The final funding round of 2016 is almost complete. How has it gone?
"We've announced which small, promising projects – what we call 'pioneer projects' – we'll be supporting. We've selected a nice mix of technical and social projects. For example, on the technical side we're supporting a system that warns of DDoS attacks, while on the social side we're backing an app that 'translates' medical jargon into everyday language. As happened last year, we didn't get as many applications for pioneer projects as for bigger projects. I think that's a shame, because I feel that the funding of small initiatives can make a real difference. So we are currently working to build up contacts with the higher education sector. We hope that that will lead to more applications for the funding of students' projects. I envisage SIDN Fund contributing to the development of proofs of concept, for example, which have the potential to become successful business ventures. I should add that we're also nearly ready to announce which 'potentials' – larger projects – we're going to support following 2016's second application round. Again, there will be a good mix."
The first funding round of 2017 is going to be themed 'blockchain for good'. What's the thinking behind that?
"We've been considering the use of themes for a while, and blockchain seemed like a good theme to start with. Blockchain is a fraud-proof database maintenance technology. Many people will know it from Bitcoin, the digital currency. But it has lots of other potential applications as well. It's a real 'hot topic': there are about twenty government blockchain pilots running, for example. You even hear people saying that blockchain is going to change the world. So it's got to be a good idea to take a look at the possibilities it offers. We're particularly interested in how blockchain could be used for the good of the community, and we're hoping to attract some strong funding applications that tie in with that. Part of our motivation for focusing attention on blockchain is that it's been something of a neglected topic in terms of the applications we've received in the last two years. One of the advantages of theming is that it enables us to approach particular groups."
SIDN Fund is also planning to start supporting academic research. Can you tell us more about that?
"Yes, this is another thing that's been on our 'to do' list for a while, and now we're going to make it happen. The first application window for academic research projects is already open. It closes on 17 January. We are expecting quite a number of applications, so we've set up a sort of pre-registration system. The idea is that people can submit an outline proposal and quickly find out whether it's worth going ahead with a formal application. A formal application is quite a lot of work, and it's a great shame to do that work if your project isn't actually eligible. Another reason for filtering the applications is that we're only able to fund one or two academic projects a year. It's worth making the point that we're interested in applications from all kinds of universities, including universities of applied sciences."
What's the current situation with the Internet Thesis Prizes?
"We'll be awarding the prizes for the second time in April. We had a lot of entries this year, and we'll probably get a lot next year too. This year's presentation ceremony was a very enjoyable occasion. The standard was very high and it was great to see so many happy students and parents. Where the Internet Thesis Prizes are concerned, we work closely with the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities and a few other funding organisations. Each partner focuses on a particular aspect of the internet: Google on the economic aspects of the internet, the law firm Brinkhof on the legal aspects and Greenhost on the technical aspects. We focus on the social aspects. As a result, the internet is covered from every angle, which is great. It means that we're helping to highlight the importance of the internet across the board."
SIDN Fund has now been active for two years. The first projects that you made grants to have now been completed or will be completed soon. What do you feel you've achieved?
"There are two ways of assessing what's been achieved. First, you can look at the results of the individual projects. There have been lots of successes. Code Hour is one. It was an initiative aimed at introducing youngsters to programming, which had a tremendous impact all over the country. A huge number of schools took part and the kids loved it. Then there's The Things Network: an open-source network for the Internet of Things, which has really taken off. Various other projects have won accolades and prizes as well. Such achievements are of course down to the people running the projects, but we like to think that we've made a decisive contribution by helping them get started. A project's start-up phase is always challenging. So there are lots of success stories. And, together with the project organisers, we've been getting out to relevant events and telling those stories to as many people as we can. That gives the project organisers the opportunity to build their networks and to learn from one another. And it helps us to raise the profile of SIDN Fund. The second way of assessing what we've achieved is to consider the overall impact of the Fund. That's harder to gauge, because our aim is to have a positive influence on society. How can you say whether you've actually done that? What effects should you be measuring: how many people you've reached? How many organisations? We are currently looking into ways of getting a useful picture of the Fund's impact, and I hope that I'll have something to report the next time we speak."
Want to know about the pioneer projects that SIDN Fund is supporting in 2016? Details are on the Fund's website (in Dutch).