Sustainable knowledge network for startups

Just before the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Netherlands, Brightlands Chemelot Campus signed a partnership agreement with ISC3. This German-based centre is committed to making the chemical industry more sustainable, and its Global Startup Service focuses explicitly on entrepreneurs. “Chemistry is facing its greatest challenge ever. Startups often have the best ideas for innovations, and we want to support these businesses all over the world. We consider Brightlands to be one of the footholds we need to achieve this goal.”

A German government-funded organization that supports foreign startups, including those based in the Netherlands? Claudio Cinquemani, Director of Science & Innovation at ISC3, has had to explain the “why” of this often. “Yes, ISC3 was in fact set up in 2017 with financial support from the German Federal Ministry of Environment, but we have been an international platform from day one. We are a collaborative center that gathers and shares knowledge about the transition to sustainable chemistry, one that is as circular as possible, driven by sustainable energy sources. If we want this transition to be a success, and there should be no doubt about it, we can only do so if we look beyond our borders.”

This is a vision that fits in seamlessly with the Brightlands Chemelot Campus strategy. “Our focus is also indisputably on sustainable chemistry and materials,” says Hugo Delissen, responsible for helping startups at the campus. “Circularity is one of the spearheads of these efforts. Here at the campus, we bring together multinationals, SMEs, knowledge and research institutes, and of course the startups join in. ISC3 bundles knowledge and has a large network, which offers huge added value for our startups but also established companies.”

Government funding is important to ISC3, but the center now stands more firmly on its own two feet thanks to the dozens of partnerships it has joined. These partners include research institutes, NGOs, companies, and knowledge institutes such as UNIDO, a UN agency, the European chemistry platform SusChem and the Dutch publishing company Elsevier. Claudio Cinquemani: “What makes us truly international is our hosting organization: The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is, after all, active in more than 120 countries. Working with others worldwide is the only way to make chemistry truly sustainable.”

ISC3 works with a team of over 20 people in Bonn, Frankfurt & Lüneburg. “Our main task is to connect as many stakeholders as possible from science, government, industry, and society,” says Alexis Bazzanella, director of the Innovation Hub, situated in Frankfurt. “We gather knowledge and share it with all of the parties active in chemistry, and have set up a special program for startups, our Global Startup Service. These new businesses can call on us for all the information they need on sustainability, such as the developments in sustainable energy, circularity, and new materials. They get access to an extensive online library, and we evaluate their business plans, assessing them for attention to sustainability in particular. We put them in touch with international experts and advisers, and they get access to training and incubator programs. We offer workshops, seminars, networking meetings, and events with potential investors. We organize challenges and hackathons and try to get in contact with investors, and we do all this in phases, from the initial idea to market introduction and expansion.”

There are also many advantages to the partnership for the Brightlands Chemelot Campus itself. Hugo Delissen: “Definitely. We are also part of a global platform, creating connections between our networks and expanding our reach. We share newsletters and can promote ourselves as a campus with top facilities such as labs, pilot plants, knowledge workers and a perfect location in Europe. This generates valuable leads, and via ISC3, startups are put in contact with Brightlands Chemelot Campus. These are definitely concrete leads; a startup from Uganda that found us via ISC3 might be setting up shop here soon.”

As a relatively small organization, ISC3 looks for collaborations with partners to draw attention to the possibilities and activities. One of them is Brightlands Chemelot Campus, which became official in February 2020. “We’ve known each other for a while,” says Hugo Delissen, campus business development manager and responsible for helping startups. “We feel very much at home with ISC3’s philosophy and approach so we signed a memorandum of understanding last year, making ISC3 an official partner. I’m really pleased about this since it means access to an international platform and a wealth of knowledge for the startups at our campus. It also opens doors to partnerships with other companies and sales markets including the important German market.”

Last year, ISC3 developed a workshop for startups which was held for the first time at Brightlands Chemelot Campus. It was obviously an online event because of the corona measures. “Five companies participated,” according to Alexis Bazzanella. “First, we provided a general section on sustainability, then examined each company in-depth. The results were so positive that we decided to deploy the workshop on an international level. We would love to hold another event with live presentations and an in-person audience. I’m afraid this won’t be possible just yet; hopefully, we can do this next year. And it will definitely be at Brightlands; it’s an important foothold for us with all the established companies, campus, and startups here.”

Further information: and ISC3 Innovation Challenge