Architecture students are an enterprising lot. A career at a large company is no longer the (only) dream option. A new generation of students aims to make an impact and prefers to be in the driver’s seat themselves. There was, however, room for improvement in the supply and demand of existing educational programs and the needs of students. That is why professor Hans Wamelink started BK-launch: a new platform for Architecture students with an entrepreneurial dream. “In the registration period, our course is full within minutes.”

It sounds like the classic dream of Architecture students: becoming a world-famous architect by making a name for yourself with large, impressive buildings. But that image is changing, says Hans Wamelink, professor of Construction Management & Entrepreneurship and co-founder of BK-launch. ‘Many students are interested in circularity, sustainability and the energy transition – and how they can play a role in this with their own ideas or company. And those students with that classic dream are also increasingly realizing that every successful architect must also be a good entrepreneur.’

Bringing supply and demand together

Victor Scholten, director of the Delft Center for Entrepreneurship (DCE), once expressed his surprise at Wamelink: hardly any Architecture students ever participated at DCE. So Wamelink started asking around and talked with teachers, students and entrepreneurs. It soon became apparent that something was actually missing in the curriculum at Architecture and the Built Environment: courses on entrepreneurship in which Architecture students recognise themselves. The idea for BK launch was born.

The enthusiasm was there from day one, according to Wamelink. “It confirmed that we were onto something special. BK-launch brings together different disciplines. The platform provides lessons ourselves, but we also use many guest teachers from outside, such as seasoned entrepreneurs.” The DCE is also involved and provides courses on entrepreneurship. Wamelink: ‘Victor Scholten and Aleksandar Giga, among others, provide part of what’s on offer. But there is also guidance from a selection of fellow Architecture teachers, who are all entrepreneurs themselves. That’s very valuable, because they combine professional knowledge with hands-on experience with entrepreneurship. That experience isn’t lost on students.’

Setting up something like this takes time – and money. Wamelink immediately sought connections with external partners from the business community and soon found four (Oosterhoff, Brink, Smits Vastgoedzorg and CBRE) willing to support BK launch. The 4TU Federation, the partnership of the four technical universities, soon joined as a partner.

Sold out in minutes

BK-launch also contacted the Innovation & Impact Center early on, says Wamelink. ‘We started talking to Paul Althuis and Martine Klijn: To connect with the existing TU Delft Campus ecosystem, but also to exchange ideas. We then started, for example, with start-up vouchers for students, just like Delft Enterprises and the Aerospace Innovation Hub. That’s not only great for visibility and brand awareness – it also ensures a connection with the existing offer for enterprising students.’

Just under three years after it was founded, Wamelink looks back on a successful period in which there’s continuous high demand for BK-launch. ‘In those three years, more than 200 students have participated in our educational program. And a significant part actually started as an entrepreneur.’ Every year the course fills up very quickly, says Wamelink with pride. ‘Registration for education in February traditionally opens in November. The courses are full in a few minutes. And then the e-mails start: whether there might be place available after all.’

BK-launch currently works with a maximum of 60 students. The coaches are currently the bottleneck, explains Wamelink. ‘I have nine of them, each supervising six students. And each of those coaches has entrepreneurial experience and a background in Architecture. Look, if I open the course to 80 or 100 students, it will also be full. But we want to keep the quality high.’ With a smile: ‘so for now it will remain a bit of an exclusive club.’

Beyond the traditional field of architecture

Students’ ideas are diverse and do not solely focus on design and construction. For example, one of the start-ups, MOR Studio, originated as a student team that took part in the Solar Decathlon competition: a competition that challenges students to design and build a self-sufficient house on solar energy. Other promising examples include AplusV Solutions, which focuses on the role of robotics and automation in construction, and Refurnable, a furniture subscription service.

Wamelink is realistic: not every start-up will make it. Not every service or product has been developed far enough for the market. He sees BK launch as the very first step for Architecture students with an entrepreneurial dream. ‘There is of course a huge network around TU Delft that can help them get started. We point students to the various existing (student) competitions, vouchers, YES!Delft as an incubator with all their programs, the field labs on Campus such as RoboHouse – but we do not have the complete overview – yet.’

From participant to guest lecturer

In just three years, BK-launch has not only made a name for itself within the Faculty of Architecture, but has also created a solid foundation by forming a community of enterprising students, alumni and (former) employees. That this works is proven by three students who started as participants and who now give guest lectures as young entrepreneurs within the BK-launch program.

The first achievements make Wamelink optimistic about what BK-launch can achieve. ‘Recently, the team was expanded with Falco Zeekaf, who will help with the further growth of BK-launch as a community manager. And of course I’m hoping for a few start-ups that really take the industry by storm and shake it up. Start-ups that bring about lasting change in circular, sustainable construction or help realize a breakthrough in the energy transition. That will happen, and our students have the best hand to make a difference with new ideas, a new approach and way of working.’

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Jenny Konings

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