Creative collaborations and open innovation

Progress report Regio Deal Brainport Eindhoven

In the third year of Regio Deal Brainport Eindhoven all participating parties, including Eindhoven Engine, have worked on strengthening the business climate, attracting talent and creating innovation in our Brainport region.

In 2020 Eindhoven Engine has accomplised to start with six new OpenCall 2020 projects and having 250 scientists, students and employees linked with Eindhoven Engine, working together in total of 15 innovation projects. In the meantime the co-location on the TU/e campus is renovated and ready to welcome the Eindhoven Engine community to collaborate, connect and get inspired (as soon as the COVID-19 measures allow).


The Future of Work demo project kicks off

On top of what Eindhoven Engine does with its regular projects and the community building around it, we also want to launch projects that are challenge-driven, multidisciplinary and promise to be impactful. Can we use the collective intelligence of students, the founding partners of Eindhoven Engine and the Brainport Region to contribute to the co-creation of solutions for those wicked problems in an open innovation manner? Eindhoven Engine has identified a few potential demo projects and wants to kick off with the ‘Future of Work’.

In a world in which we do not know how half of all jobs will look in ten years’ time, what will the relationship be between work and (lifelong) learning? Is remote work more effective and/or flexible and does it contribute to a better life/work balance?  Do the lessons learnt from the corona crisis mean that we should fundamentally rethink what we do and how we do it? Can technology play an interesting and impactful role and what would this look like? Many challenging questions for which we do not have the answers; hence, a real wicked problem.

Business Model Innovation approach

At this stage, Eindhoven Engine Academy wants to prepare the launch of the demo project through a series of four seminars with a limited number of participants from the founding fathers (TU/e, Fontys, TNO), our own team, some volunteers that are active in current projects and a few students. We are going to follow a compressed format of the Business Model Innovation approach mentioned in our previous newsletter, bringing it together in four two-hour sessions and continuous group work in between the sessions. Each session has a theme, after which the groups will work in co-creation on the definition of the project.

Walter Baets, Eindhoven Engine Academy

The themes covered are: a complex world creating wicked problems; design thinking and systems thinking; complex adaptive systems and collective intelligence; organizing for emergence.

In a month’s time, we will have the context and the briefing for our first demo project: the Future of Work.

Eindhoven Engine fuels fresh starts in innovation

At just over a year old, Eindhoven Engine has already produced a large number of appealing projects. The driving motivation behind this initiative in innovation stimulation is to create an inspiring atmosphere comparable to that of the famous Philips NatLab (Philips Research). Here, clever scientists were more or less free to investigate innovative ideas in close cooperation with colleagues and product designers. Read more…

Source: Mikroniek (a magazine for engineers and technicians working in the area of precision engineering.)


Transformation at the Eindhoven Engine Academy

Transforming mindsets in order to empower people and organizations to embrace radical innovation and create a more sustainable world and more humane societies: this is what transformation means at Eindhoven Engine.

The Eindhoven Engine Academy supports this transformation towards innovations regarding the process of innovation itself. It does this in various ways, with its main task being to support the projects and activities of Eindhoven Engine.

Not a traditional academy

The Academy should not be understood as a traditional academy offering seminars and courses to either enrolled participants or the wider public. The Academy is an accelerator, a challenger and a connector of the projects hosted by the Eindhoven Engine. It starts from the challenge at hand, not from the solution. The task (and the desired impact) is the unit of analysis, not the problem-solution itself. This contributes to the richest possible understanding of how solutions might appear. The Academy wants to create and support a learning community in Eindhoven Engine which facilitates innovation acceleration and technology being brought to market. The Academy’s crucial focus is on business model innovation and not so much on technological innovation nor on creating start-ups. It supports technology which is purposeful and impactful (e.g. supports the SDGs or improves quality of life for people).

In the context described above, we work within an innovation ecosystem (Eindhoven Engine) in order to innovate the manner of innovation itself, with a focus on agility and acceleration. The Academy bases its interventions on the following concepts:

Walter Baets, Eindhoven Engine Academy
  • Open innovation
  • Co-creation
  • Co-location (with virtual extension)
  • Activation of the ecosystem’s collective intelligence
  • Design thinking and agile innovation
  • Systems thinking
  • Dealing meaningfully with wicked problems

The Eindhoven Engine Academy supports the projects in the ecosystem and could play a wider role in the Brainport region. It has no ambition to become an institute independent of Eindhoven Engine. Indeed, the Academy can be considered the engine room of Eindhoven Engine.


