Chemelot Campus: Let the chemistry begin

How can Chemelot Campus become a thriving community? That was the question asked of Maastricht University’s Service Science Factory, who took up the challenge in an eight-week project.

“In the beginning nothing was very surprising in itself, but more in the way the ideas were further developed to fit our needs,” says Frank Schaap, Director Marketing and Business Development at Chemelot Campus in South Limburg.

The chemical and materials campus recently concluded an eight-week collaborative project with Maastricht University’s Service Science Factory in developing a community building strategy. Schaap cannot help smiling at his initial scepticism.

“Take the campus navigation app for example. My first reaction was that it was a nice gadget, yet not absolutely necessary. But when I understood what it would offer and how it could be used, I became more and more enthusiastic about it and now I’m one of the believers!”

The growth engine of Limburg

Chemelot Campus in Sittard-Geleen was founded in 2002 as a collaboration between Royal DSM, the Province of Limburg and labour unions. The initial goal of the three-year covenant to attract 15 new chemical-related companies and create 250 jobs was far exceeded with 27 new companies and more than 300 new jobs being added to the industrial community.

Currently, the campus hosts 1,250 knowledge workers and the figure is expected to grow to 2,500 in 2023, as part of a new ambitious ten-year plan developed and signed last October between DSM, the Province of Limburg and Maastricht University. Chemelot Campus is now an independent legal entity formed by these three shareholders.

“I always tell people that we have three targets: Growth, Growth, Growth,” Schaap jokes. “We want to do this by attracting new companies or knowledge institutes to the campus, by generating new companies based on new ideas and by accelerating the growth of existing companies through cooperation with other parties within the community and the region.”

The challenge, however, is to nurture an environment where people can continue to connect with each other in spite of the growth and where the frequency and number of these connections can increase.

Chemelot Campus

Community building

“In Research and Development, it is important to have face to face meetings and work together,” Schaap explains. “Besides geographical proximity, an essential condition for success is cognitive proximity: ‘Do we trust each other, do we speak each other’s language?’ Before we can build trust, we need to understand that we have a joint interest in working together.”

Schaap sees community building as one of the strategic actions to realize the campus’ goal to become one of the top international places to be for innovative companies and top knowledge workers active in the chemistry and materials sectors.

“As a business-driven and internally oriented campus, however, we felt less experienced with the soft factors,” explains Maurice Lambriex, who joined the Chemelot Campus management team in January to oversee the community building process. “We approached the Service Science Factory (SSF) at Maastricht University with an assignment to help us out with community building concepts that would answer our needs and at the same time be easy and practical to implement.”

A unique strength of the SSF methodology, in Lambriex’ view, comes from the fact that for each client and each project, a special team combining a diversity of competencies is put together. “There are not many parties who can provide such a unique mixture of skills,” he explains. “In our case, the team included designers, an event organizer, Maastricht University students and SSF staff members with insights in hospitality, economics and interior decoration, among others. It was a flexible team with some experts being hired only on a temporary basis.”

Chemelot Campus

Lambriex notes that the advantage of asking for external input is that proposed solutions tend to be freer and more daring. Lambriex lets a smile as he describes the SSF team’s recommendations to renew the office infrastructure: “Our people were saying that the offices looked fine and might just need a new fresh coat of paint. In the SSF team’s opinion, the question had to be considered from the perspective of the top researcher for whom we want the campus to be the place to be, with the best facilities. For this researcher, good would not be enough. ‘If you do something, do it the best way’, SSF told us.”

Over time, Chemelot Campus aspires to create its own vibe, much like world renowned campuses such as MIT Harvard in the US, Sophia Antipolis in France or Louvain in Belgium. “We would like people on campus, but also guests and our neighbours in the surrounding area, to experience this intangible open innovation vibe and associate it with our campus,” says Lambriex.

“Chemistry connects people”

The Service Science Factory launched the collaborative project in October 2012 with a Dream Day with participants from the Chemelot Campus but also from external companies. Lambriex points out that strikingly enough, it was during that very day that the slogan later adopted by the Campus was invented: “Chemistry connects people.”

“Chemistry connects people”

Various representatives of the Chemelot Campus, including CEO Bert Kip, Frank Schaap and Maurice Lambriex, actively participated in the eight-week project. They took turns to attend the weekly team meetings and helped to narrow down initial concepts to implementable solutions.

That is also how they were introduced to the SSF’s key designing tool: the personas.

“We were told that a solution could only be viable if we took the people who are active on the campus as a starting point,” Schaap explains. “We provided the SSF team with a list of main actors, such as students who tend to be early adopters, people in their 50-60s ‘who have seen it all,’ knowledge workers, startup entrepreneurs, expats with or without family, managers and technicians. In the end we created six or seven representative personas, who were fictional profiles of the various types of individuals within our organisation to take into account when developing options.”

