Mitigating the impact of climate change, facilitating the energy transition, solving the housing crisis… The built environment needs to address pretty big challenges, which ask for innovative solutions. Students at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment have plenty of good ideas to create the necessary innovations, but how can their ideas successfully evolve? 

Those who study Architecture and the Built Environment are not just becoming designers and engineers. Many alumni of the faculty end up as entrepreneurs in their chosen fields, which go beyond the disciplines of architecture, urbanism, and landscape architecture. Examples are companies that offer a lifestyle subscription service for premium furniture, who specialise in visualisations of conceptual design ideas, who are experts on mass customization and robotics, or who create net-positive transformation strategies for existing buildings. Yet the curriculum of the faculty did not include courses on entrepreneurship. And those are vital, because having a good idea alone is not enough to launch a successful company. What problem are you solving exactly, how can you position your idea within the market, how can you connect to different stakeholders? Good ideas can only lead to change if they have a place to grow. 

Eco-system for collaboration

The field of the built environment and the accompanying industry are relatively traditional, without an established platform for growth and collaboration. This means start-ups often encounter difficulties with launching and with scaling up. “From a preliminary analysis and my own experiences as an entrepreneur, I have found that there is need for such a collaborative environment. An eco-system for the development of new ideas, testing them, and investing in them,” explains assistant professor Design and Construction Management Tong Wang. “If you only focus on your own domain, it becomes difficult to have a holistic view. Scattered information prevents us from evolving and innovating for the big challenges we face, like the energy transition, circularity and sustainability. We need an environment where stakeholders can work together and build trust in order to bring ideas to the next level.” 

That is precisely why professor Hans Wamelink started the platform BK-Launch, which connects students, start-ups, experts, and research on innovation in the built environment. The platform aims to create an entrepreneurial community for student ventures, acting as an incubator for exceptional ideas and connecting students to partners from practice.

Bottom-up development as basis for innovation

As professor of Construction Management and Entrepreneurship, Wamelink has come across many large research programmes. “The innovation prowess from these programmes is often limited. The most innovative changes in our industry come from bottom-up developments. BIM modelling is a good example of such a bottom-up innovation. These new ideas are needed to renew the building sector, but they need to be facilitated and allowed to grow,” explains Wamelink. 
The new platform BK-Launch offers the necessary growing conditions for such ideas and connects to existing TU Delft programmes on entrepreneurship. The big difference: good ideas in the built environment often revolve around providing innovative services, rather than purely technical solutions. Wamelink: “BK-Launch combines the best of both worlds. The courses are infused with theory on entrepreneurship by the Delft Centre for Entrepreneurship of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. At the same time, students are coached by mentors from our own faculty, who all have experience in running their own company. Colleagues from all departments help coach the students in developing a business plan that is uniquely suited to the field of the built environment.”

Elective on Entrepreneurship in the built environment
BK-Launch design studio

Defining entrepreneurship

What exactly makes a good entrepreneur? “An entrepreneurial attitude is about defining ambitions, starting something new, being willing to try and fail and try again. It is about listening to your customers and sticking your neck out for what you believe in,” characterises Wamelink. “Within the built environment, entrepreneurship is never just about making money. It is always connected to addressing important societal issues.” This is clearly illustrated by the wide-ranging output of the courses connected to BK-Launch. The elective course on entrepreneurship has run twice now, each time with fifty enthusiastic students, and the first edition of the design studio has resulted in no less than eleven concrete business plans. “Some students also discovered that being an entrepreneur is not for them,” adds Wamelink. “It is also important to discover if entrepreneurship fits your personality and your personal goals. I am curious to see which students will take the next step with their idea and business plan.”  

Go try your idea, test if it works! You can always spare a few hours a week to work on it. And if it works, you can spend more time on it and develop your idea more fully.

Koen Stam, Tomø

Different paths towards implementation

There are many different ways to develop a good idea into an effective start-up or company. Tomø and Drip Visual are sample results from the BK-Launch design studio. As BK-Launch ventures, they will continue to get support from the platform. The start-up idea Meraki was awarded with a BK-Launch voucher, which helps fund the students’ first steps on their entrepreneurial journey. But up-and-running start-ups can also profit from and contribute to the platform. Think of companies like AplusV Solutions, which was founded based on a graduation project, and MOR Studio, a continuation of the MOR project for the Solar Decathlon 2019.

Join the club

BK-Launch is open to all great ideas, and to prospective mentors, running start-ups looking to connect or share experiences, and researchers who are diving into the merits of entrepreneurship in the built environment. Students may choose to follow the elective on Entrepreneurship or the BK-Launch design studio. “But if you have a good idea, you are always welcome to contact coordinators Thijs Asselbergs, Henri van Bennekom, Remon Rooij, or myself,” adds Wamelink.

Send your idea to the BK-Launch platform and see what we can do for you!”

Hans Wamelink, professor of Construction Management and Entrepreneurship