Our very own Corina Prent was interviewed by Hannah de Nobel from the University of Groningen about research and entrepreneurship. In an interesting article about Startup-City, VentureLab and SlimStampen, Corina tells you all about the bridge between the university and business. Read the entire interview below!
Having ideas. Experimenting and trying. Wanting to change society. For many researchers, this is all part of everyday life. But what if you want to market your idea? This is a step that often does not come naturally to researchers. There are a number of organizations within the UG that can help you out, including VentureLab. This is also how SlimStampen was born, a program that students in five countries are now using.
Text: Hannah de Nobel
A center for starting entrepreneurs
Near the end of the Zernike Campus, between the major innovation centers, is a building that resembles a stack of black shipping containers. On the side you can read in large light blue letters: “get started: the future is here”. The building is Start-Up City, a complex that provides office and meeting space to various organizations that help budding entrepreneurs. The top sea container contains one of those initiatives: VentureLab. VentureLab offers various programs that give starting entrepreneurs a boost, such as weekly workshops and a personal coach to get to know entrepreneurship well. They can also use office and laboratory space in Start-Up City and the innovation centers around it, which can be very difficult without this support.
A chemist as a point of contact
The head of VentureLab is interim manager Corina Prent. As a chemist, she has traveled the world for large companies. Eventually she settled in Groningen again to guide startups. Because she has been on the side of both research and industry, she knows how big the step can be for researchers. “It’s a completely different way of thinking, between research and doing business,” she says.
A bridge between small and big
Researchers who think their research has potential will find a bridge between the university and the business community at VentureLab, according to Prent. The location of Startup-City right in between the major innovation centers also has an advantage. “Being so central allows us to combine mature companies with young companies, so that they can learn from each other,” she explains. VentureLab has many larger companies in its network. They can then be brought into contact with the researchers following the programme. According to Prent, this creates an interaction between the consortia and the companies. And the starting entrepreneurs can always fall back on the coaching from VentureLab. “So I’m very busy with that – shareholder meetings, answering questions and coaching,” says Prent.
Hedderik van Rijn is the head of the Groningen start-up SlimStampen, an AI program that helps with learning facts. Through research in experimental psychology, he developed a method that creates a memory model of the student. Van Rijn recognizes himself in the picture that Prent paints of the step between entrepreneurship and research. For a long time he was hesitant to set up a company. “I didn’t dare to take the plunge for a long time. Organizations that help you make that step a little smaller are extremely useful,” he says. According to Van Rijn, SlimStampen would not have existed without his contact with Prent. Through her network he came into contact with the co-director of SlimStampen, Hilco Boerlage. “Hilco was looking for an idea to start up, and I was looking for someone who knows how to run a business. That is a very nice collaboration,” says Van Rijn jokingly.
Input from practice
This collaboration between research and business operations is the common thread of SlimStampen. “From a scientific point of view, we often look at the commercial outside world as something we have to rebel against, but I don’t think that’s necessary at all,” explains Van Rijn. He believes that science is often strong enough to stand on its own, but that cooperation can sometimes be very beneficial. For example, it is very useful for improving the program that they can receive feedback from the users themselves. SlimStampen is already being used in five countries by hundreds of thousands of students, and the data obtained through can then provide input for the research of Van Rijn and his team. “So we are closing the circle again: it was a scientific idea that was applied in practice, and we can use that data to make new science.”
Room for growth
And there is still plenty of room for growth within the company. SlimStampen is now mainly used to learn for tests, but Van Rijn would prefer to see SlimStampen replace old testing methods. “With SlimStampen you test during learning whether the student has mastered the information sufficiently. Then there is no longer a need for a stress moment such as a test, because that stress can also influence the results.”
Source: University of Groningen (Dutch)