‘We connect education and businesses – dynamically’

december 13, 2019

‘We’d love to talk about the last CHILL 1001 ideas Tipis Festival, which we organize every year to give students the opportunity to research problems faced by the business world. They might be materials science issues for instance, but they always have social relevance, demand innovative solutions, and give students a platform on which to shape their own future in this area. Students arrive on a Friday evening and have never met before. By Sunday, they’re all set to defend their assignment – groups of students from different schools. That’s what CHILL is all about.’

CEO Luc Lanclus and commercial director Cyriel Mentink are in charge at CHILL, a Limburg-based partnership between schools and technical businesses that involves activities including weekend gatherings. ‘We actively look for students with a different perspective, such as those with a completely different education. They work together towards Sunday’s pitch to hundreds of interested parties, not only adults. They are great weekends. It’s typically CHILL!’

Where did CHILL start?

Luc explains, ‘CHILL started as a collaboration between the “Founding Fathers” – SABIC, DSM, Leeuwenborgh Opleidingen and Arcus College (now Vista College), Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, and Maastricht University. They’re all still with us. We want to create a connection between education and the world of business. In the past, education was always somewhat segregated, while industry became more and more dynamic.’

‘Look at how Chemelot has changed over the past twenty years from a DSM site to a Brightlands Chemelot Campus and Industrial Park with hundreds of businesses working on innovation. Alongside the need to create a connection between education and industry, we have the problem of dejuvenation here in Limburg, i.e. young people seeking a future elsewhere. We want to show students up close that there are opportunities locally.’

How do you ensure success?

Cyriel explains: ‘I’ve only been working here for a few months, but I had heard such positive things about CHILL at national meetings – that it’s the leader when it comes to linking education and the business world. And that seems to be true.’

‘In terms of education, we focus on MBO (intermediate vocational education), HBO (higher vocational education), and partly on WO (university education), which we’re still developing. We want to both broaden the relevance of CHILL for students and also deepen it, such as by encouraging children in primary education to take technical studies.’

What businesses do you connect with education?

‘Manufacturing is so important to our region,’ explains Cyriel, ‘both in terms of employment and gross regional product. And we’re not just talking about big companies like DSM, but about SMEs as well, both on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus and nearby.’

‘SMEs need to innovate too, and change in order to survive. Sadly, they often lack the means to do so. CHILL is an important springboard for them. We have labs and a good mix of students and experienced professionals who can jointly contribute to innovative solutions. Thankfully, there’s considerable growth in SME participants, including from outside the campus.’

Which region is your focus?

Luc explains, ‘We actively focus on SMEs within a 100-kilometre radius, as meeting in person is so important. 90% of the SMEs are from the Netherlands, even though Belgium and Germany are so close. The markets and cultures there are very different, especially when it comes to education, so our network doesn’t reach very far into those countries.’

‘The service provided by CHILL is 80% research – chemical lab research, materials research, characterization, biomedical applications, that sort of thing. We also deliver bespoke training, mostly specialist training such as injection moulding or extrusion, but also training to support personal development in students and professionals.’

What happens at the weekend gatherings?

‘We arrange the “1001 ideas festivals” on a regular basis,’ explains Cyriel, ‘which are gatherings where students spend two days considering one business case. It’s very inspiring, great fun, and the results can be truly inspiring. After twelve weeks, it’s rounded off with a business plan, supervised by someone who understands investment planning.’

‘In 2018, for example, we arranged the “1001 ideas for Limburg \ Tipis CHILL@Brightlands” event for waste companies Suez and HVC, looking at the circular economy and, specifically, how to avoid waste. The solutions that students put forward varied from new products with waste as a raw material to smart ways of ensuring that people recycle.’

Luc continues, ‘One idea that came out of our CHILL festival was a mobile recycling centre. A lorry with different waste containers that uses data mining to work out when it’s very busy, and then informs residents. We’ve carried out two pilots and it seems to work.’

What about promotion?

‘To recruit clients we take part in trade fairs, and twice a year we organize a partner event. This is an enjoyable afternoon with an added challenge, which is to bring someone along who we haven’t met before. Every year we have a gathering on a particular topic. Last year, it was recycling, this year we went to K in Düsseldorf, and people could bring someone with them.’

‘We are also active on social media and the website, but really people need to come and see to really experience it. Most people know of Chemelot from their holidays to France, because they have to drive by it, but that’s all they know.’

How do SMEs respond to CHILL?

Cyriel explains: ‘People typically have a single question and leave with multiple answers – “oh, we have a connection here too”. That ultimately leads to long-term partnerships. We often have businesses bringing their equipment to us so that students can work with it.’

‘So CHILL has come about to train and educate students and to help businesses to innovate. A business needs to see us as a flexible organization, or an “flexible shell”. It’s also more financially attractive as we use students. We then embark on a development programme, we build an innovation shell, which we like to call “communities for development”, where a student and business coach innovate together. In many cases, the students are also offered a contract – after all, they work alongside one another for months, so the business can choose the most suitable students. That way, we retain talent within the region.’

What are the long-term benefits?

‘When people think of working with students, they often think of dull school buildings,’ explains Luc. ‘But what we have here is a professional business environment. The unique thing for SMEs is that they work on the development together with the students. We don’t just do pure contract research; we connect students and businesses. We apply a model of education in a physical environment.’

‘There are usually 80 to 100 students on an annual basis, but not all at the same time. On peak days, that figure is more like 40 to 50. You want to spread out, and the same is true for contact with businesses. We draw in so many SMEs and thereby give the campus itself a role.

The approach to assignments is also very professional for students. We don’t take over any patents, for example. But we do expect businesses to invest in the training in the form of knowledge. In most cases, that’s not a problem – there’s plenty of that here.’

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