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A serious chance for open innovations at TMC's Entrepreneurial Lab

Employees of large companies do not always feel equally autonomous. Let alone they feel they are contributing to a better world. More and more people want to make a difference for the company they work for and the world they live in. At TMC's Lab (TEL) this is real possibility. It is one of the five pillars of Employeneurship within TMC and all about open innovations. This is where ideas are conceived and developed. Ideas which sometimes lead to a true startup. For many engineers, TEL appears to be the workplace where dreams become reality.

A solution starts with an idea. However, most of the ideas remain fantasy. A shame, they thought at TMC, and also one of the reasons they started TMC Entrepreneurial Lab (TEL). A place where it’s all about open innovation and where ideas are put into production. Lotte Geertsen, director TEL: ‘When an employeneur has an idea, I always stimulate this because having an idea is a great asset. It's not about what I think, but it’s about the possible route for that idea. Gradually we’ll find out how and where the path leads.’

Luuk Schuring works as a data engineer at TMC and about working at TEL, he says: ‘For the average engineer, ideas usually remain ideas. Those few people that are working in their hobby shed might develop fun gimmicks. But usually these won’t be put it into production, let alone make it to the market. You can imagine I was immediately sold when I discovered TMC during my job search. For me, this was the workplace I didn't know I was looking for.’

Serious opportunities

In reality ideas often don't work. With good reason. For example, a flying bicycle costs (too) much energy, an umbrella that folds and unfolds itself has been around for years and HIPS appears not to be suitable for recycling into 3D printer filament (because of the rubber in it that cannot withstand high temperatures). But every now and then someone comes up with an idea that turns out to have great potential. For example, solar panels turn out to be much more efficient when they are cold. And computer chips today are so small they could fit into a contact lens.

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Algae reactor: cheaper production of microalgae for biofuel

Until a few years ago, algae had a bad image and were mainly known to the general public as the dirty bits in waters. However, algae are rapidly becoming an attractive term for consumers. They are sustainable and have a wide applicability for different purposes such as food products, cosmetics and biofuel. Partly due to the expensive production process, algae are still relatively little used. "There must be a better way," thought employeneur Kevin Gordon. Last year, he started a project in the entrepreneurial lab to develop an algae reactor.

Curious about the whole story?

At TEL, these kinds of ideas are given a serious chance. The feasibility, manufacturability and scalability are examined. TMC does not claim any patent rights and offers engineers both material and intangible support. Engineers will come up with the technological solution and TEL provides them with an ecosystem and the resources to develop that solution. ‘We stimulate entrepreneurial thinking,’ says Geertsen. ‘By have them think about how you make sure your idea solves a problem? Or what need do their product meets? By nurturing the idea and let them experiment with it, it can actually become a product. And then really cool things happen.’

‘I am now in the initial phase with my first project and I get so much energy from the fact that my idea gets a fair chance', says Luuk.

Building sandcastles

Employeneurs are given the opportunity and the means at TEL to work on their own technological innovations and entrepreneurial skills. Which means; anything is possible. You ‘only’ have to initiate it yourself. Luuk compares working at TEL with building your own sandcastle. ‘Other companies appreciate it when you tell them you’d like to build a sandcastle. They wish you the best of luck and that's where it usually ends. But within TEL someone will guide you and together you define which specialists, generalists, skills and resources are needed to start building your sandcastle. Luuk: 'Despite the fact you have to build it yourself, you don't experience any stress about things around it'.

Examples of how TEL contributes to society becomes apparent through the diversity of the projects and its social influence. For example, in 2021 a complete production machine line was realized in Uganda that produces certified mouth masks from waste plastic for local hospitals. Because of a totally different project The Entrepreneurial Lab will be part of Glow - for the fourth time - this year, says Geertsen. ‘We participated in the first edition with “only” three beamers. This year we developed a 16-meter-long LED tunnel with an impressive software, light and sound installation. In its core projects are about technology. But they are about more than that. They ensure engineers to further develop their creativity. And that’s exactly what you need when building a better world which is also future-proof!'

Lotte Geertsen

Director TMC Entrepreneurial Lab, Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)6 55 71 49 68

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