22 April 2021

Here the air should vibrate with inspiration!

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Collaborating with industry is nothing new for FHICT. "We've been doing that for about 13 years with our Partners in Education," said Suzanne van Kuijk, Program Manager of the InnovationLab. "That enduring collaboration ensures informed feedback on the curriculum and keeps us up-to-date on what's going on in the corporate ICT landscape. So that we can respond well to the ever-evolving market."

Getting more out of collaboration

One of FHICT's earliest Partners in Education is Sligro Food Group. Maurice van Veghel, CIO at the hospitality wholesaler, says, "You don't immediately think of Sligro when you think of innovation and education, but those very topics have always had my intrinsic interest. As a Partner in Education, Sligro provides work placements and assignments and we sponsor the annual graduation prize." But there had to be more to come from the collaboration. "With FHICT director Ad Vissers, Alex Otten, then director and owner of Estate Digital and with chairman of the Strategic Advisory Board Nijs Blokland, we discussed a few years back how to take the partnership to the next level. We were toying with the idea of a modern location with a different kind of education."

With that, the seed was planted for Partners in Innovation, united in the SPARC foundation, acronym for Sharing Platform for Applied Research Cooperation. Affiliated Partners in Innovation bring in practical issues, in addition to financial support. Van Kuijk: "All of us - students, teachers and partners - can participate and learn in this. We used to think in terms of compartments, but now we're all close to each other and we learn from each other. This accelerates innovation. Through SPARC, we encourage practice-based research, in the short and long term."

At Strijp TQ, FHICT has a special space with the InnovationLab where the hybrid issue around training the IT worker of the future is taking shape. In the InnovationLab, SPARC has an important place. The IT world is changing so rapidly that it is an illusion for an educational institution to be able to keep up with these changes all the time. At the same time, involvement in education is a must for the field of work. Together we are preparing the new generation of professionals for the challenges of the business world."

Constructive cooperation to build on

One of those Partners in Education that has linked up with SPARC is CTOUCH. As a neighbor of the InnovationLab, the provider of smart touchscreens that stimulate collaboration in education and business is close to the fire. Remmelt van der Woude, CEO of CTOUCH: "The InnovationLab gives concrete form to building and exchanging knowledge through acquaintance and collaboration. No separate projects with a small assignment here and there, but a constructive cooperation in which we build on what is already there, and in which we stack and share knowledge. So that we can move forward together. Innovation is change and that is hard to do on your own, you have to do it together. The challenge now is to make this knowledge building a continuous process in which every participant continuously creates added value."

That challenge is already great, but the ongoing corona pandemic is adding to it. Especially in a concept like InnovationLab where it is precisely the chance encounter that can lead to beautiful collaborations and solutions. "In a physical environment where you can work together, you also convey the message much better, it inspires more. And don't forget: with my 50 years I'm quite a gentleman for students. A gap that you can close more easily with physical meetings than through Teams," says Van der Woude.

More sustainable with Artificial Intelligence

Despite everything, the InnovationLab has already inspired more than 75 context-rich projects. Like the international CTOUCH project on making the supply chain more sustainable with the help of Artifical Intelligence. In this, students from FHICT and Shanghai University worked closely together. Van der Woude: "Sustainability, future-proofing, safety and customer experience are our core themes. All our projects must respond to and add value to at least one of these pillars. Based on this project we are now redeveloping our packaging. By using eco-friendly materials and reducing the volume, we are reducing our carbon footprint. We strongly believe in this and are a leader in the market. By 2025, our total CO2 footprint must be reduced by 25%. Quite a challenge, especially when you know that we are already making a positive contribution to CO2 with our office environment!"

Grant application for transforming urban nature

Another great milestone: last January, FHICT lecturer AI & Big Data Gerard Schouten submitted the first grant application to NWA-ORC (National Science Agenda - Research on Routes by Consortia). SPARC, along with other institutions, signed a letter of intent to support this research financially and substantively. Van Kuijk: "The research proposal is 'Data-Driven Biodiversity Management as a Service for Cities' and aims to bring about a transformation in how urban nature is designed and maintained. We do this by jointly developing tools that support this change. Such as a dashboard that visualizes (future) city planning, biodiversity and human activity, and an app that helps residents make their garden part of a larger ecosystem."

Van Veghel concludes, "We've had a great start and an excellent first year. Corona, unfortunately, causes that to diminish the dynamism while InnovationLab is all about being together to enable knowledge sharing and cross-pollination. The air here should vibrate with inspiration, not a virus. That will certainly happen again in abundance. Because I am convinced that we will create beautiful concepts and projects here, from which you can learn and where you can fail. Because that, too, is part of our collective learning process."



Curious to learn more about Fontys ICT InnovationLab and the benefits of being a Partner in Innovation? Get in touch today.