BISCI is for every entrepreneur
Nowhere else in the Netherlands is the logistics sector growing as fast as it is in Limburg. A great reason to set up the Brightlands Institute for Supply Chain Innovation, or BISCI for short. The knowledge institute will be setting up a facility at the Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo and the goal is for it to be fully operational after this summer. “Because we want to work with entrepreneurs on innovation.”
Distribution centers are shooting up out of the ground like proverbial mushrooms. Following in their wake are transport companies and other service providers and vendors, a growing number of students enrolled in the specialised programmes at Maastricht University, the Fontys and Zuyd universities of applied sciences and the Gilde and Vista institutions of higher education.
Things have really been looking up for the logistics sector in Limburg, and this is not only good for employment, but also for the regional economy. So why the need for a special institute? “We have secured a leading position in logistics as a region in a short period of time,” says Professor Gaby Odekerken-Schröder, initiator of BISCI and professor and head of the Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Maastricht University. “The Venlo/Venray area has been number one or two in the Netherlands on the logistics hotspot map for years now. This is all well and good, but you can only hold onto the lead if you continue to innovate. Developments in logistics are moving at a very fast pace.
Just look at the automation and robotics used in the distribution centers, the developments in transport flows, the heavy pressure on sustainability and the shortages on the job market. This demands smart, innovative solutions. Businesses have plenty of plans and ideas but, or course, they also have questions. Where can they turn for advice and who will help them implement the solutions? BISCI plans to help fill this void.”
Based on her work in her professional group with her fellow professor Frank Rozemeijer and senior instructor Lieven Quintens, both specialists in supply chain management, Gaby Odekerken took the initiative for the new institute at the start of this year. The Province of Limburg promised a start-up subsidy, and preparations began shortly after that. Setting up a base at the Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo was the obvious choice. “The university is focusing on themes that connect the four campuses, among other topics,” Gaby Oderkerken explains.
“I don’t think I need to explain how logistics plays a huge role at the campuses in Maastricht, Geleen and Venlo, and every aspect of the sector is involved. In Maastricht, it’s all about the logistics for medicines and fragile research materials. You can’t imagine what’s involved in transporting DNA material the right way. In Geleen, it involves innovative new materials in bulk, and in Venlo, the agro- and food market demands entirely different solutions. How do you keep fruit and vegetables fresh, and how do you transport everything completely intact to the European hinterland? The accent in Heerlen is on data processing and smart logistics processes. The four campuses all complement one another with their knowledge and expertise, and have all the practical aspects under their own roofs. The choice for Venlo is a logical one; it’s located right in the heart of the logistics hotspot.”
Will this become an inwardly focused institute then? “No, definitely not. We actually want to concentrate on all the entrepreneurs outside of the campuses. BISCI will be very accessible, and will be working on ideas and questions with external parties. We are going to conduct research and create academic connections with the UM bachelor and master programs in Maastricht and Venlo, and are also currently exploring options with HBO (higher professional education) and MBO (senior secondary vocational education) institutions.
The idea is to create a living lab with learning pathways that run from the MBO to the university level, and where students, teachers and entrepreneurs all work together on concrete products, projects and innovations, similar to the CHILL labs at Chemelot. BISCI has a scientific basis, yet is also focused on the practical aspects, intended for self-employed people as well as large multinationals. Gaby Odekerken is convinced that there is a great need for this institute. “We can see this in our contacts with members of the business community. We received dozens of responses after we published the first press release about BISCI. Entrepreneurs are clearly looking for answers and partnerships. It is also explicitly our intention to start working on finding answers to these questions rather than trying to come up with everything ourselves. In other words, demand-driven instead of supply-driven.”
The central mission is support for the total supply chain management. Within this framework, four sub-areas have been identified: logistics, operations, purchasing and marketing. Gaby Odekerken: “These are naturally intertwined and can overlap. This is why we have gone with a holistic approach with the focus on innovation, research and education and executive training programs. We aren’t going to set up any new studies, but we will offer training courses and workshops, both here and on location. We naturally need the help of business itself with this. The best part is when we can work at the companies’ premises to expand on concrete ideas, together with employees at every level. The logistics chain consists of a series of links, each of which is indispensable, from scheduling to transport, and handled by professionals who must take part in permanent training. Co-creation and cooperation are at the heart of this. Fortunately, we have been contacted by quite a few businesses who are happy to participate.”
BISCI is financed by Maastricht University and the Province of Limburg. In the long term, the institute must become self-sufficient. A project manager will be appointed next month who will set up the institute together with a team. The institute’s doors will open after the summer vacation. “Entrepreneurs can sign up now,” Gaby Odekerken says, “and we hope they will. A healthy portfolio filled with ideas and questions is what we need to get off to a running start.”