Major festivals were the living laboratories facilitated by Innofest, but as of last year, vaccine and testing sites are the only major gatherings in the country. A telling difference, requiring Innofest to reinvent itself. 'It was scary, because we couldn't do without festivals,' says director Linda Vermaat. 'We suddenly had to be innovative ourselves.'
By necessity, Innofest went online. But physical living labs were also created at Biergarten Paradigm in Groningen and Campground Stortemelk on Vlieland. It thus became a mix of the only opportunities that remained. Vermaat: "An entrepreneur wants feedback on his product from festival visitors, but all those people were now sitting at home because there were no festivals. So it had to be done this
way. And in De Suiker and on the campsite it was still possible to test in a realistic environment whether the product works properly.'
We expanded our network and the partners from the beginning such as the University of Groningen proved to be a good match with Innofest.
Linda Vermaat, Innofest
Totally different world from 2016
New techniques for online group meetings, such as the Test Teevee format developed by Innofest, also brought relief. Linda: 'It wasn't all worse, because I find the feedback via Zoom more honest. Maybe that's because it's a little more anonymous than a physical response.'
It is a completely different world from that of 2016, when Innofest launched. At the time, Innofest, under Vermaat's predecessor Anna van Nunen, was still small. 'But more and more entrepreneurs began to believe that it is wise to test innovations as early as possible. And more festivals are opening their doors as test sites,' says Linda. Startups, innovative SMEs and spin-offs soon signed up, and more and more festivals hooked on as well.
Recycling poop and urine
Last year alone, a total of 60 startups reported to Innofest. And in the past five years, a total of 180 cases were supervised. Wonderful initiatives passed by, from mobile batteries to recycling poop and urine and from washing hands with 10 ml of water to first aid with a tuktuk. Linda: "The products improved because of the response from the tests. Innofest has matured over the past few years. Matured. We have expanded our network and the partners from the beginning like the University of Groningen turned out to be a good match with Innofest. We know better what we are doing and can therefore help more and more. We are adding more and more.'
Entrepreneurs get caught up
It has gradually become much more professional and "confident. Startups that want to use Innofest as a testing facility are nowadays tutored in four classes, so that everyone has an equal starting position and misunderstandings are virtually eliminated. A lot of experience has also been accumulated in those five years, resulting in a methodology that is shared with as many others as possible (found at innofest.co). 'Others can use it that way if they want to,' Linda states. 'For increasing innovation, that's important.'
Many wonderful projects have come along in those early years. Linda mentions Greener (mobile batteries) and Semilla Sanitation. The latter extracted from toilet units drinking water but also nutrients for plants. 'Really awesome,' Linda thinks. 'A very nice project is also cheese from plant food. From Willicroft. It's about the carbon footprint of meat and dairy. Willicroft has a solution for that.'
Entrepreneurs can now help culture
In fact, in recent years, the cultural sector has supported entrepreneurship by letting startups use their festivals as testing grounds. But now the cultural sector itself is in trouble, as, for that matter, are the majority of entrepreneurs. Will the startups now also come up with something for the festivals? Is there something of reciprocity? Linda: "Innovations have already been conceived for the festivals. We use the openness of festivals to test. Four festivals actually came up with this themselves because they want to contribute to society. Conversely, the startup doesn't always have to have something to do with the festivals or culture.'
Entrepreneurs continue to report to Innofest. There is plenty of material that can still be tested by the general public. But it is far from certain whether the festivals will continue this year. 'Of course, it would be extremely unfortunate if the festivals come to a halt again, because we want to continue to help entrepreneurs test their prototypes. To keep adding more value, I think we need to test more and more sharply,' says Linda.
Innofest goes into the country
Innofest will nevertheless take new steps. 'We are going more often to new regions and bigger cities like Amsterdam and The Hague,' the Innofest director announced. 'We want to be able to test ideas throughout the Netherlands.
be able to test them.'
Innofest is currently looking for entrepreneurs from the Northern Netherlands who would like to test products or services at the TT Festival, Welcome to the Village and Into the Great Wide Open. Entrepreneurs can apply through innofest.co. until April 1, 2021.
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