“Antwerp has plenty of innovation potential”

Antwerp wants to become the new European Capital of Things, which is why the University of Antwerp is also offering a new programme as of autumn 2017: a post-graduate programme in the Internet of Things. This is a good thing, according to Koen Verhaert of the Verhaert innovation company. “I can only applaud the fact that Antwerp is looking for and finding new ways to prepare new, creative talent for the future. The time has come to put Antwerp on the map as an innovation hub.”

“The definition of “innovation” is constantly evolving”, Verhaert explains. “In the past, people mainly equated innovation with technology but those days are far behind us now. Nowadays you must create added value instead of just developing new products or services. And the lines between products and services are becoming increasingly blurred. You are increasingly expected to adopt a multidisciplinary perspective if you want to be innovative.”  

Breaking down walls

But it is the lack of a multidisciplinary approach which often poses a problem. Young talented graduates may have a lot to offer but the university has trained them to be specialists in one subject. “That is why the new post-graduate on the Internet of Things, which is organised by UA, VUB and UGhent, is so interesting. By combining their forces, the universities have broken down the traditional walls that still often exist between programmes.”

“I am impressed with how this programme was established. The City of Antwerp, the Port of Antwerp and IMEC want to make innovation a spearhead. Antwerp has long nursed the ambition to become a City of Things. But we need talented, trained people for this, which is why this programme was established. The approach is different than usual. This is a step in the right direction to establish a more innovative culture throughout Antwerp, to develop a real ecosystem. There is so much potential we can tap into.”

Innovation means creating

And yet education is only one aspect of the story, according to Koen Verhaert. “Innovation is not just a question of knowledge, it also relies on creativity. What I mean is, there are people who see a puzzle as a set of pieces. But creative thinkers are capable of exactly the opposite: they only need to see a few pieces of the puzzle to envisage the whole puzzle. You need other skills for this like design skills, associative thinking and a sense of entrepreneurship. They don’t teach you this at school or at university, or not enough at any rate.”

Why? “We have a tendency to think that creativity is not that valuable. Just look at what someone in a creative profession earns, compared with someone in a more analytical job. We also tend to evaluate students’ knowledge rather than their thinking skills.”

So there definitely is still some room for improvement. But the change is gradually becoming apparent: “Teaching students to think creatively is not that difficult. When we hire someone, we test their intrinsic skills such as an open mindset and their synthetic thinking. If they already have the basic insight, then the rest will follow. At Verhaert, young employees learn this on the job.”


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