© Bart De Gouw
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The leading talents from the four Dutch universities of technology are competing with each other.  They will be presenting their innovative technologies to an independent jury during the upcoming Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge. Last week they worked on the presentation with the help of a pitch training. “The students have to get out of their comfort zones. They are learning to pitch in a targeted way for a variety of audiences,” says trainer Nathalie Mangelaars from the Pitch Academy.

In any event, there is certainly no lack of enthusiasm. The sixteen participants from various technical disciplines are eager to learn how they can sell their product or service even more effectively. The winner of this Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge will go to the World Expo in Dubai. “They will be allowed to join representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of companies on a trade mission”, says Roelyn van der Hoek, co-organizer of the event. “Many international companies and investors are attending the World Expo. This is a good opportunity for them to broaden their network.”

First of all, each technical university organizes their own competition whereby students with diverse innovations compete against one another. The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has been organizing the TU/e Contest since 2015. In 2017, the University of Twente followed with a similar competition in the form of the UT Entrepreneurial Challenge. Delft and Wageningen are organizing the TU Delft Ideation Contest and the WUR Rethink Protein Challenge as well. During these competitions, prizes are awarded in various categories, such as student teams, prototyping and start-ups. “Some eighty teams took part in the competition at each university,” Van der Hoek states. “It was a huge knock-out battle.” In total, four teams from each university will participate in the national competition on the 7th of November in The Hague.

Useful tips

The pitch of these teams must be completely up to scratch before that time. That’s why there was a pitch boot camp last Friday. “The students have proven in the qualifying rounds that their idea has potential technically. Yet conveying that idea is a profession in its own right,” says coach Mangelaars. That’s why the participants prepared three different pitches: one for journalists, one for politicians and one to present to a large audience during the final. “Everyone has made really huge strides,” she says. “A lot of students would explain their idea as if they were reading a recipe from a cookbook. Anyone can do that. It is important that participants make a connection with the audience and really let them feel how cooking affects them.”

© Bart De Gouw

Out of the comfort zone

A metaphor with a message that participants Pepijn Beekman and Jaime Ascencio both agree on. “The training pulls me out of my comfort zone”, says Pepijn Beekman from the University of Twente. “I don’t pitch every day, so this is great preparation for the final.” According to the student, it is a good learning experience to have to think about various scenarios in which they will have to pitch and the different aspects that are important therein. “I found it very difficult to explain quickly and easily what our product is.” He and his team make a chip that is able to analyze blood. This can be used in the treatment of cancer.

© Bart De Gouw

In order to explain this simply, coach Mangelaars uses a handy exercise: try to explain the concept to a five-year-old child. “This made me look at it in a different way. That was very useful.” Participant Jaime Ascencio from Delft University of Technology adds: “The most important tip was to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. This allows you to determine which aspects of the technology you will need to highlight in more detail for a particular audience.” Ascencio aims with his start-up, TBI, to reuse sand in ports for eco-reefs that will safeguard against rising sea levels. The students are looking forward to the final and say they will definitely be making use of the tips.

Broad 4TU collaboration

The Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge is part of the overall collaboration between the four Dutch technical universities. They are joining forces so as to make optimal use of knowledge and creativity in the technology sector. They do this in the field of education, research and knowledge valorization. This event is an example of this when it comes to the category of knowledge valorization. The students bring the knowledge they have acquired back into society through start-ups and student teams. Their products and services contribute to solving social problems. Pitch coach Nathalie Mangelaars saw this during the boot camp from the outside. “It is amazing to see that the students listen so well to each other and share knowledge in an informal way.”