Different initiatives around the Eindhoven University of Technology bring students and SMEs closer together. They offer support to the Brainport region through time, money and knowledge to develop innovative ideas and develop them into startups. Innovation Origins looks at a number of these projects and shows what they can do for this region.

“The Vragenbank gives SMEs the opportunity to get in touch with the university. They can quickly and easily submit their question about an innovative idea in their company to a student.” Monique Greve leads this project from the TU/e and sees that it brings SMEs and students closer together.

The Vragenbank is supported by a group of students, they function as a kind of helpdesk. The questions that come in are divided among the right students. A telephone conversation follows between the student and the entrepreneur to clarify the question. Finally, the student answers the question and the entrepreneur receives a small report with the findings. “This is often about the technical feasibility of an idea. From the entrepreneur’s point of view, these are often ideas that he has walked around with for a while, but for which he has no time to develop them further,” says Greve.

To arrive at the report, the student can use the facilities at the university. “In this way, they can possibly address a professor and ask for an opinion or advice”, Greve explains. “On the basis of the report, the entrepreneur knows whether the idea has potential, or whether he has received an answer to a question that prevented the development of the idea. So he can take his company one step further. If the entrepreneur has trouble making that next step, the TU/e can offer extra support through the use of students.”

Long-lasting cooperation

The students learn from answering the questions of entrepreneurs, but it becomes really interesting for them in the next step. “If the company indicates that it does not have enough knowledge or capacity to be able to take the next steps, the top students of the TU/e are deployed via SURE Innovation to help. In advance, the entrepreneur receives a detailed Action Plan and a free quote so that he knows where he stands.” According to Greve, this is the start of a long-term collaboration between students and entrepreneurs, which may eventually leave the student with a job.

Maintain knowledge in the region

The Vragenbank is a collaborative project carried out by TU/e, High Tech NL, Brainport Development and Stichting KIEN. It is subsidized by the European Fund for Regional Development. “With this project, we want to achieve that the students eventually choose a company in the region as the next step in their career,” says Greve. “We strive to retain the top talent that is prepared here for the region.”

Greve also has another goal that she wants to achieve with this project. “SMEs are poorly visible at the university, while SMEs employing 50 to 200 people can be interesting for TU/e students as the first step in their careers.” However, according to the project leader, they do not have such a good idea of the possibilities that SMEs have to offer. “Here, students are mainly fed with case studies from large international companies such as Shell, ASML and Philips. That makes sense, of course, because these companies also work closely with the TU/e in the field of research. But there’s no harm in broadening their views.”

She believes that SMEs can also be very interesting for students. “By carrying out assignments for SMEs during their studies, they experience for themselves what a valuable contribution they can make there. They have unique knowledge, think out-of-the-box and are usually given considerable freedom of action to improve processes or set up new projects.” According to Greve, this is often in contrast to the large companies, where the frameworks for young employees are much more clearly defined. “For some, such a structure is pleasant, others find it more pleasant to work in a company where they are given more space,” she says. “Via De Vragenbank and SURE Innovation, students are given the opportunity to discover for themselves what is best for them.”

Photo: ©Bart van Overbeeke