“We’re holding a challenge to make the world a more beautiful place,” says Rene Visser of VodafoneZiggo while sitting inside the 5G Hub at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven (HTCE). A space that looks a lot like a gymnasium with lines and circles on the floor, trestles and a public gallery. Anyone can use it to work on applications with 5G with other parties. Through the 5G Hub Innovation Challenge, the hub gives people the opportunity to come and test their concept and push it further toward the market. This year marks the second time that this challenge is being held, this time with sustainability as its theme. Visser: “Anyone with great solutions for sustainability is welcome to take part.”
“We are looking for inspiring examples to help the world progress. For instance, to reduce nitrogen in the agricultural sector, or the exhaust fumes in traffic, or the plastic soup. Or even to gauge the strength of the dikes,” Visser sums up.
“Drones that you can deploy to quickly get AED equipment to someone who is having a heart attack. Or to measure the biodiversity in a nature reserve,” adds Andy Lürling of LUMO Labs capital fund “You can send a forest ranger out there, but they won’t be able to see very much. Using a camera, you can zoom in, process the data and transmit it in real time.”
Lürling is one of the jury members. He says the beauty of such a challenge is that you gain an insight into what’s going on in the world. “And it’s a great opportunity to discover parties that might be of interest to us.” LUMO Labs is an early-stage investment fund and has a two-year ‘venture builder program’ for start-ups that are focused on AI/Data, Blockchain, Robotics/Drones, IoT, and/or VR/AR.
Contestants can register until May 1. Visser says that they can be start-ups and student teams, but also large companies. “As long as they have ‘something’ tangible. Something that goes further than just an idea.” In addition, it is about sustainable solutions using 5G. “But 5G is a technology,” Visser emphasizes, “For us, it’s all about the applications.”
Everyone who signs up personally phones Visser, or someone else from one of the other participating companies. “To get to know each other a bit and delve a little deeper into the idea that they have,” he says. After that, a selection round takes place. Those selected go on to an information session at the 5G Hub.
Once there, they all get to know each other better and are provided with information about the 5G network. In the next round, each participant pitches their solution and receives feedback from the jury. Each participant also goes on a ‘speed date’ with e.g., someone from Brainport Development, the sustainability consultancy agency Sustainalize and Lumolabs, who can help take their solution to a ‘higher level.’
A number yet to be determined will then advance to the day of the finals at the end of June. “There is ultimately only one winner,” says Visser, “who is awarded a serious prize. What that is, we’ll keep under wraps for now. The winner will in any case receive plenty of attention. Internationally, too. But all finalists will get to benefit from lots of attention and prizes, such as help with marketing or technology.” Participating in the challenge is free.
Last year, start-up Oddbot won the first edition of the challenge. That company has developed a solution to the use of pesticides in gardening and agriculture. “A superb solution with a business model, because in 2026, it’s going to be forbidden by European law to use any pesticides.”
Voltgoed won the public prize last year. A start-up that has devised a way for heat pumps to make flexible use of green power. The company is now headquartered at HTCE. Visser: “They initially had a solution that did not have a direct connection with 5G. But they did make it to the finals.”
This year we deliberately chose a theme. Last year’s competition was completely open in terms of subject matter. Visser: “We all have to get to work on the theme of sustainability. At the same time, we can’t just do anything; there has to be a business model to back up a solution. We want to help with that.”
The jury has also been extended to include representatives from companies such as LUMO Labs, Sustainalize and the ICT consultancy agency Strict. “Companies that can help come up with ideas for business models that are most suitable.”
There is also a jury member on behalf of the Vodafone Foundation. “That foundation helps with communication in disaster areas. Such as now in Ukraine near the border of Poland. They are working hard there to restore the infrastructure. But the foundation also works in earthquake areas.”
In addition, the founding partners of the 5G Hub are also on the jury: Vodafone Ziggo, Ericsson, Brainport and HTCE. Another company, NXP, and Groene Groeiers are also involved, Visser adds. The latter is a network of VNO-NCW and MKB Nederland wherein entrepreneurs invest in sustainable solutions.
Representing the HTCE, Anne van Wijchen, Sustainability Manager, is also a member of the jury. “The campus has the aspiration to be the most sustainable and innovative campus in Europe by 2025. In this respect, we take the climate targets into account, among other things. The campus must also be an attractive place to work. We also want to help our tenants here accelerate their innovations. We want to be a living lab for start-ups to test their inventions. To offer people who have new ideas the chance to grow. This challenge is a fantastic opportunity to attract those kinds of people. As a jury member, I will therefore be looking primarily at how innovative and how applicable the ideas are.”
The challenge is a nice stepping stone to the next level, says Lürling. “It’s hard work to gain a foothold with new technology. That’s why it’s good to show what you can do with your technology. Then people will start to understand what 5G is and what it will all make possible. Moreover, this challenge helps to accelerate and expand the applications. For example, an idea for a drone that you send out with AED equipment, maybe you can also add an insulin syringe to that. Or some other medical use.”
As a jury member, Lürling is paying attention “not only to whether it is technically possible -I also pay particular attention to the added value it brings to the world and whether it is a financially sustainable application.” For Visser, it is important that he can feel and see the passion with which the inventors work on their solutions. “That passion for a better world, that’s what I’m looking for.”
You can read more about the 5G Innovation Challenge here.