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21. May 2019 | Coatings Technologies

Interview: “There has been a plateauing in innovation”

According to Thierry Vanlancker, CEO of Akzo Nobel, there has been a plateauing in innovation in the paint and coatings industry. Akzo Nobel just finished its first paint and coatings start-up challenge to change that. We spoke with him during the award ceremony.

Thierry Vanlancker, CEO of Akzo Nobe, wants to repeat the start-Up challenge in the near future.

Why did you decide to start this start-up challenge?

Thierry Vanlancker: The Idea to start a competition like this was actually going on for a while. As a company, we have been looking at open innovation. If you look at the coatings industry there has been a bit of plateauing in innovation, because there are so many products and so much ongoing day to day development. So, in that sense we have been looking how we could get a real open innovation project going. With our partner KPMG that was a really natural conversation that we piloted in the other part, the chemical part, of Akzo Nobel to go to a start-up challenge and to really connect with a network out there.

How did you decide which companies would be on the shortlist to meet your professionals in Amsterdam and which one would receive an award?

Vanlancker: Well, we had about 160 companies applying, which is an overwhelming number. Of course, you can’t have so many companies participating in an event like this. So, we made a selection according to criteria like: is it really applicable in painting and coatings, and is it novel or have we actually worked on it ourselves? Is it something that is applicable or commercialisable in the foreseeable future? But also, is it really ready enough to have applications or is it still in the lab phase? That brought us to 21 companies.


Then we had a jury, half our own people, half external people, looking at the 21 companies and give the awards to five winners. But the reality is, all the 21 ideas are pretty much applicable already and I think that will be the network for the dialogue as we go further.

What will be the next steps for the winners of the Paint the Future awards?

Vanlancker: That depends a bit on the winners. But if you take the four or five winners that we have, there are already meetings either for a sourcing contract or development contract. I think for most of them, whether for the technology people or the business people, this is going to be to see what the agreement is we can have to start commercialising. This is not just an event, it is just one of the milestones in an ongoing cycle of innovation.

Do you plan to hold another Paint the Future challenge in the foreseeable future?

Vanlancker: Yes, in fact this has to be a process. Otherwise it becomes this big happy event with novel ideas and then everybody goes home. So, since the intent is to make this part of the open innovation and have connected labs outside of our labs we have to do it on an ongoing basis. We haven’t decided yet, if it is going to be in 12 month or 18 months, because you need to have enough novel ideas to come in. But I could imagine that somewhere in the 18-month timeframe there will be a Paint the Future 2020 or 2021. So yes, it will be a recurring event for us.

The interview was conducted by Jan Gesthuizen

The awarded companies are

SAS Nanotechnologies (US) – Nanocapsules as anti-corrosive self-healing pigments

QLayers (the Netherlands) – Automated printing head to coat large surfaces in any weather

Interface Polymers (UK) – Tuning surface functionality with di-block polymers

Apellix (US) – Autonomous drone that coats flat surfaces

Alucha Recycling Technologies (Netherlands) – Turning waste into bio-oils and minerals


The trip to the Paint the Future Award ceremony was financed by Akzo Nobel. The editorial coverage was not influenced in any form by this.

EC Techb Report Sustainability


EC Tech Report Sustainability

Making coating systems more environmentally compatible is a burning issue for everyone in the industry, and one that is being fuelled by the European Green Deal. Learn all you need to know about sustainable coatings, how to produce coatings in a more environmentally friendly way and how to give coated products a longer service life. You will find an overview in the EC Tech Report of the many various approaches being adopted. We will dive deep into the European Green Deal, its key points and main purpose as well as consequences for the coating industry, see which new raw materials are being developed to replace or lower the content of products in the SVHC group and learn about different approaches to sustainable paint formulation.

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