry and manufacturing industry meet eachother in the Brainport Eindhoven region. The majority of the technology companies and the research institutes are located within a 40-kilometre radius around this city.


The Eindhoven International Project Office (EIPO) unlocks the knowledge and experience of the successful transition of the Eindhoven region from a traditional manufacturing industry into the world leading high tech hotspot that it is today.


Picture: Creative Commons licensed by Arend Vermazeren