Shareholders, SMEs and SmartMan: the viewpoint of Ella Hueting

Another step forward for Eindhoven Engine: Fontys University of Applied Sciences and TNO have joined TU Eindhoven as shareholders. “It’s quite a statement,” says Ella Hueting, Director of Fontys School of Engineering and chairman of Eindhoven Engine’s Advisory Board. “I don’t know of any other initiative where all the knowledge centers in the chain are the shareholders and work together with companies in the region.”

Sharing the load

In some ways, this development has been a long time coming. “Eindhoven Engine is about involving students with companies in the Brainport region, which Fontys has done for a long time, especially with SMEs,” Ella explains. “It was very natural for us to get involved.”

By becoming equal partners, she hopes to send a message to the Netherlands that Brainport’s success also lies in knowledge institutes working with both companies and one another. “In engineering, for example, Fontys has almost 1200 students working on projects from about 300 companies each year. When it comes to smaller companies, knowledge is not so available. Should we use robotics, for instance? It’s important for both big and small companies, so we can work on projects where high-level theoretical knowledge comes from TU/e and TNO and Fontys can apply it in smaller companies. It’s very complementary, I think.”

“The projects are even more important than before. Businesses really have to innovate right now.”

A new NatLab

One such example is SmartMan@SME, a Fontys-led project which brings together TNO, VDL and VBTI as partners in OpenCall 2020. This aims to improve factory efficiency by optimizing production processes for SMEs. “It’s not one fixed research project but rather smaller projects which we work on together,” notes Ella. “It’s a question of the company itself, which asks us to help them apply a new technology. We then work on it together with a couple of students. TU/e students have a high theoretical level and some of them really want to apply this too, so all our knowledge is now connected. It’s wonderful!”

Success in SmartMan will be measured in terms of the economic value of improvements per project and company but could also represent the start of something bigger. Ella: “With Eindhoven Engine, I think Maarten [Steinbuch] wanted to achieve a new NatLab. This could be the first step. I’m really enthusiastic about this project, which I think is unique. Now we’re started, I think we’ll achieve big success – particularly in this corona time.”

Opportunities and exposure

In keeping with the forward-thinking nature of Eindhoven Engine, Ella prefers to view the ongoing pandemic in terms of new possibilities. “The projects are even more important than before. Businesses really have to innovate right now. In Brainport and the Netherlands, we need to be challenged to work together and quickly bring new technologies to the market. This might be an opportunity because it’s something we’re good at, and it could give us a big advantage compared to other countries. After all, we have a lot of international students who know that this region is the place to be. Eindhoven Engine creates exposure for what we can do.”

“It was very natural for us to get involved.”