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Innovation is not just about technology. Steve Jobs once said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Innovative breakthroughs occur precisely at the intersection of disciplines, “this is where the magic happens. At the same time, interdisciplinary collaboration often sounds nicer than it is. After all, each discipline speaks its own language and has its own values that are important. How do you make sure that at the intersection of disciplines, there is no fuss but magic? To find an answer to that question, we follow Solar Team Twente from the initial development phase to the finish line at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Adelaide. Each time a different discipline within the team takes center stage, this time the marketing and communications team.

You learn a lot and quickly because you just do it. You have to be enthusiastic yourself and take good time to come up with new ideas.

Daan van Haren

They are young, driven, and incredibly enthusiastic. I’m talking about Hjalmar Lemmers, Marten van den Brink, and Daan van Haren, the marketing and communications team of the Solar Team Twente. None of them has any marketing or communications background, by the way. One is studying Technical Business Administration, the other is Industrial Design Engineering and number three is studying Technical Medicine, but still, the team is going like clockwork. Daan: “We are supervised by real marketing and communication specialists, so the knowledge we lack is quickly supplemented.” Having a technical background is an advantage, per the three. Because of that technical background, they feel they are the bridge builders between people and technology. They fulfill the connecting link, precisely as Steve Jobs meant with his quote, but with a touch of Nike’s ‘Just do it’ added. Daan: “You learn a lot and quickly because you just do it. You have to be enthusiastic and take the time to develop new ideas. You then have to spread those ideas passionately and go for it full force.”

A group of men in red shirts

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The Marketing and Communications Team of Solar Team Twente, from left to right, Daan van Haren, Hjalmar Lemmers, and Marten van den Brink.

With their participation in the solar team, they mainly want to gain practical experience. Hjalmar: “With what student team do you get to visit more companies than the solar team?” All Solar Team Twente partner companies require a close relationship to stay involved. The men describe that the business network in Twente is very close: people have understanding and respect for each other and try to help where possible. “Twente noaberschap we call that,” says Hjalmar. Daan adds: “If you deal with that in a good way, then you can come a long way in Twente”.

Human energy

Of course, the solar team is all about energy: solar energy. But the men from the marketing and communications team add a lot of human power to it. Marten: “We are more extroverted than the rest of the team, and that is how we create energy. Having a laugh together and checking how the other is doing adds value to the project.”

This human energy was in full swing during the past month. After all, the men had just finished the car presentation for 700 guests, a record number. Event coordinator Daan: “We presented the car in a spectacular way in Stork’s 150-year-old machine factory using an old ten-ton crane.” That didn’t happen by itself. Everything had to be arranged by the men themselves: from the permits to the seats for the audience. And along the way, the budget was also cut in half. But in the end, it was a resounding success. Marten: “Achieving such a high-level result was something we had not expected beforehand.”

More for less

The solar team is about building a car, not marketing it. There is a race to be won, not a market share. In that context, it is difficult to highlight the added value of marketing and communication, especially at a time when budgets have to be cut. Therefore, when the hand had to be tightened, the budget of the marketing and communications team was quickly examined. After all, marketing and communication do not make a racing car go faster. Marten: “We then set an absolute minimum budget together and tried to solve the rest with our creativity. It finally triggered us to make the most of it”. That sounds easier than it was. Hjalmar: “You want to be innovative, not only in terms of the car but also in terms of marketing and communication. We also want to leave something unique at the end of this challenge”. Then that “Twente noaberschap” comes around the corner again: with the help of the partner companies, they were ultimately able to put away more for less budget.

When the car was just unveiled at the car presentation, you saw people looking at it with open mouths. That you can achieve that with a product, I find that truly incredible.

Marten van den Brink

Three musketeers

The longer I speak with the marketing and communications team, the stronger the image of the three musketeers emerges. The men show a fighting spirit to not only win the race in Adelaide but to make the most of it in marketing and communications. When they talk about this, they use words like “brotherhood” or “fought hard in partnership. And it is precisely this collaborative approach of ‘one for all, and all for one’ that has brought success. Marten: “When the car was just unveiled at the car presentation, you saw people looking at it with open mouths. That you can achieve that with a product, I find that truly unimaginable.” Those are words only a marketer can use. So you see, marketing and communication do not have to revolve around knowledge from books. These three inexperienced students know exactly what it’s all about: passion, resourcefulness, drive, connecting, seeing and seizing opportunities, perseverance, cooperation, and standing up for what you believe in.