Vlerick understands us very well

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Vlerick, it seems, is not the only business school that’s in touch with TNO, but they are – by their own admission – the one they feel most comfortable with. “There are other business schools that focus on other things, but Vlerick thinks about problems in a similar way to us”, adds Stokking. “Many of the same types of industry are present in both the Netherlands and Flanders: e.g. chemistry, automotive, maritime. We therefore often face the same type of engineering issues, and our offshore businesses, like dredging, are remarkably alike. In fact the two biggest companies in the dredging world come from our two countries. Vlerick has grown up in this environment, and so they can talk our language. They’ve got experience in the same issues we’re facing, and they can help us.

“We are a knowledge institute,” says Stokking, “but that doesn’t mean we are open source. I’m a firm believer in protecting our knowledge. For me, open innovation is shared research and co-creation within the group of companies who are involved, and there’s a very big wall around that expertise. Everyone is competing against everyone else, and our main reason for existence is to help European industry be more competitive. We need to protect the goodies we have here. But before that, we have to convince these companies that they need to share their knowledge with others. For instance, by getting the materials and components suppliers to work together more closely, and getting the company with knowledge of the end user involved at an early stage. We have to make each one of them see that there’s a real advantage in working together.”

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