Inspiration story: the flourishing Utrecht Science Park

In the far east of the city of Utrecht, bounded on two sides by the A27 and A28 motorways and between the pastures where sheep graze peacefully, lies Utrecht Science Park (USP), formerly known as De Uithof. The occupants of this science park – renowned medical centres, knowledge institutions, research institutes and enterprises – cooperate intensively to develop and apply pioneering science and solutions in the areas of healthcare, life sciences and sustainbility. This innovative science community is the perfect location for scientific congresses that attract participants from all over the world. However, the pandemic has forced USP to rethink its role. Standstill is the last thing that would occur to the Science Park occupants: they have plenty of future-oriented plans! To find out more about these, the Utrecht Convention Bureau talked to Managing Director Jan Henk van der Velden and Hospitality Manager Marleen Kroeze of the Utrecht Science Park Foundation.

The effects of COVID-19
Just like everyone else, Utrecht Science Park has been affected by the pandemic. ‘During the pandemic the congresses and conferences were reduced to a minimum. Of course, we still held digital gatherings but in view of the ‘overkill’ of online events we intentionally limited the spectrum. Above all we focussed on the highlights’, says Jan Henk.

Jan Henk and Marleen stress that since September they have once more been working at capacity on various events and activities, in physical, hybrid and digital form. As regards international congresses, Marleen expects that, in the future too, online elements will remain a regular feature of the events and gatherings that take place at USP. ‘It’s no longer the case that you have to fly in a keynote speaker for a congress. Someone can also take part in one component from a studio in their home country, and we can then present this on video in a great manner. Remote participation can be very interesting for international congresses and events, and moreover it’s sustainable and it’s accessible to a broader public.’ On the other hand, personal encounters are also high on the agenda for such events and gatherings. While the keynote speaker can put over his or her message remotely, meeting other people face to face remains crucially important. ‘Getting together in person, making the connection, and also talking to each other about non-scientific issues – these are valuable too. A new and useful balance will arise in this area, in which you make a considered decision about whether to participate live or digitally. Will you go for the personal, live encounter (for instance at a network event where you can also meet other contacts relevant to you) or is the time- and cost-saving online variant sufficient for you in this case?’ However things develop, both Marleen and Jan Henk are really looking forward to the time when physical contacts become the norm again. ‘The possibility for everyone here to simply walk over the road to discuss substantive issues in person with other experts’, says Jan Henk. ‘And this is precisely the strength of USP: the huge concentration of knowledge and expertise in a radius of just three kilometres. Every day, the world’s top experts in all kinds of fields are here in person, which also creates fantastic opportunities to join congresses and events or to organise them yourself. This is also one of the reasons why international scientific congresses like to choose the Utrecht region.’

No standstill
People at USP certainly didn’t stand still during the lockdown! The staff of the hospitals were putting in overtime and work in the laboratories continued unabated. Other sectors continued to work from home, lectures were held online and events and congresses also continued online, albeit less intensively. And now people are busy working behind the scenes on various projects. To give one example, construction of the Accelerator has begun, a new multi-tenant building for Life Sciences which will accommodate, for instance, the listed biotechnology companies Genmab and Merus.

Opportunities for further growth like these are important for the cross-pollination between smaller and larger players in the fields of Life Sciences and Research & Development. This 23,000 m² building will include an auditorium on the ground floor, various meet & greet facilities, a meeting centre and a generously proportioned restaurant, creating an excellent range of options for facilitating encounter and exchange. In this way the Accelerator plays an important connecting role between companies and institutions at Utrecht Science Park.

Utrecht Science Week
This year a new annual event is beingwas introduced at Utrecht Science Park: Utrecht Science Week. The first edition of Utrecht Science Week took place on 14 and 15 October 2021, with the central theme: ‘Creating a healthy, sustainable society together’. ‘Utrecht Science Week offers a rich and varied programme with attractive lectures, interactive workshops and high-profile interviews’, says Marleen. ‘We organised the event together with scientists, administrators, professionals and young student talent. Thursday 14 October focused on sustainability, with the annual Pathways to Sustainability Conference hosted by Utrecht University and the Day of Sustainability hosted by HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. On Friday 15 October the focus moved to healthy living. We also wanted to give young talent a showcase with the finals of the Sustainable Campus Challenge.’ In coming years Utrecht Science Week will be further expanded. The programme of Utrecht Science Week ’21 had a hybrid format, allowing people at home to attend events as well.

Environmental Vision 2040
So the pandemic is not inhibiting the further development of USP. In the coming years too, there are plenty of developments on the agenda. Utrecht Science Park is expected to grow in line with the growth of the city and region as a whole. In order to guide this process the Utrecht Science Park Locality Vision 2040 has been drawn up by the Municipality of Utrecht, Utrecht University, UMC Utrecht and the Utrecht Science Park Foundation, also incorporating input from users and residents. The Locality Vision 2040 addresses various interrelated themes such as innovation, accessibility, recreation, working, living and green areas. Through this locality vision Utrecht Science Park aims to both facilitate growth and improve the climate for establishment of businesses. ‘We’ve already made huge progress, but follow-up steps are still needed’, says Jan Henk. ‘To give one important example, UMC Utrecht wants to switch the location of its entrance to link up with the A28. This will dramatically reduce motor traffic at Utrecht Science Park, which will mark a major step towards traffic abatement at USP. And this in turn will positively affect the climate for business establishment.’

In the coming years we’ll be keeping close track of USP and its exciting plans, and we look forward to the future!

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