Lotje Hogerzeil (25), MSc Urban Systems Engineering, blogs about her participation in the Student Challenge of 2018: Design the Ultimate Sustainable Urban Greenhouse. The deal with the university is that her team will provide regular updates about their progress in exchange for funding. She is worried that someone might steal their idea.
© Sven Menschel
Today, a small delegation of our team will go to the GreenTech Fair 2018: ‘the world’s leading horticulture trade show’, as they call themselves. Evergreen won’t be the only group to represent the Student Challenge at this happening. The other five teams will also send representatives. It’s not the first time we are asked to share our ideas in public – and in the presence of our competitors. Each time this happens, I get a creeping notion: where is the line between pitching in exchange for feedback and exposure on the one hand, and strategically defending your intellectual property on the other?
The deal with the university is as follows: we were given a 10,000 euro grant and signed a contract in which is stated that we would provide an update of our ideas as promotion material for the university as set moments in time. This time around, we are asked to provide a five-minute pitch in front of several big names in the world of automated agriculture; previously, we made videos of our progress. We scratched our heads about these videos too: insight into our awesome ideas might get us a lot of attention, but at the same time, every other team – or even a smart outsider – could run off with our concept. As a simple student, you are barely protected against theft, if at all. Better yet, you often won’t even think of protecting yourself against this.
I have wondered about this before, including during my ‘regular’ courses. As a student with an innovative idea, how are you protected against a smart magpie, the one that sees your shiny finding and steals it from under your nose? How do you arm yourself against the consultancy who is really helped by a 90-student class being so motivated as to think up a plan for the expansion of Lelystad Airport? Or against the project developer who can’t wait to have that same number of students working on finetuning a new hydroponic system for free?
Blood, sweat and tears
I’m no fool and understand that projects for a course are double-sided. As students, we learn about direct applications in practice, and the company gets a fresh, new look on their project. During the “pressure cooker” that are our courses, we often don’t even have the time to truly deliver something that would be directly usable. In the case of our design, however, it really feels different. The result of nine months of blood, sweat and tears; an attempt to be the best, smartest and most original; that is what we’ll pitch during the finals on 28 August. In front of hundreds of people, including most probably a couple of smart magpies.
Today, we’ll pitch our ideas at the risk of being “robbed” by our competition. But I’m not that worried. We assume that, similarly to us, they’ve already gone into such tunnel vision on their own design, that copying won’t even be an option anymore. It’s a different story for the finals. In my mind, I’m toying with the part of our budget that we haven’t yet allocated. It might not be a bad idea to spend it entirely on a specialist in intellectual property.