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TMC Employeneur Awards: Jesse Scholtes

TMC Employeneur Jesse Scholtes is a modest guy, but his professional ambitions aren’t modest at all: ‘As Project Manager Robotics at Eindhoven University, I’m looking for new collaborations between science and industry - between fundamental and applied research. Since I’m at home in both worlds, I’m able to focus on their shared interests, and I see a great potential for revolutionary projects.’ Last year, Jesse successfully put his ideas into practice by encouraging five very different companies to invest in one robotics project. For his highly innovative work, he received a Bronze Employeneur Award.

Bridging the gap between science and industry

‘One of my biggest challenges was getting companies on board in the early stages of a research project. Obviously, a lot of companies are much more interested in finished products than in novel ideas, which makes sense: why would they invest in something that only exists on paper? A project for which the outcome isn’t secure? On the other hand: without substantial investments, it’s hard to develop new products, and a growing number of companies are alert to the ways in which technological developments can help improve production.’

Luckily, Jesse and his team at Eindhoven University have a track record of several successful projects. ‘This is part of the reason why these companies put their trust in us. But these previous results are not the only reason: the companies also share our vision for the future and our drive to combine the best of science and industry.’

To further strengthen the trust of potential investors, Jesse had another bright idea. ‘I thought: why not ask several companies to invest in the same research project? By sharing the investment, they would also share the risks, which makes the threshold for joining much lower. I had a particular research project in mind: for a while, our robotics team had been discussing the development of a new type of robot: a more flexible robot, able to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. Ideally, this type of robot anticipates all kinds of movement: it's able to differentiate between a variety of obstacles - humans, vehicles and non-movable objects - and adjusts its own movements accordingly.’

'A small step outside of your comfort zone can make a huge difference.’

Jesse started exploring the market, looking for several companies that could benefit from this type of robot. ‘I found a common interest between very different companies, ranging from relatively clean indoor environments in logistics to dirty outside environments in agriculture. The strong differences in field of business between the companies was key for making the project work: they knew they weren’t competing with each other.’

Last year, the research project started. Currently, four of the most innovative scientists in robotics are working full-time on it. ‘Hopefully, our project will give our investors the edge on their competition, and at the same time help us develop more advanced robots, as well as give us more insight into intelligent behavior for robots in general. Whatever the outcome: the joint investment in the project and my recent Employeneur Award helped strengthen my belief in the combination of science and industry. A small step outside of your comfort zone can make a huge difference.’

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