“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance that we have got to take,” says Pepijn Beekman in response to his ECsens company’s victory. “It’s great that it was a success.” His aim with this start-up is to ensure that every patient can be given personalized treatment. A major elimination round preceded the final in the Zuiderstrand Theater in The Hague. The technical universities in Eindhoven, Delft, Twente and Wageningen had each held their own preliminary rounds last spring. A total of around 800 students took part in the competitions, 80 teams per TU. In the end, sixteen finalists made it through.
Four teams from TU/e participated in the 4TU Impact Challenge. Team RED is making a model for quickly providing insight into changes within the field of sustainable energy. Team CORE is building an incinerator that recycles metal which is becoming increasingly scarce. Intense Keyboards is designing a pressure-sensitive keyboard that helps to recognize stress-related complaints more quickly. And SpaceSea came up with a solution for the impending food shortage using seaweed.
Every team has brilliant solutions for social problems. For example, from more efficient healthcare with eye tests at home, to the smart repair of coral reefs. The food industry and the impending food shortage are also popular themes. As an example, students researched the substitution of meat with insects as a way to get sufficient protein. Another team devised practical products with a clear goal. Such as a tool for recognizing PTSD symptoms in aid workers and care providers early on. This would mean that employers, for instance, could offer professional help at an earlier stage. Or a toy train that grows along with children as it teaches them programming in a playful way.
Visit to the Dutch parliament
Prior to the final e-pitches, a number of students handed over their ideas to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Binnenhof, the Dutch parliament building. “Rutte was open to our ideas and asked several questions,” says Beekman. Now there is hope among the technical universities that the Dutch government will actually invest more in innovation. According to Robert-Jan Smits, chairman of the Executive Board at TU/e, this will not nearly be enough. He would find it a good move if, for example, the government were to support start-ups through incubation programs.
“We want to remain at the forefront of innovation and technological development in the Netherlands,” says Victor van der Chijs, chairman of the 4TU collaboration. “It is essential to continue to invest in young talent and the innovations they come up with. The social importance of this is tremendous. Moreover, companies are eager to get in touch with young talent who are able to shape the future and who can work well together.”
Eindhoven University of Technology does this together with TU/e innovation Space, among other things. Student teams, start-ups and companies can meet each other and work together on innovative solutions for social problems through this community.
Robert-Jan Smits is convinced that being part of a student team is a worthwhile experience within a study program. “I daresay that students learn more in one year in a student team than in two years during their regular studies,” he tells at the end of the event. He emphasizes that gaining knowledge is extremely important, but that students in student teams develop other skills such as presentation, communication and solution-oriented thinking.
In his opinion, these skills are also crucial when the students eventually start working for a company. This is one of the reasons why Eindhoven University actively involves companies in the creation of student teams. One of the partners is ASML. Herman Boon also gave a speech on behalf of ASML during the event, which focused on the start-up mentality they started out with. “It’s great that ASML still continues to show and cherish that,” says Smits. “Companies have to contribute to student teams because it is about their future employees in many cases.”
Things are looking good for that future. Smits: “Of the hundred ideas from students, perhaps only two or three actually reach the market. These are the companies that will really change the market and society.”