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‘Science needs an entrepreneurial approach’

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Jackie Ashkin of Team Coastbusters with their prototype - photocredits Monique Shaw

By connecting science and society more closely, we can create collaborations and conceive ideas that enable us to meet the challenges of our time. This idea is central in Leiden this year, as the European City of Science 2022. “By bringing people together in playful ways and allowing them to learn from each other, we create connections that can actually bring about change,” Lucien Geelhoed, intendant at Leiden2022, says.

Geelhoed and his team were asked by the European Commission to organise a brand new event for talented scientists between the ages of 21 and 35. As a result, The EU TalentOn was born. In September, Leiden hosted a three-day event in which talented international researchers came together to tackle the major challenges of our time. Out of the 700 applicants, 104 top talents were ultimately selected to participate.

An entrepreneurial approach

The development of entrepreneurial skills in these young scientists was one of the most important missions of this event, explains Geelhoed. “There is an enormous amount of talent at European universities, but because the path to a career in business is not obvious, their knowledge doesn’t always get put to use — even though students belong to the generation that can really make a difference. We wanted to add an entrepreneurial perspective to the skillset of young researchers and build a bridge between their talent, science, and innovative business.”

During the TalentOn, young scientists were challenged to team up and work on innovative solutions for the five EU Missions: Climate Adaptation, Beating Cancer, Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, Achieving Healthy Soils, and Restoring Oceans and Waters. Specialists from each field and industry were brought in for each mission. For example, the Danish serial entrepreneur Henrik Scheel — mission navigator during this first edition — was a coach for the participants. “With more than 15 years of experience in Silicon Valley, he is now an expert in entrepreneurial thinking; something that still needs to earn a spot in many scientific fields,” says Geelhoed.

Comfort zone

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By emphasising the practical application of scientific knowledge, the event opened the eyes of many participants. “I learnt so much in just a couple of days about teamwork, innovation, entrepreneurship, and climate resilience. Stepping outside the library for once allowed for one of the most stimulating experiences in my academic life, in which I realised that we could find real-life solutions to real-life problems,” said Juliette de Pierrebourg, a student at the prestigious Parisian educational institute, Sciences Po.

Participant Bibiana Barrera Bernal also found the event eye-opening. “We all have good ideas, but we need to learn how to put them into practice. That you can actually have an impact that way is a lesson I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Bernal, a researcher at the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, and her team 'Bright Ribbons' want to continue the board game they developed to help people come to terms with cancer diagnoses, which won them the first prize in their mission. “We’ve already had our first team meeting after the event. It was an online meeting because we all work at different European universities, but we are determined to follow up on this and ensure the game eventually gets released.”

Connection

'Bright Ribbons' isn’t the only team currently investigating whether they can actually develop their idea. The first overall winner of the EU TalentOn, the 'Soilfix' team, also wants to make their idea a reality. The same goes for the 'Coastbusters' team, who hope to develop their idea to use LED lamps to illuminate fishing nets, reducing bycatch by 95%.

Creating long-lasting collaborations like these is exactly what creator Geelhoed had in mind for this event. “These bright young minds are the future. By connecting them with each other, but also with experts from their fields and key players from the industry, a foundation has been laid upon which they can continue to build together. Science only truly comes alive when connections are made.”

European City of Science

This first successful edition also sets the tone for future editions. Every two years, the European Commission plans to award the responsibility of hosting the EU TalentOn to a different European city. In 2024, this honour will go to the Polish city of Katowice, which will then also bear the title of European City of Science.

Leiden2022 European City of Science

Leiden European City of Science 2022 is a 365-day science festival packed with activities, lectures, workshops, excursions, exhibitions, and events, for anyone with a curious mind, the goal of which is to connect science and society.

In September, Leiden2022 presented a special Bright Young Minds week, with the EU Talenton, the 33rd final of the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) and an event for children with Yuval Noah Harari. Leiden2022 is a partner of the European Year of Youth.

Leiden2022 is an initiative of the Municipality of Leiden, Leiden University, Leiden University Medical Center and the Leiden University of Applied Sciences, supported by the European Commission and many local, national and international partners.

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