Eindhoven Engine, the perfect instrument for creating impact
“I have the nicest job in the Netherlands,” says Sonja Vos-Poppelaars. “As director of TU/e Participations, I represent TU/e as a shareholder of 54 companies, mainly start-ups. One of the participations is Eindhoven Engine, a joint venture from TU/e, Fontys and TNO.
Every day, it’s a delight to cooperate with inspired people who want to accomplish their dreams. The researchers are very smart, much smarter than I am. I like the fact that they are driven not by money but by an intrinsic motivation to innovate and create impact. As a representative from a stakeholder, I try to advise and challenge them with simple, provocative questions to keep them on track.”
Quick, result-driven work
Sonja started on her path at Nyenrode Business University and graduated as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) on the subject of KPIs. “I simply love numbers. They don’t lie and are never vague. They help you to measure your performance.
That’s why I like to work with KPIs and that’s what I appreciate when I work for SMEs. These entrepreneurs want to work swiftly and are result-driven. I recognize this same attitude at Eindhoven Engine. This inspirational organization seeks to accelerate innovation by combining science, people from industry and students to create solutions with impact within a deadline.” A recent example is the artificial womb project. This started as fundamental research but, with the help of Eindhoven Engine, is now connected with two young entrepreneurs who in turn have involved students of business administration.
“Every day, it’s a delight to cooperate with inspired people who want to accomplish their dreams.”
Involve people to generate speed
“In my work with start-ups, I’ve noticed that the projects which involve and activate their network the most achieve their goals more effectively. That’s why I like the formula of Eindhoven Engine so much. They pull a team together from different backgrounds to work together on projects to solve social challenges or to create disruptive innovations.
They compose their teams of people from industry, SMEs, scientific staff from TU/e, TNO, Fontys and students of all kind of disciplines. This way, the team approaches the challenge from many different perspectives. And when these teams present their work across projects, it makes the formula even stronger. I have experienced this approach in smaller projects and know that it works.”
Respect, trust, openness
“In start-ups and R&D projects, it’s very important to create an environment of openness. There has to be trust and respect for each other. The pace of innovation is dependent on the freedom to speak your mind. Some critiques can be blunt. I know I can be blunt, but you have to be able to ask a relevant question or present an alternative view because beating around the bush takes up valuable time. That’s why it is so wonderful that we can operate in the Brainport region. It’s an informal network with very close ties and with the same attitude to constructive feedback. The mixture of three knowledge institutes alongside small and large companies, such as ASML, NXP, Signify and VDL, provides a unique ecosystem where innovation can accelerate.”
Translating basic research into meaningful solutions
“In this ecosystem, Eindhoven Engine is the perfect tool for projects to create breakthroughs.It fits perfectly with the main goal of TU/e: to translate basic research into meaningful solutions. We want to create responsible innovations and contribute to societal challenges in tight-knit collaborations with society and industry. That’s exactly what Eindhoven Engine does.”
“When Eindhoven Engine was initiated by TU/e in 2018, I assisted them in developing a financial model and put the governance in place. Since the end of the initial phase, my role as stakeholder has decreased, as it should. Now that the foundation is in place, I follow them from a distance. Together with co-shareholders Fontys and TNO, we are monitoring the strategic goals.”
Treasure the fun
“What advice would I give Eindhoven Engine right now? Keep involving as many complementary people in your projects as possible. The combination of TU/e, Fontys and TNO, together with the strengths of Brainport’s industry and the willingness to cooperate, creates an excellent, fertile ground for overcoming societal challenges. I’ve found that I work best with people from different walks of life who possess complimentary skills and also . . . simply have fun. A lot of start-ups begin with team members who are friends. There is a lot of excitement and plain fun, and this contributes to the speed and success of their endeavor. So, whatever you do, treasure the fun!”