Together to: Innovate

On the 21st of September, the event “Together to: Innovate” was held for the very first time, as part of NTNU and The Mine’s partnership with Equinor. The first prize was 300,000 NOK, and students across all disciplines had the opportunity to participate and compete against other students. The competition’s only criterion was that the students could present a concrete idea, project, or start-up that can positively contribute to the energy transition. In addition, the winner gets access to Equinor’s professional expertise and counseling for three months.

By William Husby Hoven

The overall ambition of Engage is to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills at the higher education level, to become change agents in all contexts. As a way of achieving this goal, we connect today’s students with the business world – in this way, we can contribute to solving the challenges of the future. The innovation award “Together to: Innovate”, in collaboration with Equinor, was an arena where students were given an opportunity to present their green ideas in front of a professional panel. It will require a lot from us as a society to succeed in the green transition, and the energy sector in particular will play an important role in the years to come. Therefore the students were encouraged to pitch their green ideas, projects, or start-ups – innovations that can contribute to the energy transition and Equinor’s journey towards net zero.

Brilliant, green ideas for the future

Originally there was 300.000 NOK as the main prize at “Together to: Innovate”, to be handed out to the winning group of the competition. On the contrary, the panel was so impressed by the green ideas and solutions presented by the competing students, that they couldn’t decide on just one winner. Therefore they chose two different start-ups as winners of the competition, and both start-ups received 300.000 NOK each from Equinor. Additionally, the third prize received 100.000 NOK for their project. The winning start-ups of the competition were Versiro and Kelpinor, congratulations!

Versiro and Kelpinor – the two main winners of the competition.

We had a talk with Kelpinor from the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, a marine technology company. Kelpinor has developed a method for harvesting and launching kelp, enabling economies of scale. Kelpinor has high ambitions and aims to produce 5.000 tonnes of kelp by 2027. Here is what the CEO of Kelpinor, Hermann Schips, had to say about the importance of reaching the top in the competition:

“The competition was a lot of fun! Going all the way to the top wasn’t something that we had expected. When we realized that we were among the finalists, we thought: Yes! Because then we knew that we would have access to Equinor and their professional expertise for three months. And that is of an infinitely greater value than the cash prize itself. At the same time, winning the main cash prize of 300.000 NOK, will be of enormous importance to us as a start-up company. It’s so important that the things we want to achieve with Kelpinor, now suddenly become much more achievable.

But maybe the most important thing for us about winning the competition is that we have gotten recognition for the great number of hours and efforts that we have put into the company. We often dedicate more than 60 hours weekly to our project, and it is a fantastic feeling to get a confirmation like this stating that we are heading in the right direction.”

Hermann Schips, CEO Kelpinor

The Mine – the center of innovation in Trondheim

Furthermore, we asked Hermann to elaborate on NTNU’s strategy on the development of The Mine as an innovation centre and the importance of building bridges between students and the business world. Here is what he had to say:

“I think NTNU’s strategy of building The Mine as a centre of innovation connecting students and the business world together, is very solid. The fact that we as students see real issues, and face real businesses that want these issues solved, is fundamental for our development. And having The Mine as a hotspot, where it’s completely safe to ask about anything and to seek advice from people with a great competence in their field, is invaluable. And I think that Engage acts as a strong driving force in accomplishing this mission, in a very positive way.”

Hermann Schips, CEO Kelpinor

When we are talking about innovation in Trondheim, The Mine is the number one place to be. It is located at Gløshaugen NTNU, and is the heart of everything there is related to innovation within the city of moustaches: Trondheim. Here we gather students, employees and the business world, so that everyone is working together in developing the best solutions for the future. The presence of external businesses within the innovation environment in Trondheim, is of great importance. The insight of the business world is crucial for students in the processes of developing the best solutions that the world desperately needs, especially regarding the green transition. “Together to: Innovate” and other similar events are also of great value for the business world itself. The innovation environment in Trondheim is home to a great number of clever ideas – some of them might even solve challenges that the businesses themselves aren’t aware of yet.

We also talked to Charlotte Sørensen, who is Head of student engagement at Engage. She has been one of the key persons in the build-up and development processes of The Mine and the innovation environment in Trondheim as we know it today.

Charlotte Sørensen, Head of student engagement

“In order to have the innovation environment in Trondheim at its best, we are completely dependent of collaboration between students, employees and the business world. At The Mine we currently have four partners: Sparebank 1 SMN, our main partner, Equinor, DNB and Element Logic. Firstly, one of the reasons for why we want to include externals at The Mine, is because we want the students to face and to be working on actual challenges. Furthermore, so that they can provide expert knowledge that we need. Lastly, it’s fundamental to connect the students with businesses at an early stage. Not only for the students themselves, but also for the businesses. After all, the students of today are the ones who will be solving the issues of tomorrow.”

Charlotte Sørensen, Head of student engagement at Engage

In addition, Charlotte was heavily involved in the processes of planning the event along with Equinor. As part of their mission of reaching net zero as a company, Equinor is searching for new, green ideas. Therefore, in collaboration with Engage and NTNU, Equinor has launched the new yearly event “Together to: Innovate”, in order to facilitate for green entrepreneurs with great ideas to succeed. To sum up, overall the event was a big success, and Equinor were greatly impressed by the students’ efforts and their green ideas. We are already looking forward to next year’s event!