You’ve been doing research for years. The results are so interesting that you want to do more with them than just publish a paper that only a few colleagues will read. Companies and organizations seem enthusiastic, but still you don’t manage to achieve much tangible impact. Sound familiar?
This was not the case for researcher Hannes Sels of the Karel de Grote Hogeschool, who together with his colleagues was developing a tool to help companies find environmentally friendly alternatives to solvents, such as white spirit in paint. A true gap in the market. And yet, initially no one wanted to buy the tool. How was that possible?
Valorization seems to be the current buzzword in the research world. Funders and governments want to know how your research will create impact. But how do you go about this? We asked experts Pieter Wuyts and Michiel Nuytemans. They were able to guide Hannes and his team to bring the solvent tool to the market.
The challenge: how to make sustainable solvents accessible to companies?
Solvents such as white spirit are found in paint, glue, and ink. The problem with most solvents? They are not only harmful to the environment, but also unhealthy and unsafe for humans. As such, European regulations on solvents are becoming increasingly stringent.
Fortunately, there are more sustainable alternatives. But it often takes companies much time and effort to find them and especially, to test which product will work best for them.
The answer: a software tool that determines the best alternatives
Researchers at the Chemistry and Computer Science Department at Karel de Grote Hogeschool came up with the idea of building a software tool that will allow you to quickly determine the most suitable solvents for a particular application. Once a company has specified its needs, the tool will determine the best option from a database of more than 500 solvents. All this powered by an intelligent AI algorithm.
The response: everyone is excited, which turns out to be a problem
Less harmful to people and the environment, and cost-effective? No wonder that a lot of companies show interest and want to be involved: manufacturers of paints, pharmaceutical companies, academic researchers, and consultants in the chemical sector.
All fantastic news, right? But each of them is looking for something different. One wants the technology, the other is mainly interested in the consultancy. One company calls weekly, while the other responds to no calls at all.
When you realize that interest is not enough
Project leader Hannes Sels: ‘Because you are so enthusiastic about your own research, you want to be of service to everyone. But then you realize that different target groups require different approaches.’ The team decided to call in the help of valorisation experts Pieter Wuyts and Michiel Nuytemans. Hannes: ‘We have closely involved potential users, partners and stakeholders from the very beginning. During the valorization process, we questioned potential customers in depth and they gave us insight into what they needed exactly.’
3 tips to get started yourself
Would you also like to reach companies or organizations with a concrete offer? Pieter Wuyts shares his three top tips:
- Know what your target group needs
‘You don’t want to experience the situation where you’ve been working on something for months, only to discover no one is actually waiting for it. That is exactly what happened with the solvent project. The researchers had put a lot of time into an online interface, whereas companies turned out to have no actual need for it. That is why it is crucial to determine target groups in advance and to involve them in the process as early on as possible.’
- Invite an outsider to look at your research
‘As a researcher you are so focused on your own research that it is difficult to look at your own project as an outsider. By talking to potential customers, the researchers in the solvent project learned that sustainability was not the right approach to persuade chemical companies. Reaching new customers did work as an argument.’
- Don’t do it all yourself
‘Find partners as soon as possible to solve the things you can’t or don’t want to do yourself. Selling your service or product is often better left to a partner who already sells similar products. This saves you a sales team, a website, and a workspace. Allowing you to focus on your research and limit the start-up costs.’
Are you itching to get going? Eager to get started with your research? Do you have questions about the right target audience or what price to charge for your product? We would be happy to help you along! Discover our new training on valorization.
Translation: Leslie Van Ael