Rector magnificus Harry van den Kroonenberg

‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ rector magnificus Harry van den Kroonenberg didn’t believe in ‘problems’, only ‘challenges and opportunities’. He is known as the spiritual father of ‘the entrepreneurial university’, but his contribution to the University of Twente goes much further.

As a young man, Harry van den Kroonenberg studied at the technical college in Venlo. Like many other people from the south of the country, after he graduated he went to work for Philips. In the evenings, using borrowed books, he continued studying Mechanical Engineering at Delft Technical College, where he would later gain his PhD. After working for a time at IHC Holland, he was appointed lecturer in Design and Construction Studies at Technische Hogeschool Twente (‘Twente Technical College’).

Seven years later, this inspiring, likeable man was appointed rector magnificus, a post he would fill between 1979 and 1982 and then again from 1985 to 1988. He first introduced his vision for the entrepreneurial university in the early 1980s. He believed that the knowledge the university generated was extremely important, and he wanted to emphasize the possibilities that knowledge held for entrepreneurship. This put Van den Kroonenberg at odds with the prevailing philosophy at the time, and he received little support. People were horrified by his intention to ‘sell out the university to the commercial sector’. That was how the Advisory Board for Academic Policy put it in their damning judgement of Van den Kroonenberg’s drive for renewal and of his view of the university as a business.

But – because there are after all only challenges and opportunities, and no problems – Van den Kroonenberg did manage to give the university a new, distinctive identity. His work earned him the prize for ‘the Netherlands’ most entrepreneurial official’, and in 1990 he won the Max Geldens Prize for his innovation. Van den Kroonenberg not only developed the concept of the entrepreneurial university, he also worked to implement it. The first steps were a technology transfer point (1979), the BTC (1982) and the TOP Programme for young (student) entrepreneurs (1984).

It was a shock to everyone when, in 1996, Van den Kroonenberg collapsed whilst jogging and later died. Each year, to celebrate his innovative vision and the pioneering role he played in the institution’s development, the Twente University Fund awards the Van den Kroonenberg Prize to a young person who shows excellence in entrepreneurship. In addition, as part of the celebrations of the University of Twente’s 50th anniversary in 2011, a bronze bust of Van den Kroonenberg was unveiled on campus, outside the Horst building. The bust was partly funded by contributions from businesses that might never have come into existence without the support of the TOP Programme.

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