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“A heart for fundamental research and a passion for collaboration and innovation”
Pieter de Witte (46) will become the newest board member of Quantum Delta NL on 1 March 2022 in his position as Director Research Programs and IP. In the interview below, he elaborates on his expected role. He looks back on his career so far, and also gives a glimpse of the future.
As a child, Pieter actually wanted to be a farmer or a biologist, but in the end, he embarked on a career that connected the worlds of science and business, with enormous success. In 2004, he started his career at the former Foundation for Technological Sciences (STW, now the Dutch Research Council’s domain of Applied and Technical Sciences).
Pieter’s first role was as program officer for the successful NanoNed initiative, a Dutch government initiative concerned with nanotechnology research, with two hundred research projects across a consortium of seven universities, TNO and Philips. NanoNed was a so-called FES program, with funding from natural gas revenues.
After four years at STW, he transferred to the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM). There, he worked on the Industrial Partnership Programmes (IPPs), which focused on public-private partnerships. From FOM, he was seconded for two years to the High Tech Systems and Materials (HTSM) sector, where he gained considerable experience around high tech systems. Eventually he ended up at the Dutch Research Council (NWO), first as Head of Collaborative Initiatives and from 1 September 2021 as Acting Head of Earth Sciences and Astronomy, part of the Exact and Natural Sciences domain.
The common thread through all these jobs? “A heart for fundamental research and a passion for collaboration and innovation,” says De Witte, who also hopes to express these two passions in his new position at Quantum Delta NL. “In this role, all my previous experience comes together. At NWO, I shaped the relationships with the relevant ministries; at FOM, with the companies. At NanoNed, I was at the heart of building an ecosystem around nanotechnology, a similar challenge to that which we now face with Quantum Delta NL and quantum technology. That is precisely why this feels like a perfect fit.”
He is therefore very much looking forward to his role as Director of Research Programs and IP, as the fourth board member (alongside Ronald Hanson, Jesse Robbers and Freeke Heijman) at Quantum Delta NL.
“We are at the beginning of a new phase: the construction of Quantum Delta NL and the allocation from the National Growth Fund have been completed, now it is time for implementation. For that, we need to think things through and create frameworks. My responsibility in the coming year lies mainly with the financing of the Catalyst Programmes and to draw up cooperation agreements with our partners, including agreements on intellectual property. With this we facilitate excellent science, collaboration and entrepreneurship.
In addition, I am responsible for the connection with Europe; there are great opportunities in Horizon Europe. To participate in collaborative programs, a financial contribution from the Netherlands and Quantum Delta NL is often required. We have to organize this. Furthermore, as a new colleague in the team I hope to grow together; we have the responsibility, both individually and also as an organization, to achieve the ambitious goals we have set ourselves. This is only possible if we learn to build on each other. It’s fun and exciting to deepen that relationship.”
As a country, we are scientifically at the forefront when it comes to quantum research. We can capitalize on that when it comes to talent.
Pieter de Witte
Another challenge is attracting all the necessary talent to Quantum Delta NL. “That’s really going to be one of the keys to success. It’s about the best scientists and entrepreneurs, but also about finding new employees for our promising startups. As a country, we are scientifically at the forefront when it comes to quantum research. We can capitalize on that when it comes to talent. In addition, I see opportunities in collaborating in Europe to expand our networks there.”
One thing is certain: De Witte will throw himself into these challenges with full energy, as he does with everything in his work and beyond.
As a runner, tennis player and, more recently, boxer, he is also always looking for new ways to do things better and smarter. At the same time, he and his family – his girlfriend and two children aged six and eight – enjoy living on the waterfront in Utrecht and the canoe they bought during Corona, which they use to navigate the Kromme Rijn and other rivers. “I really enjoy sports, culture and being outdoors, but most of all I enjoy just being with other people.” This also rings true when it comes to quantum policy.
“I am a people person. I get energy from speaking with scientists, ministries and startups and being concretely involved in projects. I like to visit universities and companies to line them up for the bigger mission of making Quantum Delta NL a success. We have so much to be proud of in the Netherlands – the best researchers and the most promising startups. Our ambition may be high, but the potential is there too.”
We can maximise that potential if we act together as one ecosystem, he concludes. “Fortunately, the Dutch are very good at collaborating; that’s really a core competency, just like entrepreneurship. Quantum Delta NL has the task of connecting the key players: the scientists, the companies and the organizations involved in such a way that the Netherlands remains the international quantum leader. I am looking forward to contributing my bit to this…”
Our team is really happy to have found our fourth director.
Ronald Hanson, our Chairman of the board: “We are delighted that Pieter will strengthen our team and we are very much looking forward to an exciting journey together in the coming years!”