Springboard for innovative sustainable start-ups
For start-ups, support and sharing knowledge is important. Knowledge institutions and innovative companies join forces in the context of a knowledge/technology transfer programme. This partnership enables new products and services to be launched onto the market more quickly. ‘Don’t think about it, just do it’ is one of the most important lessons that the new entrepreneurs learned.
In addition to providing access to funding options, the knowledge/technology transfer programme creates a link between the business community and knowledge institutions. This approach has created new start-ups in many innovation hubs. Meanwhile, in almost every university town, innovative and new businesses are cooperating with knowledge institutions. At the same time, an entrepreneurial culture is increasingly emerging at universities of applied sciences and universities. Four innovative business people explain how the knowledge/technology transfer programme is helping to shape that collaboration.
For Rural Spark, a fresh perspective from the Starterslift innovation hub was particularly important. 'We launched our company three years ago, with the idea of providing everyone with electricity off-grid. Using our scientific background, we investigated ways in which we could supply people in India with electricity. The country has an enormous demand for energy, yet the homes of 400 million people are not connected to the electricity network', explains Marcel van Heist. Ultimately, Rural Spark wants to develop smart grids, in which the supply and demand of energy are better coordinated. 'The people at Starterslift looked over our shoulders and helped us find funding. They also provided guidance regarding the way in which we presented ourselves as business people. This is because we do not aim to be a foundation or charity that delivers solar panels to India. Rural Spark is to be an economically viable business. Within the innovation network they helped us draw up plans and write business plans.'
Quick market launch
Starterslift also pointed out to us how important it is to launch a concept into the market quickly, and to ask questions. For example: Is there a real need for this?' This proved to be an instructive exercise for Mr van Heist, as people’s ambitions sometimes exceed their means. 'While we certainly aim to establish smart grids, this is simply not possible at the moment. It will have to grow slowly. One hundred kits (consisting of a solar panel, an inverter, and lamps as well as cables for charging phones) have already been delivered. We are also developing battery packs to broaden the range of services.' And this is not restricted to the company’s own services. 'We did not anticipate the high degree of creativity shown by the business community. We based our approach on the concept of sharing power. In India, however, local business people are now energy suppliers. Their services include supplying you with a lit lamp for the evening, or the option of charging your phone for a few cents. If batteries can be used to supply energy to refrigerators, for example, this will create many additional options.'
Those who are just starting up in business have numerous questions. For example: How do you expand your network? How do you get funding? Is there anyone who can act as a sparring partner? Jan Wijn of Trunkrs, which is affiliated to the Utrechtinc. innovation hub, had the same experience. 'We are developing a new service. The basic idea is for individuals to deliver parcels in their own neighbourhood. By utilising empty space in cars, we aim to reduce the number of transport movements. In addition, the parcels are delivered in the evening, which many people find convenient. We use WhatsApp to let our network of drivers know that we have a parcel to be delivered. They then pick the parcel up at a petrol station and deliver it.' For the time being, this service is only available in Utrecht. Trunkrs is also making use of the services of professional road users, such as driving schools, couriers and transport companies. 'We went down this route because continuity is important. As our network grows in size, we want to expand first to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, then to the rest of the Randstad conurbation.'