Eindhoven Engine creates an impetus to accelerate innovation

Failure is the price of innovation

“You have to accept failure. If every project from your innovation department is a success, you are not bold enough in your endeavor to innovate. You are minimizing risks and playing it safe. Failure is inherent to innovation.”

We are sitting in a conference room on the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven and speaking with Jaap Lombaers, Director Knowledge Management and Partnerships at TNO. The room is situated in a modern, open-spaced building with large windows everywhere. Behind Jaap, there is a view into the laboratory. Researchers in white coats and safety goggles walk calmly and decisively from machine to machine under a maze of pipes reflecting the bright ceiling lights.

Applying new science and finding a market

A background in industrial design is not overly common for those working in a laboratory but when I mention this to Jaap, his eyes light up and he smiles. “I am inspired by all the things that go on inside this lab. I can tell the story of every machine in this room and why it is important to the progress of solar energy and of innovations in electronics. This lab is the merger of science and application.

You are right, industrial design is integrative rather than specialistic; during my studies, I learned to combine different fields of science and apply them to find new solutions. And this is what we do every day here at TNO. 

What we try to accomplish at TNO isn’t just about science. The primary goal is working with large, multidisciplinary teams to create functional and economically-viable solutions. It’s a team effort in which we combine fundamental and applied science in order to create innovative solutions for the market.”

Combining strengths and creating a boost

“TNO is always on the lookout for partners who can amplify the abilities of our own organization. This is one of the reasons we supported the Eindhoven Engine initiative and even became a shareholder.

We appreciate that our partners, TU/e and Fontys, really are different from us and therefore complementary. Where we are trying to apply science, universities are pushing the frontiers of science itself and developing the new talents that industry and research organizations need.

These are bottom-up organizations with students, PhDs and scientists who are conducting new research. This creates a reservoir of young, keen minds which can provide a fresh, new perspective in ongoing projects. TU/e and Fontys are also connected to a vast network of companies, especially in the region of Eindhoven. Just like TNO, they frequently cooperate with large and well-known companies as well as smaller ones which do not have the luxury of extensive R&D departments.

In Eindhoven Engine, we combine these assets. We create multidisciplinary teams of research partners and students, unite them in one location in order to increase collaboration and give ongoing innovation projects a boost.

“If you want to make a leap
in your innovation project in just a couple of years,
Eindhoven Engine is the perfect platform.”

Not every innovation project is suited to Eindhoven Engine. If you want to do in-depth research, you just give scientists a large amount of time and resources to get to the bottom of it. But if you want to make a leap in your innovation project in just a couple of years, Eindhoven Engine is the perfect platform. At the moment, we have a team working on the development of a heat battery, for instance. This is an established program to which Eindhoven Engine adds an extra layer to accelerate the progress. In another project, we are developing solutions for flexible manufacturing (smartly combining the skills of operators with those of robots) alongside Fontys and multiple companies in a field lab on the Brainport Industries Campus (BIC).”

We just started

This kind of coordinated, multidisciplinary and systematic way of doing research is built into the genes of TNO. “We have gained considerable experience over the years in cooperating with different partners and consortia. This experience is what we can add to Eindhoven Engine. But don’t forget, Eindhoven Engine just got started last year. The paint had just dried in the Eindhoven Engine building when the corona pandemic engulfed the world. So, we have to give it some time to see what works well and what has to be improved.

There are still things we have to figure out. How to make smart use of co-location? I would recommend that the teams be situated at the best location given the nature of their projects. I would say that a team working on solar panels, for instance, should situate itself here at Solliance. In this building, we have a whole laboratory equipped to do research on thin-film solar cells. For those teams not permanently located at the Eindhoven Engine co-location, this location could be used as a clubhouse of sorts: a place to visit regularly and where cross-pollination between the different teams involving multiple organizations can occur. I am convinced that we can learn a lot from each other.”




SmartTwo+: a maverick collaboration in telecoms

In the Eindhoven Engine project SmartTwo+, KPN and TU Eindhoven collaborate on maverick telecom technologies for the societal challenges of mobility, safety and smart cities. This is where Nico Baken feels at home: as a professor in TU/e’s Electro-Optical Communication group, he’s also spent almost 40 years carrying out fiber-optic research for KPN. In this article, he discusses what Eindhoven Engine’s multidisciplinary approach means to the project.

The need to build bridges

“KPN formally had a lab of their own. In the sixties, there were over 600 people,” begins Nico. “KPN had the UMTS [Universal Mobile Telecommunications System] auctions in July 2000 and discovered in late autumn that they had made a huge mistake and were bankrupt. On 1 January, they sold the laboratory to TNO for one euro. That had quite some consequences. First, we didn’t get an influx of new people from the lab to the operational organization. Second, the connections with the universities were much less strong – there were only a few people left who could even communicate with them.”

