Q&A with the first Dutch professional placement participants

In 2013, the first four Dutch candidates participated in Climate-KIC’s professional placement programme, Pioneers into Practice.

Pioneers into Practice is a two-month placement programme that brings together professionals from industry, small companies, universities, research institutes, local councils as well as non-profit and public organisations.

Participants get placed in a different environment for two months to broaden their network and stimulate innovative thinking.

Golden Triangle

Dutch participants Paul Brouwer of Utrecht University, Nieves Garcia, Wageningen University, Stef Roell, Province of Utrecht and Martine Schuts of Arcadis, are “perfect representatives of Climate-KIC’s golden triangle”, said Eileen van Kesteren, who manages the programme for Climate-KIC The Netherlands, pointing out the participants come from knowledge institutions, a governmental organisation and include a business representative.

Brouwer, Garcia and Roell spent their international placement in Valencia at the University of Valencia and the Technical University of Valencia and with governmental institutions. Martine stayed in Frankfurt in the Hessen region where she spent time with Intraserv.

Great experience

The participants highly valued their international placement, both on a personal and professional level. They enjoyed their stay in the region of their choice, being Valencia and Hessen. The contact with the host organisation and with other pioneers offered a good opportunity to network.

Also, while the pioneers sometimes experienced a cultural gap, they say it was interesting to learn to deal with things in a different way in a different setting.

Q: Did you experience cultural differences on the work floor?

Martine Schuts, energy and sustainability consultant at Arcadis:

At Infraserv, they are working on the realisation of a power to gas pilot plant. Germany already produces a large amount of renewable electricity. However, the problem with renewable energy is that there is often a mismatch between supply and demand.

As a result, a surplus in electricity may appear. Infraserv is working on chemical methanisation, which can be used to store this surplus. With chemical methanisation, natural gas is gained from hydrogen and CO2, while hydrogen can be produced by means of electrolysis from the surplus electricity.

My assignment involved investigating the market opportunities for power to gas in the Netherlands. Along the way, I encountered a different working mentality. While we Dutch tend to talk and to negotiate elaborately, Germans take steps more easily: they do their research, test it out, and then just do it.

Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned?

Paul Brouwer, research assistant at Utrecht University and involved in the Climate-KIC innovation project AzoFast:

It was towards the end of my assignment that I found people at the right companies to talk to, in order to develop a business case. Which is what I had come for: to find potential partners and business opportunities to use the Azolla fern to treat heavy metals in waste water.

I do believe biosorption is an undervalued technique with a high market potential. Within the AzoFast project we will keep this in mind as a potential application of Azolla, so when chances arise we can act on it.

The Pioneers into Practice programme helped me realise that the most important thing in starting business from academia is taking the actual actions. Academics tend to spend too much time on talking and thinking about starting a business, instead of learning by doing.’ 

Q: How was it to work in a different language?

Stef Roell, Province of Utrecht:

My assignment involved comparing governmental instruments to support innovations and the energy transition initiatives. I talked to various people with different backgrounds, in order to investigate opportunities for cooperation between the two regions, Utrecht and Valencia.

Although it turned out to be more difficult to get through to the right people than I thought I have been able to identify several cooperation opportunities on both an institutional and project level.

The fact that I speak Spanish fluently definitely helped. Also, it is important to be aware of cultural differences.  With the Spanish, it is important to invest first in personal relationships instead of starting to pitch your ideas immediately. I am sure that some of my Valencia friendships will last.