MindLabs director Petra van Dijk looks back and glances forward

20 December 2022

Looking back and ahead; with the turn of the year just around the corner, particularly busy months behind us and an exciting period ahead, now is the perfect timing, according to MindLabs director a.i. Petra van Dijk. "Things are going well. Not only in terms of preparing for our move into the new building; an incredibly attractive building in the Spoorzone. We also wrote a Region Deal application to be able to develop the entire Spoorzone into a cohesive Innovation District for 'human-centered technology & AI'. The plans in that area were formed with various partners in a very short time. Yet another confirmation that together you can achieve more than you sometimes think possible."

Former MindLabs director Loet Visschers said it at his farewell at the end of February of this year: the real big successes of MindLabs will most likely happen under the leadership of his successor. Now it is Van Dijk - formerly manager of the ecosystem but now ad interim for nearly 10 months - who confirms this assumption. "We have become more robust over the past year, we have a debate about our mission behind us and the core funding is in place. In addition, our core and expert team (10 professors, lecturers and practitioners) are enthusiastically working on more coherence and projects, and there is a growing connection with organizations in the Innovation District within which we may take on the connecting role. Through all this, we are able to prepare a 'next step' in 2023." 

New construction and programming
When we ask Van Dijk about programming in the new building, 3 things in particular come to mind. "We have prepared for uproar in various forms. On activities that should encourage collaboration. Among other things, we are building an ideation methodology to approach social issues in a new way and arrive at new solutions with a 'motley crew' - a combination of different backgrounds. We also have concrete plans for 'MindLabs Open'; an open stage where partners can share their expertise and innovative applications in the field of technology and AI. And then there is the concept of hybrid learning, where companies, government and student teams take on challenges together and learn from each other." 

Van Dijk: "In terms of facilities, we will also soon be top notch on our site. We will have 5 R&D labs with equipment to research the interaction between humans and technology and improve the technology. Fontys College of Journalism will also have its own TV and podcast studio. And we will continue our existing lunch meetings and events where partners meet. That can fortunately be done physically again. Something we are incredibly looking forward to after the corona period. Which is very good for the community feeling."

Building completion and opening
"Due to the pandemic and the delayed completion of the new building, MindLabs has had to struggle through some difficult years," the director a.i. states, "But now that new waves of corona seem to be staying out and the move is coming, the mood is upbeat." According to Van Dijk, then, the "snap" is not between 2022-2023, but mainly between before and after the new building is occupied. "Many items on the schedule for next year required preliminary work, but will fall into place after the move to the new building." As it stands now, the MindLabs team will move into the building in April or May 2023 at the latest. "They are finishing the construction from top to bottom. I can hardly wait!"

As concrete as the programming of activities in the new building is already in place by now, the details of the official opening of the new building, for that matter, Van Dijk points out. "Actually, this - given the constant postponement of completion - has only been high on the agenda for a few months." But she doesn't worry about it. "The founders' calendars are currently being put side by side to choose a date. And we're brainstorming with some fun, creative partners in our network. So that's totally coming together." 

The next step
According to Van Dijk, it was mainly the cooperation between the MindLabs experts and the support of the municipality and Midpoint that now make it possible to start preparing the next step. "Because of our well-fitting profile and working method, we have been asked to take on the role of booster in the innovation district. This on both content and networking," she relates with due pride. "Even if the Regio Deal application is unexpectedly not approved, we will realize these plans. Then we just need a little more time to find other funding."

The Region Deal application, by the way, involves more than the innovation district. "We decided with our experts to bundle all knowledge, capacity and facilities in the field of virtual humans. This also fits well with the ambitions of a number of business partners. Both the development of the technology behind interactive virtual humans and research into meaningful application in our society will be central in the coming years. In any case, we are looking at added value in sectors in which we are already active, such as media, healthcare and education. But with new partners and experts, we also like to build sustainable solutions in logistics and manufacturing. New partners and experts in those areas are actually joining us at the moment." 

Strong cohesion
Enthusiastic new partners, a strong profile, great projects in the making and a new residence within reach... So what else is there to wish for? "Of course, there is always room for improvement. I hope that at the end of 2023 we can say that the cohesion and concrete cooperation between partners has been further strengthened. And that also applies to the partners located outside the innovation district. Now, we are still making sure that new connections are established. But the ecosystem becomes stronger when partners also spontaneously meet and help each other out. We expect that our new home base, with many more opportunities for meeting and experimenting, will have a catalytic effect," Van Dijk looks ahead.

"In addition, I would like to see MindLabs attract even more and diverse talent. Experts, researchers, start-ups, scale-ups and corporates who want to invest in and collaborate on innovations," she continues. "A lot of commitment and capital is needed because there is an awful lot to do in human-centered technology and AI. This was also beautifully described by the Scientific Council for Government Policy in late 2021. In fact, we are only at the beginning of the spillover of AI. The knock-on effect will be similar to that of electricity or the internal combustion engine. We still have to learn to use technology properly for valuable purposes for ourselves and our environment, but we also still have to learn to regulate it properly. The connecting organization, residence, R&D facilities and partnerships for that are there now. So in the coming year, we are going at it again full steam ahead!"