Petra Roubos: “Facility-sharing is sustainable, efficient and . . . inspiring”

Sharing is the way to maximize productivity and accelerate innovation, is the firm belief of Petra Roubos, Lead Shared Facilities at Foodvalley NL. “Time-to-market is substantially reduced when companies have immediate access to appropriate facilities throughout the innovation process.”

What makes facilities crucial in the transition to a sustainable food system?

“In order to establish a food system that provides food security for ten billion people worldwide we need to innovate fast. Not only in the development of healthy and tasty food products, but also in how we make optimal use of protein sources and circular agrifood chains. Time-to-market is substantially reduced when companies have swift access to the facilities they need throughout the innovation process: from advanced test equipment to demo areas, pilot and full-production plants. SMEs and startups often lack the resources to invest in such facilities by themselves. Corporates, too, realize that it is more sustainable and efficient to share facilities. And there are many more 'soft' benefits. Contact with others is easier and more frequent; knowledge exchange is enhanced; expertise develops exponentially. This fuels creativity.

My ambition, as Lead Shared Facilities at Foodvalley NL, is to change the current mindset – keeping what you have for yourself – to one of generous sharing with other partners in our ecosystem – whether it is in Food & Health, the Protein Shift or Circular Agrifood. As they say in the USA: "What goes around, comes around." Working together, we can maximize everyone's productivity and accelerate everyone's innovation.

In 2004 I graduated as both a food technologist and a nutrition scientist at Wageningen University, followed by a PhD in intestinal health. From there I joined the animal nutrition industry, where I worked on innovations at all stages of a product's process, from ideation to product launch. I worked on sustainable animal feeding with a focus on optimizing animal health and reduced antibiotic use. I love to connect parties at the cutting edge of science and industry, and I believe I have gained a deep understanding of what is needed to smooth the path to successful innovation.”

Why is Foodvalley NL involved in the transition?

“Since our founding, in 2004, we have been connecting many different parties in the agrifood sector with the aim to support and accelerate innovation – from research organizations to companies and educational institutions. And as such we have created a strong ecosystem, one that will continue to expand into other sectors, as we need all disciplines to transition into a more sustainable food system. It is that broader innovation ecosystem that we are always developing and strengthening in order that it can optimally contribute to the food system transition. Initially in the Netherlands and Europe, and later, as it grows organically, to serve food industry innovators at the global level, for example via our role as the leading European Food Innovation Hub in a worldwide network initiated by the World Economic Forum. At Foodvalley NL we combine in-depth knowledge of major innovation themes with the crossover 'ecosystem development' areas, such as Entrepreneurship, Global Ecosystem Development, Human Capital and Shared Facilities. This unique combination of focus, on both Innovation and Ecosystem development, empowers us to identify precisely the innovation needs of partners throughout the ecosystem.”

How will Foodvalley NL contribute to this transition?

“Foodvalley NL has connected entrepreneurs to the facilities and equipment from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) for over 10 years. Together, we are now intensifying this cooperation; expanding and positioning it more broadly towards the complete innovation process, from research to production facilities, and so enhancing its entrepreneurial content. With this in mind, we have launched Shared facility finder, the place where organizations can find and share facilities they need in their innovation process. Imagine a startup needing a test kitchen to develop its first range of sample products, or a company looking for a factory to scale its production up to industrial scale. I actively invite companies, research organizations and educational institutions to augment the overview by adding the facilities they are willing to share. Furthermore, together with the Innovation Leads at Foodvalley NL, I look at what additional facilities are needed to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system. Based on the outcomes, we will find and bring together partners interested in such facilities, and look for opportunities for financing.”

 

Discover shared facility finder

Could you share some project examples, to give a flavor of your work?

“We already have 50 facilities and over 300 advanced research devices available in Shared facility finder, from various organizations in the ecosystem. I have responsibility, at both Foodvalley NL and WUR for this initiative, so creating synergy and transparency.”

 “In November 2020, we facilitated a joint investment in advanced MRI equipment. Situated in the Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei, the scanner is already being used by different partners in our ecosystem, including the hospital's smell and taste expertise center, Wageningen University & Resesarch and a number of businesses.

In 2020, Wageningen University & Research, KeyGene and BaseClear, jointly invested in a PacBio Sequel II system, a sequencing technology with a wide range of applications in mapping the DNA structure of plants and other organisms.

Another example is our exploratory research into the demand for insect breeding facilities, an emerging field in the transition towards more-sustainable proteins. We are also having exploratory discussions with ecosystem partners interested in investing in novel facilities for the processing of plant-based proteins. Think, for example, of adapting existing pilot plants to extract and extrude proteins from new sources.”

Who do you want to attract into the ecosystem?

“Any research organization, company or educational institute, looking for facilities to use or with facilities to share, is welcome to join us.”

Want to know more?

Please contact Petra Roubos, petra.roubos@foodvalley.nl

About Foodvalley NL
Shaping the future of food together: building and strengthening the Foodvalley ecosystem so that we can realize the transition to a sustainable global food system. That is Foodvalley NL’s mission. In this interview series, eight members of the Foodvalley NL team share their ideas, ambitions and latest milestones. Read the previously published interviews of Edith Schippers, Chairman Foodvalley NLMarjolein Brasz, Managing Director Foodvalley NLJudith van der Horst, Innovation Lead Food & Health, Huiberdien Sweeris, Human CapitalJeroen Wouters, Global Ecosystem Development, Jonathan Teoh, Entrepreneurship and Jeroen Willemsen, Innovation Lead Protein Shift.

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