Northern Netherlands European front-runner Healthy Ageing

The Northern-Netherlands region leads the pack in Europe when it comes to Healthy Ageing, according to the European Commission. On Wednesday 13 July 2016 it presented a ranking of European Reference Regions in the field of Active and Healthy Ageing. No less than 78 regions from 22 Member States sent in an application to be on the list on which ranking is determined by the number of stars awarded. The Northern-Netherlands -under the leadership of the Healthy Ageing Network Northern-Netherlands (HANNN)- achieved the highest possible score of 4 stars, an honor bestowed upon only a very select group of Reference Sites. This recognition of excellence in Healthy Ageing in the Northern-Netherlands creates exposure and collaboration opportunities for its knowledge institutes and companies, making it easier to export innovations in the area of healthy and active ageing. The Northern-Netherlands is the only Dutch region to receive the coveted four-star status.

The four stars are a result of a thorough process in which regions are regularly checked and reassessed. The grading system resembles the Michelin star ratings for restaurants. The new rating replaces the first Reference Site designations made in 2013, during which the Northern Netherlands received the then-highest score of two times three stars. The new four star rating is even more unique, says Daan Bultje, director of HANNN.

“This year the European Commission raised the bar even higher because we had to prove that with our activities a larger part of the population could be reached. I am proud that we have been able to achieve this, and that the European Commission has confirmed that the Northern-Netherlands made the right choice in focusing on Healthy Ageing as its main theme. The maximum score confirms what we already knew to be true: when it comes to innovation in Healthy Ageing, there is no better place to turn to than the Northern Netherlands.”

The status is not just a recognition of past achievements of the Northern-Netherlands, but also creates expectations for the future, according to Bultje: “Reference sites are increasingly important to the European Commission. It aims to involve Reference Sites in training activities in lesser developed regions, and to stimulate the European transfer of innovative practices developed in the Reference Sites.

For the Northern Netherlands, this means that healthcare innovations that are developed here have a better chance of being successfully adopted and scaled up throughout Europe.

This presents great opportunities for small and medium enterprises ambitious to spread their wings internationally. With this status they can prove that their services and products are embedded in a region which delivers cutting edge innovation in the field of healthy ageing. In this regard, our award is not just an achievement for the region, but for the whole of the Netherlands.”

EIT Health: InnoLife

The Northern Netherlands is one of the partners in the InnoLife consortium. A consortium of more than 50 core partners (and in addition 90 associate organisations) of leading businesses, research centres and universities from 9 EU countries, has been selected by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) as the Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) for EIT Health. With a total volume of EUR 2,100 million it is one of the largest public funded initiatives for health worldwide. InnoLife’s mission is to promote entrepreneurship and develop innovations in healthy living and active ageing, providing Europe with new opportunities and resources. InnoLife will enable citizens to lead healthier and more productive lives by delivering products, services and concepts that will improve quality of life and contribute to the sustainability of healthcare across Europe.

The EIT HEALTH partnership will adopt an investor approach: integrating business, research and higher education. Companies will be given easier access to markets across the EU and the critical mass of partners from business and industry, education, research, healthcare providers and insurance companies within EIT Health, opens the path to reduced time-to-market for added-value products and services.
The activities within the EIT HEALTH are spreading all over Europe and will allow HANNN to establish new ties to expand innovation and growth.

Read more about the EIT HEALTH here.

European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing

The European Commission has identified active and healthy ageing as a major societal challenge common to all European countries, and an area which presents considerable potential for Europe to lead the world in providing innovative responses to this challenge. Therefore European Innovation Partnerships (EIP’s) have been set up. It pursues a triple win for Europe:

  1. enabling EU citizens to lead healthy, active and independent lives while ageing;
  2. improving the sustainability and efficiency of social and health care systems;
  3. boosting and improving the competitiveness of the markets for innovative products and services, responding to the ageing challenge at both EU and global level, thus creating new opportunities for businesses.

This will be realised in the three areas of prevention and health promotion, care and cure, and active and independent living of elderly people. The overarching target of this partnership will be to increase the average healthy lifespan by two years by 2020. The Northern Netherlands is active in several action groups of the European Innovation Partnership.

Read more about the EIP here.

Partner in European projects

In recent years, HANNN has actively participated in several european projects. As the Dutch partner, we were responsible for a specific work package within this project and throughout the project period we worked together with various European partners to achieve the desired end result. A few of these projects are briefly mentioned below:

Dementia in Cultural Mediation (DCUM project)
The DCUM project is a transnational project motivated by the increasing number of people suffering from dementia in Europe. The project is based on the great potential of using culture and cultural activities as an approach to creating social inclusion for people with dementia in local communities.
To reach the overall purpose, the DCUM project increases the competencies of Cultural Mediators working in cultural institutions (e.g. libraries, museums and civil society organizations) through the exchange of tools and learning of new ways to practice cultural mediation aimed at people with dementia. The project also develops an online and easily accessible toolkit for everyone who is interested in inspiration and practical methods for cultural mediation aimed at people living with dementia. Explore the toolbox here

Embracing Dementia (EDEN project)
The support provided by relatives of citizens living with dementia is of great importance to both the person with dementia, the relatives themselves and the society.
The main objective of the EDEN – Embracing Dementia project is to create increased awareness of the importance of relatives’ role in the care of family members living with dementia, and a closer collaboration on local level between the relevant local stakeholders.
The EDEN project wants to change the approach of the care of citizens living with dementia from a challenge for each individual family towards a common community challenge. The website and materials can be found here.

IC-Health: improving digital health skills in Europe
Having digital health skills means that a person can properly search for and understand information about health issues online. People with digital health skills are better able to take an active role in their own health management. However, in today's digital society, it appears that many people do not have the necessary digital skills and therefore cannot make informed decisions about their health. In the IC-Health project, a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are developed. These large-scale, open and online courses support European citizens in being better able to search for health information on the Internet, thereby improving their general digital health literacy. Read more here.

Cross-border Healthy Ageing Initiatives/ INTERREG VA

HANNN is part of the informal “Platform for Cross-border Healthy Ageing Initiatives” together with Dutch and German SMEs, Health- and Knowledge institutions, enabling information exchange with possible parties for INTERREG VA-projects. Click here to read more about ongoing project (ideas) and opportunities for collaboration.


HANNN is part of the ScanBalt Network, connecting Lifescience and health clusters within the Baltic States, Scandinavia, Germany, and Poland. Our director, Daan Bultje, is vice-chair and we are actively participating in several European proposals.

From 8-10 October, 2014, the Northern Netherlands had the honour to host the annual ScanBalt Forum. The scientists, businessmen and politicians from the Scandinavian-Baltic health and bio-economy communities met up and exchanged their ideas in parallel sessions: a scientific program, a business development program and the matchmaking event of the Healthy Ageing Campus Netherlands. 

The ScanBalt regions do possess about high-level expertise in fields such as biotechnology, medicine, and clinical research. By cooperating, the members can benefit from each other’s best practices, focus on scaling-up strategies and facilitate the implementation of innovation in order to tackle nowadays societal challenges. 

Read more about ScanBalt here.