This difficult situation led to the formation of Flagship Telecom in 2017, a partnership between KPN and TU/e on areas like software, data analytics and AI. This actively seeks out collaboration and was also the origin of predecessor project SmartOne. “I’m trying to build bridges between KPN and the university, but also inter-faculty,” Nico explains. “One of the points of the Engine is that you get interdisciplinary connections – whether these are between sectors, faculties or companies. Maarten Steinbuch believes in this.”

Mr. Smart City

Another key alignment is Eindhoven Engine’s focus on accelerating the technology-readiness levels of potential applications. “It would be nice to have senior researchers from TU/e in combination with senior people from companies,” continues Nico, “and I hope that the PhDs will be able to make the whole more than the sum of the parts. A lot of contact is needed for that. That’s why it’s good that you have room where all these PhDs come together.

“One of the points of the Engine is that
you get interdisciplinary connections.”

In the ongoing pandemic, Eindhoven Engine’s trademark co-location has often had to move to the virtual world, but Nico sees a positive side to this: “KPN could have done any advertisement campaign for Zoom but it wouldn’t have worked as well as corona. That’s a big change. When it’s over, many more people will work from home.”

Alongside ad hoc meetings, the project members hold KPN-organized plenary meetings each quarter and an annual general meeting which includes TU Delft. Regular contact within the project is vital as it provides greater empathy for different perspectives, as seen in disagreements on the smart city element. Nico: “The students regarded me as Mr. Smart City but the first question I asked is do we really want to live in cities? They didn’t like that! The tipping point is 2060, when the world population will decline. We still have some 40 years to think about how we truly want to live.”

Breaking out of silos

A final ingredient is challenge-based learning, in which knowledge is gained by tackling real-world issues. One of the project’s two PDEngs, for instance, is titled Traffic flow modeling and control in a smart city environment and has led to a spin-off mobility project with Utrecht municipality. As the SmartTwo+ network continues to grow, Nico sees opportunities to further revolutionize its methods of collaboration.

Nico Baken

“I hope to give the participants more than content: awareness of the integral systemic impact they can have. Of course, the technological developments will need to contribute to sustainability and comfort for all people. But the difficulty at KPN is finding people who have a passion for being a coach to PhDs and PDEngs. You need continuity, so why not reverse the formula? Money and coaches are now coming to the university from KPN, but we could also get some professors for half a year. That’s really forming bridges. If humankind doesn’t make it, it will be because we stayed in silos.”

Follow Eindhoven Engine on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most commonly used digital network for professionals. It is therefore excellent for sharing knowledge such as publications, white papers, presentations and meetings.

This summer, the Eindhoven Engine office team invested time into a LinkedIn networking training directed by social media guru Daria Tataj. Each team member has adjusted his or her profile based on Daria’s tips. What followed was the identification of everyone’s network. Which networks could be relevant to Eindhoven Engine? And who is the largest influencer within each network? What characterizes that influencer? If that influencer is relevant to Eindhoven Engine, how can we make them enthusiastic about the Eindhoven Engine formula? And which hashtags are important? As a result, our total number of followers has increased from approx. 500 to over 1800 within a few months. We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading our posts and learned more about our vision and our activities.

If you want to know more, simply follow Eindhoven Engine on LinkedIn. Welcome to our community.

Katja Pahnke’s profile picture on LinkedIn


November’s Impactful Innovations Webinar

On Thursday 12 November, the fourth Impactful Innovation webinar for our internal community took place hosted by Judith Tesser and co-hosted by Joris Dufils. The goal of the webinar was to actively work towards cross-project group interactions not only by sharing challenges and innovations but also by continuing to challenge ourselves in order to generate more impact with our projects.

PerStim & IntelLight+ Projects

Judith Tesser
Judith Tesser, host of the 4th webinar Impactful Innovations

Rob Mestrom and Steven Beumer (PerStim) and Harold Weffers (IntelLight+) shared their stories of how they are working on meaningful, impactful innovations. In the PerStim project, which stands for Personalized Neurostimulation, Rob, Steven and their team are investigating how treatments for individuals with specific forms of epilepsy can be personalized effectively using a non-invasive approach in order to improve quality of life for these patients. Light plays an important role when looking at quality of life, as we learned from the second talk by Harold, coordinator of the IntelLight+ project. Harold explained how human-centric lighting could benefit us all through the development of algorithms for inferring and even predicting user context in order to accommodate user needs and preferences. Other aspects include innovative lighting and new design methodologies.

