'This university started as an experiment 55 years ago, but we have evolved and we are still growing. We can be proud of a number of leading high-tech institutes, we are becoming more and more international and we are still the most entrepreneurial university in the Netherlands,' were the words of Rector Magnificus Ed Brinksma, who opened the Alumni Day´s central program in Waaier.
True to its name, the Alumni Day was full of UT alumni. The event´s central program was even hosted by a UT alumnus Diederik Jekel, a famous TV and radio presenter that tries to bring science to the general public. Entertainment was provided by band The Bartenders, formed by former UT students, who have been playing together since their studies in 1980´s.
First it was time to introduce the UT´s young talent, and so the audience welcomed founders of some of the most well-known UT start-ups: SciSports, Clear Flight Solutions and Homey. SciSports is a company focused on combining science and sports, also aiming to provide automated tracking of football players. Clear Flight Solutions are famous for their Robird, remotely controlled robotic bird developed for bird control and already being tested at airports. Homey is a speech operated controller, which connects all home devices, such as lights or TV.
Did UT play an important role in creating these innovative start-ups? 'Absolutely,' thinks Nico Nijenhuis, founder of Clear Flight Solutions. 'The environment here is very stimulating. The university always pushed us to do something else besides studying.'
Twente Visionaries Fund
After this first panel discussion, Tjeerd de Vries took the stage to present a new 'Twente Visionaries Fund', a unique initiative run for and by alumni. 'This fund was created by UT alumni to support local start-ups and research projects,' explained De Vries. 'Investors of this fund should be alumni. We hope all 40.000 of them will join, because we want to build a strong alumni network.' The fund should be launched by the end of the year.
The fully packed program contained another panel discussion, this time on the topic of student activism. The debate was joined by former and current members of UT student associations that discussed student involvement in policy making and how it changed over time. 'Activism is more difficult now,' thinks Eline van Hove from the Student Union. 'We are under pressure to study fast and combining studies with being active in associations is very complicated.'
Alumni with impact
The final guests on the stage were three of the most prominent alumni of the University of Twente: Cees Links, inventor of Wi-Fi technology, Bas Lansdorp, founder of Mars One, and Geert-Jan Bruinsma, founder of Booking.com.
'It all began in July 1996. Internet was a very new thing and we just wanted to get on it. At some point, we thought of hotel bookings and contacted hotels,' Geert-Jan Bruinsma talked about the humble beginnings of his hugely successful company. 'We started with one booking per week, now we have about one million per day.'
'Entrepreneurship starts within you'
Bas Lansdorp, alias 'the crazy guy who offers one-way tickets to Mars' - as Diederik Jekel put it -, thought of organizing a mission to Mars also a long time ago, in 1997. 'But now we finally have things that make it possible. Mars is the next logical step. It might seem like fantasy, but the Netherlands might also look like a sci-fi to people from Africa,' pointed out Lansdorp.
He might be right. After all, Wi-Fi technology probably also seemed completely impossible 55 years ago. Now it is everywhere - thanks to another UT alumnus, Cees Links. 'We just thought it would be very practical to connect your laptop wirelessly and off we went,' described Links. 'It´s very simple. You just start with a prototype and show it to people. Entrepreneurship starts within you. You need a good story to tell the world and you need persistence, because the world will tell you it´s impossible.'