"Take-off grants and TTT vouchers complement each other nicely."
It is not just good ideas that come to life within the TTT programmes. NWO also enables (entrepreneurial) researchers to establish successful spin-offs or start-ups. The Take-off programme of the NWO science funding body has many similarities with and some differences from TTT. Daan Brocken from NWO tells us about it, and founder and CTO Jaime Quesedas from start-up SolvGE also shares his experiences with both instruments.
One of the most frequently heard terms in the corridors of NWO is ‘impact’. Daan Brocken, Take-off coordinator at NWO, agrees. “Of course, impact is a general term, but it reflects the direction we have taken in the Netherlands when it comes to financing science. It is not just about fundamental research and impact in the scientific field, but increasingly about visible application of knowledge. About innovations that have a positive impact on our lives. The Take-off grants are an excellent example of how NWO tries to stimulate the societal impact of research. We focus on ideas from Dutch knowledge institutions that are ready to leave research and find their place in society. Ultimately, that is the place where innovative ideas should make a difference. Whether that knowledge and innovation ends up with SMEs, government agencies, or start-ups, such as those stimulated by Take-off, doesn’t matter so much.”
Each year the Take-off programme finances around twenty start-ups in an early phase and carries out around eighty feasibility studies. Take-off has two rounds annually, involving about eight to ten million euros. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy finance this programme.
Brocken is in almost daily contact with entrepreneurial researchers. “The direct connection with that world of innovative start-ups and the contact with all those passionate young entrepreneurs and scientists is wonderful,” he says. “It is the main reason I enjoy working at NWO so much. I have experienced the other side myself, carrying out fundamental scientific research, but I feel that from this role I can contribute more to the impact new knowledge makes on our society. Especially when it comes to a sustainable and liveable world: that is my main motivation.”
Brocken mentions several examples of start-ups that recently received Take-off subsidies and inspired him. “Ocean Grazer from Groningen is doing ground-breaking work in energy transition. They are developing the Ocean Battery, an offshore energy storage system for wind farms. Praxa Sense (remote health monitoring) and Neurolytics (an online assessment tool for recruitment) are also excellent examples of innovative ideas entering the market. This also shows how diverse our portfolio is.”
Cross-fertilisation with TTT
In terms of approach, Take-off and the TTT programmes do not differ greatly from each other. After all, both instruments revolve around bridging the gap between knowledge institutions and the market. “The programmes complement each other well,” says Brocken. “NWO serves the entire scientific field with Take-off. TTT is, of course, thematically oriented and mainly for the affiliated institutions, making it a more specific instrument. Perhaps TTT steps in slightly earlier with its vouchers than Take-off does with its feasibility studies. Phase 2 is a loan for us, more of an investment for TTT. We also frequently see that entrepreneurs and scientists receive support from both instruments, which I think is very positive. There is cross-fertilisation, and I enthusiastically welcome the fact that in the Netherlands, we are using more than one way to valorise knowledge.”
About Take-off from NWO
The Take-off instrument from NWO stimulates new businesses and entrepreneurship from Dutch knowledge institutions. Academic entrepreneurs, as well as start-ups from universities of applied sciences and start-ups that make use of knowledge from Applied Research Organisations (TO2), can use this to bring their innovative research results to the market. Take-off is one of the instruments for knowledge utilisation that NWO carries out together with ZonMw. The goal of Take-off is to create innovative businesses based on knowledge development by knowledge institutions. This can involve innovation in products, processes, healthcare or services in the broadest sense and within all scientific fields. From beta and engineering, life sciences to alpha and gamma.
Take-off consists of two parts:
- Feasibility studies (phase 1) – maximum duration: 6 months – maximum subsidy: 40,000 euros
- Early-stage trajectories (phase 2) – maximum duration: 24 months – maximum loan: 250,000 euros
Brocken: “With this programme, we have coverage of all fields of science, partly due to our collaboration with ZonMW, which is more specialised in medical sciences. Of course, the NWO domains SGW, ENW and TTW are collaborating on this programme. As lead agency, TTW is responsible for matters such as coordination, communication and reporting to the ministries.”
Also read the story about SolvGe: ‘TTT and Take-off ‘