It’s a fact that the corona crisis is leading to a recession. We’re in the midst of it already. This does not only result in economic damage. A lot of knowledge and innovative capacity are also at risk of being lost. Certainly in a high-tech region such as the Brainport Eindhoven. And that’s exactly what accelerator Eindhoven Engine and its partnerships with knowledge institutes and companies want to prevent. Moreover, this should contribute to a faster recovery of the economy after the crisis.

Within Eindhoven Engine, people from different backgrounds work together on applied research projects. Managing director Katja Pahnke and scientific director Maarten Steinbuch want to use this concept for the economy after the corona crisis. “There is financial emergency aid for companies, but there is no regulation for knowledge yet. We want to change that”, says Katja Pahnke.

In 2009, during the banking crisis, collaborations between companies and knowledge institutions were also used to keep important expertise in the region. In the so-called knowledge workers scheme, the government made funding available to temporarily ‘lend out’ employees of certain companies to public knowledge institutions. There they worked together with researchers and students on a wide variety of projects. “In this way, workplaces continued to exist, and cross-fertilization at the boundaries of disciplines arose and all this together led to new innovations,” Pahnke explains.

Maarten Steinbuch wrote in a column for IO about the knowledge worker regulation.

Inspiration

This ‘knowledge worker regulation’, the working method of the renowned Philips Physics Laboratory and the impact of student teams were important reasons to start with Eindhoven Engine. This way of working together is still the starting point for Pahnke and Steinbuch. Now they are in discussion with various parties in the region to identify the needs during and after the corona crisis. Pahnke: “Our supervisory board members, each with its own network, experience and supporters, provide valuable support in this.”

Eindhoven Engine: Katje Pahnke & Maarten Steinbuch © Bart van Overbeeke

Faster innovation

“We do not yet know exactly what the impact of Eindhoven Engine will be on the preservation of knowledge in the region and the faster recovery of the economy. We see that the impact could, in any case, be large and we feel a strong responsibility to play a role in this”, says Pahnke. According to the Managing Director, a crisis helps to speed up processes and filter out what is really important. Steinbuch adds: “Student teams are an interesting example. People from different backgrounds work together in those teams. They often take gigantic steps in a short period of time and develop at lightning speed.”

The working method of project teams within Eindhoven Engine resembles that of a student team. Team members, for example, have different backgrounds – business or academia – and they have to work together at one location. “That enables exponential innovation”, says Pahnke. “By working together on various projects with team members from different disciplines and domains, you can carry out several steps at the same time. As a result, innovation accelerates.” This is different from the linear, step-by-step approach normally used by universities, for example.

“By working together on various projects with team members from different disciplines and domains, you can carry out several steps at the same time. As a result, innovation accelerates.”

Virtual cooperation

For Eindhoven Engine, a lot is going to change in the coming period. In the Multi-Media Pavilion on the campus of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) everybody is working hard on the dynamic space that Pahnke and Steinbuch long for. A place where team members of projects come together and project teams inspire each other. The renovation is still in full swing, although the participants will not be able to meet each other in the near future due to the coronavirus. “The co-location is an important aspect within Eindhoven Engine. So we are now looking at how this can also be done virtually”, says Pahnke.

The first project teams that joined Eindhoven Engine are now continuing digitally quite well, although the non-physical ability to get together is really a shortcoming, Pahnke says. “The new projects from the previous OpenCall2019 are now being contracted. They can start with the research. This will be a challenge in these times.” The projects are diverse and all have a different goal in mind. These goals are often practical. For example, one of the projects is to build a system with sensors to make climate control more efficient.

Second call

The second call (OpenCall2020) for project teams to apply was recently opened. “In this call, as with the first open call, we have €2 million in subsidies to be distributed over a minimum of four project proposals,” she says. The accelerator is getting more and more recognition. “In addition to TU/e, co-founders Fontys Hogescholen and TNO are also active in defining and introducing research proposals in the new call. In addition, we want to make the criteria for participation more accessible to SMEs as well.”

Iconic applications

According to the managing director, only the best proposals will have access to Eindhoven Engine. “Nobody wants mediocrity. So our demands are high.” The so-called valorization, how knowledge returns to society, is very important here. “Participants must think carefully about, for example, the market position of their intended product”, she states. “It must really be an iconic application, something different from the products that already exist”.

That turns out to work. Already 200 people are connected to Eindhoven Engine through the projects. In the coming period, the development may look different than the management initially had in mind. But a crisis also offers opportunities. Pahnke: “We can now show that we are agile and can help the ecosystem when it really matters”.

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About the author

Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.