Start-up challenge: “Let the change in and become part of it

Sometimes even the biggest companies need help or at least inspiration from the outside. Akzo Nobel just started a start-up challenge for exactly that purpose. We spoke to Klaas Kruithof, Chief Technology Officer of Akzo about the challenge and the motivation behind it.

Akzo Nobel is looking for innovations by Start-Up companies that could benefit the the coatings industry. (Picture: Akzo Nobel) -

You have just launched the Paint-the-Future competition for start-ups. What was the motivation for this?

Klaas Kruithof: Innovation has long been part of our company’s DNA – but now we’ve become recently a focused Paints and Coatings company we want to take things to the next level in this industry.
We already have many products that offer customers some amazing benefits and functionality. We also have a clear view of what our customers will need and expect in the future. Therefore, we want to step things up and collaborate with forward-thinking partners and turn exciting potential into brilliant reality.

The challenge is about us helping accelerate innovation to solve real world challenges in our industry, together with the brightest and coolest ideas out there. The collaborative approach will benefit both sides, with a clear intention to work together with the winners to paint the future.

A company like Akzo Nobel has quite large research resources of its own. What can start-ups do better than you?

Kruithof: It’s saying “hey, we know we can do great things ourselves, we have proven this.’’ But the world is changing and doing so fast and we won’t be able to keep up with the change happening around us if we don’t open the doors and let the change in and become part of it. Let’s accelerate all the great things we are capable of doing by working together with people that are different, think different, act different, have different technology, have different business models, have an entirely different approach to solving customer needs and world problems.

Klaas Kruithof, Chief Technology Officer of Akzo Nobel

Klaas Kruithof, Chief Technology Officer of Akzo Nobel

We know people are working on ideas and developments that would fit really well with us as a company. Also, there are startups who are working on things that normally would not have a clear connection to the paint industry. People might think that making paint is just mixing up some ingredients. But there is so much more that we are working on.

Are there specific focal points in the competition?

Kruithof: Yes, we have selected five specific challenges:

– Smart applications: are there methods or materials that can make a coating faster, better or become more efficient when applied?

– Enhanced functionality: is it possible to let a coating ‘’work for us’’ in a non-conventional way, e.g. capture volatile ingredients from air, illuminate a space, conduct electricity?

– Circular solutions: how can we make paint and applying it become more sustainable and participate in development of a truly cyclic economy?

– Life science infusion: Our paint scientists are not necessarily networked that well with the liefe science industry, where we know a lot happens these days; we look for opportunities to tap into this area and look for unexpected solutions.

– Predictable performance: already today data = power:  smart algorithms and big data could help us to formulate paint and understand the behavior of substrates; the expected, read calculated, endurance of the paint layer can help us to plan maintenance.

What awaits the winners of the competition?

Our passion for paint goes way back, so we’ve got lots to bring to the table. We’ve got expertise, knowledge and global resources to share, global connections to make and partnership opportunities to offer. We’re keen to see what difference it all can make.

Startups from different sectors and industries are invited to submit their solutions for the 5 challenges via our open collaboration platform. A selected team from within AkzoNobel will form the Challenge Teams, whom will actively engage with and provide valuable input to the startups via the platform. A selected number of startups will be invited selected to attend the finals event where we further develop their solutions together with our own specialists and external advisors. We look forward to select a few (1-3) winners with whom we will create a partnership and accelerated the development of their innovation. The precise shape and form on this collaboration is very open and will be fit for purpose for both parties.

With the Paint the Future challenge we are aiming to enter the eco-system of start-ups. It is our intention to offer a win-win solution: helping start-ups to improve their business case and/or a fast route to market and scaling.

Longer term we aim to continue building eco-systems of innovators around our company, and transfer our company to be the reference in collaborating with partners to solve the challenges of the future.

The interview was conducted by Jan Gesthuizen

Start-Up companies can still participate until 1st March. More information can be found at:

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