who is van den kroonenberg

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Prof. Dr. ir. Harry van den Kroonenberg (1933 -1996) was Rector Magnificus at the University of Twente during two periods: from 1979 to 1982 and from 1985 to 1988. He passed away unexpectedly in 1996 while out running, which was a great shock to the university.


Van den Kroonenberg was generally known as the spiritual father of the 'entrepreneurial university’. It is – as he wrote in 1985 - a university at which entrepreneurship is demonstrated on all levels, at which people operate close to the market, are prepared to do new, unusual things and also accept the risks involved. Van den Kroonenberg was well aware of the significance of the knowledge generated by the university for society. He saw the possibilities for a university to act with this knowledge. Van den Kroonenberg developed the concept of the entrepreneurial university and worked on its actual implementation starting with a technology transfer point (1979), the BTC (1982) and the TOP programme for young (student) entrepreneurs (1985). This last action forms the basis of the University of Twente's greatest success: the large number of spin-offs over the years. During his rectorship he flung the UT's doors wide open to the outside world. During both his terms of office ties between the UT and the business community were strengthened significantly and revenue from contract research grew accordingly. Regional policy, knowledge transfer, applied research, market-oriented education, exploiting the mound of knowledge, do-university and daring university, were recurring keywords in his policy. It is therefore not surprising that Van den Kroonenberg was so renowned by many entrepreneurs. Completely opposite from the then dominant spirit of the times, Van den Kroonenberg was able to afford the THT a new, distinctive identity and thus a concomitant elan.


When Van den Kroonenberg launched his innovative drive, the scientific community was small. There was a universal outcry at the way in which he seemingly offered the university up to the business community. In the mid-Eighties the Advisory Board for Scientific Policy issued a damming judgement on the innovative drive with which this pioneer would transform the University of Twente into a profitable business. In 1990, Van den Kroonenberg was honoured by the business community at Paleis Het Loo for that very same policy with the Max Geldens Prize, good for an amount of NLG 50,000. Van den Kroonenberg saw this occasion as an opportunity to promote his policy once more. Universities should not 'eagerly seek the government's favour' but dare to act much more independently. There was also much that could be improved in the direction of society and the business community: becoming less bureaucratic and more market-oriented. This forms the general basis of his concept of the 'entrepreneurial university'. It had previously won him the prize of the 'most entrepreneurial official in the Netherlands'.


Henricus Hubertus van den Kroonenberg originated from Roggel in Limburg. He visited the HTS in Venlo from there. His first employer was the same as that of almost every other graduate in the south: Philips. He completed his mechanical engineering study programme at TH Delft in the evening with books he had borrowed. He obtained his PhD there four years later, in 1966, with the thesis 'Measuring and explaining the characteristics of a hydrostatic engine'. At the time he was recruited by IHC Holland, which built offshore dredging equipment, as head engineer and product innovator. Six years later this was followed by his appointment as full professor in Design and Structural Engineering at the UT. Seven years later he was appointed Rector Magnificus. After his rectorship, Van den Kroonenberg became director of the Energy Research Centre Netherlands (ECN). The ECN was and still is the largest research institute in the field of energy in the Netherlands. Van den Kroonenberg's arrival as the new director in 1989 meant a radical change for the organisation. Until the beginning of the 1980s, the ECN was completely funded by the government. After 1985, this changed when the large technological institutes had to obtain part of their income from contract research. Van den Kroonenberg was the perfect man for the job. He established business units that had to raise a certain amount of revenues each year, just like commercial businesses, with contracts for business and other parties.


Van den Kroonenberg is remembered at the University of Twente as well as at ECN as an inspirational and amiable man. Following his untimely death in 1996, the UT Entrepreneur's Prize for outstanding young entrepreneurship was renamed the Van den Kroonenberg Prize. Many people still remember his achievements years after his death. This was proven, for example, in 2011 when a bronze bust of him was unveiled at the Campus. The bust was partly made possible thanks to contributions from UT alumni that were able to take their first steps on the entrepreneur's path thanks to the TOP programme.