There’s a burst of design talent, especially in the Eindhoven region. But not all of that talent possesses the skills to actually bring their ideas to the market, which is why so many young designers only ever see the stage of their graduation or, at best, their first exhibition. Last year Smart Design to Market came up with something to solve this very problem: a customised learning and networking programme for talented designers, made possible by companies from the Brainport region like ASML. Not only will we see the results of the first year of the programme during the upcoming Dutch Design Week, but the next step will also be announced: Smart Social Design.

Jos Hardeman and ASML’s Frido van der Blij are the pioneers of Smart Design to Market. Hailing from the world of design, Hardeman is currently focused on developing educational courses, such as those involving entrepreneurship. She also trains teachers to ensure that the pathways are run properly. Her company Eduventure can be found in the Klokgebouw.

Smart Design to Market began exactly two years ago when Frido van der Blij and his family visited Hardeman’s DDW exhibition. The two of them got to talking and quickly came to the conclusion that ‘the market’ was in need of real design talent scouting, and that this talent required help looking at market parties. Hardeman: “We agreed to come up with something to better connect designers with the manufacturing industry. Frido started getting more companies from his own network interested in the idea, while I began approaching a group of scouts who could select the candidates on programmes and at exhibitions like DDW. This is done on the basis of the urgency of the company’s work, the quality of the solution, an assessment of the feasibility and the potential scalability of the concept.”

The first group of 25 recent graduates was guided through the programme over this past year. They were product and concept developers, (game) designers, tech designers and social designers who stood out with their graduation projects and wanted to keep working on them. Twelve of them will present their projects at the Ketelhuisplein during the upcoming DDW.

“Without Smart Design to Market my graduation work would have just ended up in a closet somewhere.”

One of the lucky ones was Lola Gielen. She was scouted during DDW and her ‘neo‘ – “a musical instrument that anyone can play” – has come on leaps and bounds throughout the programme. “That would never have happened without this programme. Thanks to Smart Design to Market I’ve become more entrepreneurial, and thanks to my mentor from ASML I’ve been able to advance in technology. If I hadn’t have been scouted, my graduation project would probably have just ended up in a closet somewhere. Instead I’ve already made my third prototype, received various subsidies and there are now companies helping me with financing.”

The second Smart Design to Market pathway will begin right after DDW. The emphasis will no longer lie solely on the manufacturing industry (the business), but also on more social clients: community organisations such as ggz, housing corporations and the council. “So it’s Social Design to Market,” says Hardeman. “That’s a nice addition to what we showed last year because the connection between talent and the labour market could also stand to be improved.”

Mentors and advisors from the participating companies are the linchpin of both of the pathways, offering the designers personal guidance and helping them to produce and improve their challenging prototypes. There are also masterclasses which address specific elements of entrepreneurship, sessions on intellectual property and business case development, and the Rabobank visits to explain the financial aspects.

Companies help the designers to create a substantive and market-oriented pitch which aims to interest personal mentors. These mentors then support the designers on their individually chosen pathway, opening their network and making important contacts with manufacturing companies and market parties; in short, everything needed to get the design closer to launch.”

“After our programme you can move on to High Tech XL, for example.”

Hardeman sees Smart Design to Market as a pre-accelerator. “After our programme you can move on to High Tech XL, for example, or straight into launching your own start-up.”

There still aren’t enough opportunities for up-scaling as there is now with social design, she says. “We could also include a category like Smart Interior Design which has a whole other dynamic and its own market approach. It would fit really well with our way of working.”

Tickets for Smart Design to Market’s DDW events can be ordered online here.