"Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but you need to be able to think like an entrepeneur." Only then will much-needed innovations in the built environment become a reality. With the successful BK-Launch Platform and plans for the future, Professor of Construction Management and Entrepreneurship Hans Wamelink is putting the importance of entrepreneurial thinking on the map.

Creating value

A lot has happened since the official launch of the BK-Launch Platform in 2021. "Now it really is a platform that helps students with their start-ups," Wamelink shares enthusiastically. "The courses fill up within two minutes, and our Entrepeneurship Week easily attracted 100 students." The popularity of the BK-Launch Platform lies in the way the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment is strongly linked to social assignments and practice, Wamelink believes: "Design thinking and entrepreneurial thinking are very similar." In both cases, you work on a solution in a cycle, constantly improving it. In design thinking, that cycle is strongly solution-oriented, while entrepreneurial thinking goes a step further: what problem am I really solving with my idea? What is really needed, for society as well as the (future) customer? "This basic prerequisite for entrepreneurial thinking, the creation of value, is completely intertwined in education offered through BK-Launch. Students find this difficult at first, but gradually they discover that this way of entrepeneurial thinking has value, also as architects and designers." It is therefore not the point for every student to start their own business, but about students thinking about the value they add on behalf of society.

A design should not only be beautiful. Above all, it should have value - for the users, the environment and society as a whole.

Fascination for innovation

Entrepreneurial thinking is needed to get innovations off the ground. This is how a good idea can grow into a practical innovation and a successful business. With that vision, Wamelink just started somewhere: "The world is broader than just designing a building. That's why I set up the first elective, to introduce entrepreneurial thinking among architecture students. Because of the students' enthusiasm and support, that elective grew into BK-Launch." Such educational innovations take time, but at some point they become part of the curriculum. "If enough people care about it, you notice that it becomes more and more situated. That is also my passion. Trying out new ideas, and piece by piece, putting new standards into regular structures. That's how change really gets a place in education. And that’s how I can focus on developing new things again!"

Entrepeneurial thinking as integral part of education

Part of the new developments around BK-Launch are talks on making entrepreneurial thinking an increasingly integral part of education - not only in the education of Architecture and the Built Environment, but in all TU Delft education. "Theory and practice are completely intertwined in education, as are entrepreneurial thinking and design thinking. That complete integration is an innovation in design education of Architecture and the Built Environment." The teachers of the BK-Launch courses are all practitioners, who are entrepreneurs or have been entrepreneurs. Companies and partners also rotate in the teaching as guest lecturers. The theoretical subjects are taught by colleagues from the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. "How that will take shape on a large scale is something we are now working out," Wamelink adds. "In doing so, we are also looking at possible international collaborations with other universities."

Enthusiasm and perserverance as prerequisites for success

Wamelink calls the students' enthusiasm and perseverance the most important success story of BK-Launch. "With the truly enterprising students, you see that when they fall or threaten to fall, they manage to adapt their idea. They then develop a new product, or manage to spread the risk better. Those are the real entrepreneurs, who keep looking at what is happening and what is possible within their network." His big dream is that in a few years' time, companies will have emerged from BK-Launch that really make a difference: "That those companies work from moral impact and offer innovative solutions for nicer, better, faster - but that the founders can also earn a living from it." If it were up to Wamelink, corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurial thinking are therefore going to have a permanent place in education. 

If our students' innovative ideas change the sector and society for the better, then BK-Launch is successful as far as I am concerned.

The many roads to success

The success of BK-Launch lies mainly in the way the concept truly serves as a platform. The platform consists not only of the students taking the courses, the lecturers and connected companies and partners in the field, but also of the involvement of the team and students who have since graduated, started their businesses and are returning to BK-Launch to give guest lectures. "There are a lot of people involved. Our Community Manager makes sure the right people are connected. We also don't want to do everything ourselves. BK-Launch is mainly a first step, where we help connect those students with a good idea with the right people." Those students have not necessarily taken the BK-Launch courses. It's all about the innovative idea they bring, Wamelink emphasises. "For example, Kathryn Larsen joined us after graduating, to further develop her Studio Kathryn Larsen. And Jaime Alonso Candau had already started Nonica.io, with successful collaborations with Autodesk, for example. At BK-Launch, he can meet other students and get in touch with the right people more easily. Thus, the BK-Launch Platform remains continuously evolving to help develop innovative ideas for the built environment in the best possible way."

From elective course to Startup Vouchers and future plans

The original elective course â€˜Entrepeneurship in Architecture and the Built Environment’ has evolved into the overarching concept BK-Launch, with two fully fledged MSc elective courses, Startup Vouchers for students with good innovation ideas, a physical and creative workspace where startup students can meet, partners in the field, a fully booked Entrepreneurship Week in 2022, and successful student startups. Wamelink: "We have more partners and companies willing to support the platform, including Oosterhoff, Brink, Smits Vastgoedzorg, CBRE, the Lighthouse Foundation, and the 4TU Centre for Engineering Education. This shows how interesting working on innovation is, both in education and in practice."

This story is published: May 2023

More information

For information on potential collaborations with BK-Launch, contact Community Manager Falco Zeekaf. Other queries about BK-Launch may be directed to Marilotte Stemerdink

Header image: Hans Wamelink when introducing of Kathryn Larsen for a series of Entrepreneurial stories.