Rong Wang, Fonger Ypma, and Milan Meyberg have advanced to the finals of the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award. “What a thankless task … six such good candidates and then only get to choose three,” said jury chairman Maurits Groen after the finalists’ pitches at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen.
During the Award Ceremony on October 25 at Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo, the winner of the award and the €35,000 cash prize will be announced.
The award, a tribute to sustainability pioneer Marc Cornelissen, will be presented for the fifth time this year. Foundation chairman Theo Bovens was pleased and, at the same time, not surprised with the record number of 34 entries. “The award is more than a sum of money and provides access to a valuable network of 17 parties, including the four Brightlands innovation campuses with all the associated facilities. With the award, entrepreneurs can take their sustainable ideas to the next level.”
The high number of entries meant work for the jury, with environmental activist and sustainable entrepreneur Maurits Groen presiding for the first time. While an initial sifting through to six nominees was already a tough job, choosing three finalists really caused some headaches. “Six candidates with just as many groundbreaking ideas and plans, all fitting our criteria. Each with a great pitch. That doesn’t make choosing easy. It’s rewarding work when, as chairman, you get to make three finalists happy and thankless when you have to send three others home when they deserve the spot in the finals. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”
Equally divided joy and slight disappointment, then, at the end of this Wednesday afternoon in the auditorium of the former DSM lab on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen. Among the audience, including Marc’s mother and sisters, the admiration for the six elaborate plans and accompanying pitches, with each time a mild ‘cross-examination’ by the jury prevailed. Six ideas to make the world more sustainable, to stop climate change, as was the life goal of Marc Cornelissen, who died during his research work at the North Pole.
In Marc’s footsteps
One of the three finalists is at least following in the footsteps of Kerkrade native Marc Cornelissen, who sank through the Arctic ice in 2015. With his company Arctic Reflections, Fonger Ypma from Delft wants to not only stop the melting of the polar ice but let it grow. He wants to do this by spraying ice water over the frozen cap with hundreds of pumps in the winter, making the ice thicker and wider, thus making it last longer in the summer. ‘More ice means more sun reflection and more cooling of the earth. Crucial because no matter how hard we reduce CO2 emissions, warming continues. With thicker ice, we can stop that process.’
Egg shells and membranes
Rong Wang goes to the finals with a completely different plan. Born in China, Wang came to the Netherlands in 2012 and ended up in Maastricht via the University of Twente. Here she worked out a business model with her startup EGGXPERT to not throw eggshells in the garbage but to use them as animal feed and raw material for supplements and cosmetics. “Egg shells are at the top of industrial waste,” she says. “Worldwide, it amounts to 8.5 million tons. Both the shell and the membrane are very suitable for processing. We are already marketing the first products; now we want to continue to grow and scale up. The award can help us do that.”
A voice for nature
The third finalist is Milan Meyberg from Amsterdam, founder of Emissary of GAIA. His presentation, assisted by avatars, made a big impression on using artificial intelligence to save nature. “I want to give nature a voice. We need to listen to the ecosystems of the globe, give them a say, and give them rights. That can be done with AI. That may sound abstract, but we have already built the first models.”
Making an impact
With “regret in his heart,” Maurits Groen had to send Roy Erzurumluoglu, Klaske Postma from Loosdrecht, and Timmy de Vos from Eindhoven home with a bouquet. Their already launched innovations with, respectively, an enzyme that reduces methane emissions from cows, sustainable building panels, and a sustainability awareness campaign among youth received high praise. “They are also going to make an impact, I am convinced. And our network is also open to them.”
The Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award is an incentive award for sustainability pioneers inspired by the legacy of Marc Cornelissen (1968-2015). With the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award, Brightlands encourages talented sustainability pioneers to persevere and show courage and leadership on the way to their dreams.
On October 25, 2023, the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award will be presented for the fifth time at Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo.