© Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award
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Chaired by Maurits Groen, the jury of the 2023 Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award has nominated six entrepreneurs. This was no easy task; like in previous years, the judges were impressed by the courage, creativity, and entrepreneurship displayed in many of the 34 entries. They all have that one unifying common thread: the passion for contributing to the circular transition to a more sustainable world in the spirit of Marc Cornelissen.

On September 27 at Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen, the six candidates can pitch their mission and project to the jury. Three will then be nominated for the 2023 Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award. On October 25 in Venlo, it will be announced who will succeed Ricco Fiorito of Cooloo as the winner and receive €35,000 to spend on the next phase of the circular expedition.

Marc Cornelissen’s legacy

It’s not hard to be inspired by the work of Cornelissen. A professional adventurer, this man from the Dutch province of Limburg had one passion: to stop climate change and protect the earth. In doing this, he had not been afraid to choose other paths than traditional ones to achieve this goal. In 2015, Marc and his expedition companion Philip de Roo literally sank through the thin Arctic ice, both men died as a result. In their last voice recording, uploaded on April 28, Marc says it was unusually warm – “actually way too warm” – and that within sixty minutes of setting out that day they were skiing in their underwear. “We think there’s thin ice in front of us. That’s interesting, we’re going to check it out if we can.” On April 29, about 200 kilometers south of Bathurst Island, they came upon sea ice so unexpectedly thin that it gave way beneath their feet. This accident and their deaths shocked the community of polar explorers and researchers. The fieldwork the two men have undertaken is likely to become increasingly more difficult due to the ever-thinning ice, while the data it provides is growing in importance.

The nominees:

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Fonger Ypma, Arctic Reflections (Delft)

Fonger Ypma is the founder and CEO of Arctic Reflections. Having founded his company in early 2023, his goal isn’t just to bring the melting of Arctic ice to a standstill but eventually also to facilitate its regrowth. This is not utopia, says the young entrepreneur who worked at Eneco before becoming CEO of a data analysis company. The idea is to pump seawater onto the polar ice during the cold winter months, thickening the ice layer and allowing it to survive the warm summer months. “During the cold winter months, we pump seawater onto the ice layer, causing it to thicken and preventing it from melting completely in the summer, as expected. This is essential to the fight against global warming, the University of Amsterdam and Oxford-trained Fonger says. While ice reflects heat, unfrozen seawater absorbs heat, boosting warming. The plan is to add an extra layer of ice to 100,000 square kilometers each year. “It’s my dream to preserve Arctic ice. A dream that fits in perfectly with the goals of the award’s co-namesake, Marc Cornelissen. Tests we have conducted with TU Delft are promising.”


Rong Wang, EGGXPERT (Maastricht)

Around 8.5 million tons of eggshells yearly wind up in landfills worldwide. This is an enormous and needless waste, according to Rong Wang. Eggshells are ideal for use as animal feed and natural fertilizer, but also contain valuable substances that can be used in supplements, medicines, and pharmaceutical products. Even though eggshells are considered a natural product, they are among the top 15 industrial pollutants. “Recycling and reuse means less waste and more valuable raw materials for a variety of products,” says Rong Wang, who grew up in rural China and received her doctorate from the University of Twente after completing her studies in Soochow. After graduating, she worked as a researcher at the MERLN Institute in Maastricht and Radboud University in Nijmegen. In 2017, she co-founded EGGXPERT at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen. The first products using eggshells as a raw material have already been validated, including as a biobased raw material for skin creams and packaging materials. EGGXPERT is now ready for the next step, and the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award could be an important source of support in these efforts.


Timmy de Vos, Race against Waste (Eindhoven)

This year will be the second time Timmy de Vos is trying his luck at winning the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award, and this year he will be competing in the MCBA Pitch Round. He founded Race against Waste in 2013, which aims to make children aware of the impact of our consumption patterns on energy consumption and the environment. Ten years later, the Eindhoven native’s eleven-member team organizes sports races at elementary schools in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and France. During these races, children form teams and collect objects that can be reused and recycled, such as textiles and appliances; they organize swap and repair events; and learn about energy conservation and circularity playfully. The activities are held in their own neighborhood where the children get their parents, family, friends and neighbors involved. Race against Waste visits 450 Dutch schools and 155 municipalities every year. More than two million kilos of trash have already been collected, 6,500 objects have been repaired and he has visited more than 600 elementary schools. “We dream of a world without waste,” says Timmy de Vos, “a goal that ties in with six of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” The first goal is to further develop and expand Race against Waste internationally, including educational training modules and a better website.


Klaske Postma, VanHier (Loosdrecht)

As the daughter of a biodynamic dairy farmer in the Frisian countryside, Klaske Postma was raised with a feeling for sustainability and circularity. She got her degree in Zwolle as an industrial product designer and has applied several material innovations in her career. In 2021, she founded VanHier, a company that focuses on designing and producing sustainable and circular materials and achieved success. These products are used in wall and furniture finishes and consist of natural residues and cultivated fiber crops. Klaske: “In the Netherlands alone, 700 million kilos of used sheet materials end up in landfills and are incinerated. These often contain toxic glues and veneers that cannot be recycled. We mix natural fibers and plants with a 100% natural, recyclable, and biodegradable binder, which also results in reduced CO2 emissions. The next step is the production of larger sheets at our Bleiswijk plant for the construction industry. Taking this step would enable us to have a much greater impact, which is why we are so happy to participate in the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award.”


Milan Meyberg, Rights of Nature – GAIA (Amsterdam)

Milan Meyberg is considered a pioneer in the field of sustainable festivals. He was responsible for the sustainability program for the techno-DGTL festival in Amsterdam and the creator of the regenerative Basecamp Festival in IJmuiden. In Meyberg’s opinion, festivals do not have to keep getting “bigger, crazier, louder and more other-worldly.” “If we want sustainable change, we have to innovate to create a regenerative society,” Milan says in an interview with Change. The Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award could help him further develop his new concept, GAIA (Geospatial Artificial Intelligence Assembly). His mission for GAIA is to give environmental entities (such as forests, jungles, rivers, and oceans) a personality, a face, a voice, and even a character. “An open-source network of environmental artificial intelligence gives nature the ability to speak, to be seen and heard, reasoned with, solve environmental problems and possibly even defend itself through legislation. In other words, it can serve as the foundation for better protecting nature.”


Roy Erzurumluoglu, MethaGone (Maastricht)

A Maastricht University spin-off, MethaGone is developing a dietary supplement that helps animals, particularly cows, to emit less harmful methane gas. Recent research shows livestock is responsible for 44 percent of methane emissions, making it one of the most substantial causes of global warming. An enzyme called bromoform produced by red algae significantly inhibits methane production, but the bottleneck here is the availability of red algae. MethaGone has found a solution: a bacterium that produces the enzyme. Roy: “This will enable us to fight climate change while still producing enough food to meet the growing demand.” MethaGone is supported by a broad-based Brightlands team at both the Geleen and Maastricht campuses. “We are working on a proof of concept; ultimately, this product can become widely available and have a lower price tag. Participation in the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award can help put MethaGone on the map and accelerate this development.”