Through the sharing of knowledge during these webinars, we are seeing the first unexpected crossovers arise – the key to unleashing our collective intelligence! Thanks to our speakers, Rob, Steven and Harold!

Unleashing collective intelligence

Technology is developing at an exponential rate.

The impact is already felt in many domains of our daily lives: Our cars have become iPads on wheels and will partly become autonomous robots. We are addicted to the information flow of our smartphones. Our homes are becoming “smart,” and we watch TV via the Internet. 

Corona accelerated the adoption of remote work and online meetings by at least two years. The pandemic also sped up the digitalization of healthcare. 

How can researchers, innovators, founders, investors and entrepreneurs best use our collective intelligence to focus on future challenges? How can we create innovative processes and explore all the possibilities?

The question becomes, “Are we fast enough? Can we scale fast enough?”

Innovation by trial and error

One limiting factor is that knowledge generation and dissemination are normally followed by industrialization via existing companies or by founding startups. If we really want to speed up, the least we should do is practice concurrent innovation.

An even bolder move would be innovation through trial and error, through iteration loops and through learning by doing. And, of course, we need to devote more resources to innovation, including capital and talent. 

In fact, if we co-innovate by bringing together people from research and from industry, we will accelerate all innovation processes, balancing between creative disruption divergence and focus. 

This is what we want to achieve with Eindhoven Engine and this is also why I am on the Board at LUMO Labs.

Collective intelligence

It’s crucial to motivate researchers and executives to unite in our efforts to accelerate innovation.

In the university research space, our corporate partners make sure we have the resources to understand, then solve, real-world problems. At the same time, this collaboration allows us the freedom to look far into the future, anticipate what’s coming next, then leverage these insights.

This stimulates researchers to invent new solutions in the form of new theories and new designs. Combining new ideas with young entrepreneurs as well as experienced people into startups or new business for existing companies leads naturally to new implementations in society.

Cross-domain information exchange is crucial to co-creation. We call this “enabling” or “unleashing” our collective intelligence. It is obvious to implement in established ecosystems such as Brainport. And digital networking will also help build and sustain a global network of innovators dedicated to exponential innovation. 

We are living in a very interesting time, when new technologies emerge so quickly, and societal challenges are so compelling.

We see the potential, and we should do our utmost to increase the speed of innovation. Connecting people and using our networks are the key ingredients for success. In the end, it is all about people and unleashing their full potential.

Prof.dr. Maarten Steinbuch

Scientific Director Eindhoven Engine
Member Advisory Board LUMO Labs

Even more clout for Eindhoven Engine

Fontys, TNO and TU/e joint shareholders.

This month Fontys, TNO and TU/e officially became equal shareholders (1/3 each) of Eindhoven Engine. Together the three parties promise to do everything possible to accelerate innovation in the Brainport region. The result is an even better cluster of strengths whereby the innovative business community – from start-up to large company – can take maximum advantage of the available knowledge and skills.

Katja Pahnke, who together with Maarten Steinbuch is responsible for the day-to-day management of Eindhoven Engine, is proud of the result. “In this way we can achieve the intended exponential acceleration of innovation even faster. We connect knowledge institutes to the business community. Stimulate collaboration at a single location. This gives you the intended cross-fertilization between different disciplines.” Maarten Steinbuch adds: “This allows you to benefit from each other’s expertise, network and experience. That acceleration of innovation, that’s what we do it for.”

Ella Hueting, Fontys: “In my opinion, this collaboration is unique. We expect these short lines of communication to be of even greater significance for SMEs.”

Jaap Lombaers, TNO: “We are going to have teams of students from TU/e and Fontys in our innovation programs for and with the industry. In this way we can serve business and industry in the Brainport region in all kinds of ways. We expect that this will enable us to lower barriers and accelerate innovation.”

Eindhoven Engine started in 2019. With support from the Brainport Action Agenda RegioDeal, sixteen projects have been started. The collective ambition is to further accelerate innovation in our region through collaboration and co-creation at a co-location.

Eindhoven Engine

Eindhoven Engine unlocks the collective intelligence in the Brainport region. Thanks to a unique formula, innovators from companies can join forces with students and experienced researchers and employees from knowledge institutions in order to work together to accelerate innovation and realize disruptive co-creation projects in which co-location is a prerequisite. The founding fathers of Eindhoven Engine are the knowledge institutions Fontys, TNO and Eindhoven University of Technology and the companies Philips Healthcare, Signify, ASML, VDL, NTS and NXP. Eindhoven Engine’s funds come from the Brainport Region Deal.