** ** This original article was previously published on the Innovation Origins website, on December 10th, 2019. The original article can be found here. **
Joep van Cranenbroek (Holland Innovative) is the authority at the intersection of biology and data science.
As a ‘data biologist’, Joep van Cranenbroek has built up a unique position in the Netherlands. His background as a biologist with a deep knowledge of data science gives him the position at Holland Innovative to bring two worlds together in a way that, in our data-driven transition time, is in great demand.
His inspiration comes from various sides: horticulture and arable farming, broad biology, but also statistics and data science. Precisely there where precision agriculture has currently taken on such an important role, Van Cranenbroek’s expertise is worth its weight in gold, not only for himself but also for Holland Innovative.
Van Cranenbroek’s eureka-moment came recently, during a visit to a large invite-only event at Rijk Zwaan, the renowned breeding company that develops vegetable varieties and sells their seeds to growers all over the world. “The first thing that came to my mind, after I was invited: Wow, how cool that I can be there and that it is recognized how well we are doing. Because it’s precisely there, that so much knowledge and experience come together in my field of work, and we are now part of it, as a full-fledged discussion partner.”
This perception made Van Cranenbroek aware of the unique position of Holland Innovative, as well as of the realisation that this position should be a little better known in the outside world. “Look, if I am already surprised at how far we’ve come, how will this work out for our audience and our potential customers? We could certainly show a little more pride.”
At the moment, Van Cranenbroek and his team can be found in the large stadiums and other sports complexes and pitches. “You may wonder how we are going to solve the world’s problems there, but of course it’s not that direct. What we’re actually doing right now is showing what’s possible when you bring biology and data science together. Our field of activity is currently mainly located in the Johan Cruijff Arena and the Gelredome and that’s a good thing: it is precisely the environment where the details are at stake and where we can show what the ultimate opportunities are about.”
The system that Holland Innovative has built up for these large sports arenas ensures that the conditions above, below and in the grass are monitored and controlled in such a way that literally every square centimetre of grass performs optimally. Wind, light and water are combined with the ground via sensors and a dashboard that provides the key to this result. Van Cranenbroek: “So you can say that we are using the opportunities offered by a ‘luxury problem’ – the high demands of professional football – to show what else is possible with our technology.”
The aim is to further develop this technology in order to find solutions in places in the world where, for example, there is a need for more or better food. “The ultimate dream of us is to be able to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations with our solutions. Our knowledge can help to solve much larger issues, such as the world food problem, sustainability, the climate and economic prosperity.”
That doesn’t mean that these stadiums are just seen as a quick-and-dirty step in the ultimate direction. No, the stadium business in itself is important and challenging for HI. Moreover, this environment is the ideal business card for Holland Innovative and HI-Sports, the brand with which HI is now approaching this market: “Thanks to our expertise in this field and in this sector, we can step by step conquer the world. You can imagine that in every FIFA country they carefully look at what we manage to achieve in Amsterdam!” Van Cranenbroek sees the fact that the leading magazine ‘StadionWelt’ covered the HI-story as the first proof of this. “Just like the fact that we were invited to show this to the Bundesliga at the November ArenA Summit in Frankfurt.”
At Rijk Zwaan, Van Cranenbroek saw that many parties face the same challenges. “Whether you’re in horticulture and trying to collect the data from sap streams and growth patterns or, as we do, collecting data from the soil, climate and grass growth in sports arenas, it’s all about the smart combination of data science and domain expertise. In other words: we need insights and appropriate solutions in this data-driven transition time. For me, it was good to see that what we do in a completely new market is comparable to what is already happening in a much more mature market. We bring data together with domain knowledge – that makes us the authority in our field.”
Joep van Cranenbroek