Summer school graduate: ‘Climate-KIC changed my mindset’

Charlotte Van De Water, a graduate of the Climate-KIC summer school class of 2010 and co-founder and former president of the Climate-KIC Alumni Association, now works as project management trainee near Rotterdam.

“The traineeship position I’m in at the moment didn’t exist before. Climate-KIC has taught me to identify new opportunities and to push for them,” said Charlotte, who works for DCMR, the regional environmental protection agency of the larger ‘Port of Rotterdam’-area in the Netherlands

Background: Charlotte has a Masters degree in Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences from Delft University of Technology and a Masters degree in Human Geography and Planning from Utrecht University.


 Climate-KIC has taught me to identify new opportunities and to push for them


Port of Rotterdam
Port of Rotterdam

Q: You had to set up a business as part of the summer school, how did it go?

A: My group put together a business plan to power greenhouses with residual heat from cloud server farms. Climate-KIC introduced us to specialists in the field, expert lectures helped a lot with the financial aspects.

We learnt to identify opportunities instead of problems. Even though you only have six weeks to set up and run your business, it changes your mindset forever. I now find myself constantly looking to connect things.

I was used to this in a different manner because of my architecture background, but the entrepreneurial focus of the summer school taught me to identify things that can be turned into new projects or business plans.


Q: Does it affect how you operate in your current job?

A: The role I’m currently in at the DCMR Environmental Protection Agency didn’t exist before. It is largely due to my own initiative and assertiveness that I’m now managing a communications project on permit authorisation and law enforcement activities focused on large industries in the Rotterdam harbour.

I have noticed the same thing with a lot of other Climate-KIC graduates: you become more assertive, you learn to push for new opportunities.


Summer school class of 2010
Summer school class of 2010

Q: Our summer school students come from a broad range of geographical and academic backgrounds, what was it like?

A: Our class consisted of 46 people, but we were very close because we had a common interest. We were all there to fight for a sustainable society, and we all wanted to do it in an entrepreneurial way.

The most important level of environmental issues is the European level. National borders don’t matter for climate change.

For me, working with people from other cultures is extremely important. It forces you out of that culture comfort zone and makes you take another look at the issues, which helps you to get new ideas.


The most important level of environmental issues is the European level. National borders don’t matter for climate change. 


Q: Has the summer school had a lasting effect on your personal and professional network?

A: I organised a Dutch reunion in the beginning of 2011. We visited the Ketel One distillery in Schiedam, which produces Dutch gin in a sustainable way. The distillery is a very good example of how to run a company. Later that year we organised the first combined event of the class of 2010 and 2011 in the UK.

I ended up co-founding the Climate-KIC Alumni Association (CKAA) which now counts over 500 members. I’m still very active within CKAA and attend as many events as possible.

My connection to the other Climate-KIC alumni is very important to me as my current job is focussed on regional policy. My Climate-KIC network enables me to stay in touch with the European level, it broadens your scope.

It is really great to be able to tap into those contacts across Europe at start-ups, corporations, universities and government agencies.

The policy world I work in at the moment is quite conservative and really different from the fast paced innovation community. It is invaluable to me to be able to step back into that more creative sphere whenever I want.


Participants of the 2011 summer school
Participants of the 2011 summer school

Q: What would you say to students who are currently considering taking part in the summer school?

A: During your studies, you learn a lot about doing research. But during the summer school, you learn how to use research to solve real life problems.

If you would like to let go and see how you could use your knowledge to create sustainable solutions, I would sign up right now. It is also a way to meet like-minded people and to build a very strong network.



Q: How will we meet the climate change challenge?

A: In policy you always have to find a balance between environmental benefits and economic interests. Entrepreneurship allows you to achieve both.

You don’t have to give in on one of the two aspects. That is why entrepreneurship is a very powerful tool to realise sustainability.


The summer school brings together participants from the Climate-KIC Masters and PhD education programmes as well as other highly motivated individuals on a tour around Europe, visiting the Climate-KIC partner institutions to discover the business and science aspects of climate change innovation.