The Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) focuses on stimulating business activity more than ever before. Students are prepared for business in various ways. “This is the result of a demand from the students themselves,” explains Robert Al of the TU/e Innovation Lab. That is why TU/e has set up various projects in which students can put their knowledge into practice.
“One of the university’s primary tasks is to bring knowledge to society,” says Robert Al. Innovation Lab is a branch of the university that was set up to narrow the gap between business and the university. “We try to push knowledge from the inside out. The TU/e has a kind of permanent supply of knowledge at all levels. From an innovation that has been researched for years, to practical solutions and short-term ideas,” he explains. The TU/e makes the knowledge available to the public by means of various projects that stimulate activity, for example. These are held at Innovation Lab. In this way, the university ensures that everyone is on the same page and that the projects all serve a different purpose.
Al: “A lot of the knowledge present at the TU/e can be interesting from a commercial point of view.” When bringing an idea to the market, the TU/e cooperates with other parties, such as the Brabant Development Company (BOM). “TU/e distinguishes itself as a university because they actively stimulate entrepreneurship,” says Gert-Jan Vaessen, manager at BOM. This fits in well with the BOM’s objective of strengthening the economy of Brabant in a sustainable manner. “Strengthening the start-up climate is a very important part of this.”
The university and BOM work together in the Bright Move organization, among other things. This is a non-profit organisation of TU/e, BOM, Brainport Development and Fontys that supports the development of start-ups. Previously, one of the most important tasks of the organisation was to provide loans, but this has largely been taken over by the Brabant Start-up Fund. Therefore Bright Move had to look for a new role in the ecosystem. They found this new role in running an incubation program for start-ups for the Brainport region. “We are going to offer different programs for different levels of entrepreneurship. Within these program, entrepreneurs will develop an idea into a product or service at their own level and pace”, says Al, in his role as director of Bright Move. The students, researchers or other entrepreneurs from the region follow various lectures and workshops and are personally supervised by the business developers of TU/e Innovation Lab and Brainport Development. “This leads to a final event in which the entrepreneurs, again at different levels, can win prizes.
A large network is important when setting up a start-up. That is exactly what Next Move tries to support. With Next Move, the TU/e and Brainport Development try to bring together various initiatives that help start-ups on their way. This concerns both accelerators and companies that can help start-ups on their way with their knowledge, such as patent offices. They can help the start-ups by giving advice or providing services for a lower price.
Next Move has outlined the ecosystem of initiatives that help start-ups on their way. “We make sure that the initiatives get to know each other so that they know which party has which knowledge and skills”, says Piet van der Wielen, co-initiator of the project. According to him, this will lead to better cooperation between knowledge institutions and the outside world. According to Van der Wielen, the will to share is one of the things that makes the region strong.
Building and deploying a large network is also the idea behind Health Tech Yard. They mainly focus on health tech. Health Tech Yard is a testing ground in which the TU/e, GGZ Eindhoven and Brainport Development, work together to help healthcare innovations forward. “We provide hours, knowledge, facilities and our network in order to help collaborative ventures bring their innovations to the market”, says Steven an Huiden, project leader of Health Tech Yard from the TU/e.
Supporting healthcare innovations is also an important goal of GGZ Eindhoven, which is why they participate in this project. “As GGzE, we can literally offer a testing ground by involving clients and practitioners in the ideas. The innovations are first examined in co-creation, further researched and developed so that they can eventually be applied in the treatment,” explains Irene Helderman, manager of care and ICT at GGzE. “On the other hand, the ideas of students and other companies also give us new knowledge and a new perspective on healthcare. She believes that Health Tech Yard’s broad goal of exchanging knowledge and expertise has been achieved.
Industry in search of innovation
Besides the university itself, Al also believes that the business community is always looking for innovation. “Both in internal development and in new companies,” explains Al. That’s why, according to Al, TU/e tries to match the needs of companies with these kinds of projects. “We try to do projects with large companies such as Philips and ASML, but certainly also with SMEs. Developments are taking place there, to which students can certainly contribute with their knowledge.”
De Vragenbank is an example of such a project. At The Question Bank, SMEs from the region can ask a question about an innovation idea within their company. A student will then answer this question and can possibly also help with the implementation of a development plan. With this, De Vragenbank is actually a first step for SME’s towards SURE Innovation. A place where SME’s can receive long-term and intensive support from students for the implementation of an innovative idea within their company.
Monique Greve, project manager at De Vragenbank, believes that there are many opportunities in the SME sector for TU/e graduates. “They can make a unique contribution here because they have unique knowledge and out-of-the-box thinking. At an SME, they are usually given considerable freedom of action to improve processes or to set up new projects.”
According to Al, the projects of the TU/e are not intended to make a profit, but to bring knowledge to society. “We have to make sure that the knowledge that is financed with taxpayers’ money, also comes back into society,” explains Al. This can also be done, for example, by doing new research, publishing articles or even a conversation in De Wereld Draait Door (a Dutch talk show). Because the university is primarily a knowledge institution, Gert-Jan Vaessen believes that partners such as the BOM are needed to develop and finance entrepreneurship. “We are taking a more active role as a shareholder and supporting start-ups through knowledge and funding,” says Vaessen.
Collaborations are very important for the success of the projects and therefore the start-ups. All parties ultimately have the same goal: to bring knowledge from the university to the market in order to develop products and services that can contribute to society.