The finals are held on December 14th in the Garage, part of incubator Utrecht Inc in The Uithof’s Kruijt building. The students – more than thirty in total – will present what they’ve been working on for the past six weeks, in addition to their studies. They’ve been looking for answers to questions that Utrecht Science Park entrepreneurs have. For these students, the challenge was a chance to gain some valuable experience in entrepreneurship. The companies gain fresh, out-of-the-box ideas.
One of the students participating in the challenge is Pablo Tapia Martin (22) from Spain. He’s doing his master’s in Science and Business Management at Utrecht University, and applied for the challenge to learn more about entrepreneurship. He and his team members are third in line to give their pitch in the finals. For the biotechnology startup Hoekmine, the students have been researching how far removed from the market the company’s invention is at the moment.
After the pitch, company director Colin Ingham is clearly happy; he now knows which company to talk to in order to sell his knowledge. “Hoekmine has three employees, and we’ve invented something that has yielded new scientific knowledge,” Ingham says. “Hoekmine researches complex microbiotic structures. We use those to develop new optic materials – colors, for example. We let nature inspire the process. Think, for instance, of a butterfly’s wings. We asked the students how we can make money with this scientific knowledge.”
The Hoekmine case appealed to Pablo because he’s interested in the intersection of research, technology and business. In a team with two Dutch students and one from Panama, he spent roughly eight hours a week on the project for the past six weeks. “Our team consulted with Hoekmine in order to solve this case in the best possible way. For me, it was interesting to collaborate with students from other disciplines and different backgrounds. Personally, I’ve learned how to work together better, and how to communicate. This experience of working with a startup has been really valuable.”
Hoekmine’s Ingham says the students have found a wealth of relevant information that the company can definitely move forward with. “We don’t want to produce paint ourselves, but we do want to make our color database available to other companies who can use it for their products. The student team discovered, for instance, that car manufacturer Lexus uses the same techniques in their car paint. The students then found the company that Lexus commissions to do this, and that’s a potential business partner for us.”
Kickstart career for internationals
One of the other companies participating is Talent4nl, owned by Maggy Ovaa and Roos Nieuwenhuis. “We started in September 2017, and are still working part time for the UMC Utrecht. We’ve had the idea to start a company together for much longer. Now, we’re really starting to get off the ground, and we’re developing our first products. Our company focuses on international students in the Netherlands – a good 112.000 every year. More than 70 percent wants to stay in the Netherlands after finishing their studies, but only 25 percent can find a job. We see an opportunity there, and we’ve grabbed it.”
Ovaa says her company offers cross cultural career training and coaching. “We’re doing two workshops this summer at the Utrecht Summer School, and we’re planning courses starting in March. Our company is a part of UtrechtInc, which is how we heard of this competition. The case for the students is to get a clearer picture of our target group, these international students. Who are they, and where are they? How big is our target group? Based on desk research, the students have already made an infographic, and it looks very promising.”
Manon van het Hof (21) is a law student at Utrecht University and applied for the competition to further develop her interest in entrepreneurship. “My team consists of someone from Vietnam, someone from Austria and another Dutch student. We’re all in different phases of our studies, and we have a case that’s completely unrelated to any of our studies.”
The fun thing about her diverse team is that the members all complement each other, Manon says. She’s now certain she wants to start her own business after her studies. “We’ve been working on a case for the company Elevate, which offers online courses to people working in the medical branch. They wanted to know how satisfied their partners are about their services. This is currently done by means of online surveys, but it doesn’t work very well. We’ve consulted with the company and looked at what people like and don’t like in the way they’re being asked to evaluate services. That gave us clear answers.”
The Utrecht Science Park Student Challenge
The idea for the Utrecht Science Park Student Challenge comes from Kristof Fellegi (27). The student, who’s originally from Budapest, is doing his master’s in Business Informatics at Utrecht University. He’s both student and entrepreneur – with a handful of others, he’s built an online platform where supply and demand of research vacancies meet.
Kristof is also the chairman of UtrechtInc Students, the Student Board at the UtrechtInc incubator. The idea for a challenge in which students and companies at the Utrecht Science Park come together, was created in collaboration with the Utrecht Center for Entrepreneurship (UtrechtCE). “We just started, and we spread the announcement throughout our own network. Without any budget for marketing, over thirty students and almost ten companies applied,” Kristof says proudly.
Next, the students, some of whom come from outside the UU, were divided into groups, based on their resumes, skills and competences. This created multidisciplinary teams that were then linked to cases of the participating companies. Everyone got to know each other during a kick-off event in late November. In the following weeks, the students worked hard, and now, they’re presenting their conclusions. Kristof calls the competition a great success, and he’s eager to get the initiating parties together to organize a second edition next year.
The competition was held for the first time and is an initiative by Utrecht Centre for Entrepreneurship, Utrecht Holdings, Utrecht Science Park (USP), Utrecht Life Sciences and UtrechtInc Students. The goal is to get students and USP entrepreneurs in touch with each other.