Diederich Bakker is a passionate proponent of interregional collaboration.
Diederich Bakker is a passionate proponent of interregional collaboration. ‘You can't create success, though you can certainly facilitate it!’
Forget Amsterdam and forget Berlin. According to Diederich Bakker, the German professor of International Business at Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, the Ems-Dollart Region is brimming with potential. His professorship is currently running a variety of projects, one of which is the Ems-Dollart Region Start-Up project. Funded by INTERREG V A, this project promotes interregional collaboration and development for start-ups within the Ems-Dollart Region.
The benefits of border regions
As a cross-border commuter, Diederich has first-hand experience of the benefits of international collaboration. 'By working together, you combine the strengths of both parties. Even in a relatively small area like the Ems-Dollart Region, the effects of the border are clearly apparent, such as cultural differences, different languages and different education systems. On the other hand, the European Union plays an important role by enabling the free movement of goods, capital and people, which creates unique opportunities.'
You do not see the power of international and interregional collaboration by focusing on each other's differences, even if the Dutch and the Germans have a lot to teach each other. 'In general, the Dutch are more creative thinkers while the Germans have a much more structured way of working. By combining these contrasts, you can help each other to work more effectively and create new innovations.'
An ecosystem that transcends borders
For this reason, the project focuses on what unites them: enterprising spirit, innovation and the region. The goal of the collaboration is to establish an ecosystem that transcends borders – a network of businesses, educators, organisations, municipalities and young entrepreneurs (start-ups) within which everybody receives the guidance and support they need to grow.
The collaboration works both ways: 'Young businesses often have an extremely creative view of the world as well as having the guts to develop highly innovative solutions. This fresh perspective can help to breathe new life into big and established companies. On the other hand, many start-ups face difficult challenges: they need funding, they don't have the right networks or their capacity for growth is restricted. Challenges like these are where the established businesses have a wealth of expertise to offer.'
'By making connections between academia, businesses, start-ups and events, we're creating a smart phone book.'
This specifically means that start-ups wishing to establish themselves in the region will find an inspiring safety net with access to a 'smart phone book': a valuable network and countless sources of information. The support and guidance that they receive is made-to-measure. 'Whether you need help writing a business plan or discussing growth possibilities, sometimes all that needs to be done is to pass on the right business card.'
Groningen as a Mecca for start-ups
When asked exactly why the Ems-Dollart Region is such a promising area, Diederich laughs and says 'Forget Amsterdam and forget Berlin, come to the Ems-Dollart Region! It's much cheaper, there's a whole world of opportunities and it's a bustling border town just a stone's throw from Germany.'
'The Ems-Dollart Region is a unique and innovative area and it's much cheaper than Amsterdam and Berlin!'
A key objective of the project is to rekindle the region's popularity. 'Lots of young people prefer to live in the big cities and avoid the 'boring' countryside. However, hardly anyone knows that Groningen is now home to over 450 start-ups!' Cities such as Groningen, Oldenburg, Assen and Emmen do everything they can to attract talented young entrepreneurs. 'Entrepreneurship creates jobs and wealth and substantially boosts the economy. It breathes life into towns and makes them more attractive to other businesses. Our hope is that they will continue to develop in the long term and give the region a vital boost.'
The region has all of the necessary ingredients to develop into an innovative and unique area: a wealth of municipalities, educational institutions, companies and start-ups are already established there.
'The opportunities are limitless and there is so much going on. It is vital that we maintain and amplify this.'
The knowledge, experience and opportunities available in the Ems-Dollart Region create extremely solid foundations for the network. 'It's all about connection. You can't create success, though you can certainly facilitate it! The opportunities are limitless and there is so much going on. It is vital that we maintain and amplify this. The region is a leading light in many areas, although we can help anyone to grow. As educators, we are able to quickly identify potential in any area and then to facilitate these talented young prospects. That creates synergy: 1 + 1 = 3.'
'I'm not going to start preaching', says Diederich, 'but everybody can learn by working together and thinking beyond conventional borders. This means not only the Dutch-German border, but also the borders we create for ourselves in our minds. Working with new people broadens your mind and your horizons and this intellectual wealth is more sustainable than anything.'