Directly as a result of the project, the Chemelot Campus management team created a new “Connect Cluster” in charge of implementing the plan developed by SSF, with a triple focus on community building, communication and public affairs: “Our aim is to create an open innovation mindset on the campus,” says Lambriex, who has been appointed head of the cluster.

He is confident that this new mindset will allow researchers to revert to their true nature, which is to be open: “If you look at researchers, they are proud to talk about what they are doing. Researchers can talk a lot and this is something we need to encourage.”

Chemelot Campus

Mind shift

On a business campus, however, one of the first things these same researchers learn is that they should protect their company’s Intellectual Property and be reluctant to share information.

The change of mindset, argues Lambriex, must therefore also take place at leadership level. “We need to hear managers tell researchers that they can talk about their work, because sharing knowledge may actually help ideas to get commercialized in a shorter time.”

Lambriex illustrates his point: “Cross-overs can boost innovation. In performance materials for example, we have found out that the same coating used for planes can also be used for catheters in the medical field.”

It all boils down to trust. “If we invite researchers and managers from various companies on the campus for a themed lunch, we would like them to trust us in our belief that the theme is a relevant one to talk about and we have to trust that they will feel free to be open, provided that they know what they are saying.”

Lambriex agrees that it is a very delicate ecosystem that might take a few years to develop. “We’re really at the beginning of a very difficult and interesting trajectory,” he says, “but it is necessary to take up the challenge, because the world is progressing very fast.”

Enjoying a themed-lunch up in the air

Schaap admits that the concept of the themed-lunch did not convince him at first: “What is so unique about organizing lunches for 10 or 50 people around a theme?”

Thinking from the perspective of the personas, however, the SSF team adapted and enhanced the initial concept. “The lunches would be on invitation only and take place every time at a different unique location on the campus, and perhaps even up in the air! Seeing the CEO of SABIC sitting at a hanging table and engaged in a discussion with 20 selected people might create a buzz and make others want to be part of it.”

Another concept Schaap says he was “not very excited” about in the beginning was the idea to create a Customer Relation Management (CRM) database with information on all the people directly or indirectly connected to the campus, about their fields of expertise, interests, hobbies. “I know from other organizations that people don’t like to fill in forms,” he said.

Here again, several ideas emerged within the SSF team on how to build a CRM system in an effective way, for example by exploiting key moments when it is more acceptable to ask for information, such as a person’s first visit to the campus.

Chemelot Campus

The SSF team further proposed to create a digital app, the Campus Navigator, as a multipurpose tool that could be derived from such a CRM database.

“We could use the campus navigator app to improve the way we welcome our guests, by focusing less on security and more on hospitality,” says Schaap. “The link to our app could be sent by email invitation, together with a bar code that would enable visitors to pass security without having to stop, as they need to do now. We could further use the app to communicate relevant information to our visitors and clients, and keep in touch with them by inviting them to special events based on their interests. For those without a smart phone, we would put up app totems with digital touch screens throughout the campus. It would be a content driven app, with a strong binding factor.”

By mid-2015, the welcome experience at Chemelot Campus will also be remodelled with the construction of a new central court building, where all visitors will make their first contact with the campus. “From the central court, it will be only a five-minute walk to the end of the campus,” explains Lambriex. “And we will keep the rolling green patch in the middle,” he smiles.

The Service Science Factory report 

At the end of the eight-week collaborative project, the Service Science Factory team presented its final recommendations during a special event in the form of a walking lunch spread over five different locations across Chemelot Campus. Representatives from companies such as DSM, SABIC, LANXESS, also showed interest in attending the presentation.

Vanessa Lusian, project manager at SSF, was pleased with the outcome of the collaboration with Chemelot Campus: “Using the insights gathered from the interviews with the various stakeholders on the campus, we were able to design a tailor-made community proposal consisting of 12 concepts that take the different needs into account. Thanks to the open collaboration with the management team, these concepts are now already being implemented.”

Monitoring and follow-up

Lambriex hopes to share the acquired knowledge in community building with other partners within the Chemelot Campus consortium and in the region. “Starting from new appropriate personas, we think that the new Maastricht Health Campus and Greenport Venlo could greatly benefit from our experience.”

“As a result of this project, what was interesting and important for us at Chemelot Campus was that we were seen as a different company from DSM, with which we have long, but incorrectly, been identified,” Lambriex continues. “The new consortium has helped to change this focus and we are viewed as an independent company, at the service of the other companies within the campus.”

“A dream for the future,” he adds with a smile, “would be to develop a ‘Chemelot inside’ label – similar to the ‘Intel inside’ logo on PCs and laptops – that could be added on inventions developed at the campus. Such a label would be a way to highlight and promote the campus’ fertile environment for innovation.”

The SSF and the Chemelot campus have agreed to continue working together during the implementation phase of the roadmap outlined in the report, with SSF staff members looking over the campus management team’s shoulder and monitoring developments.

“There might be some trials and errors and in view of the feedback we will gather from events, it will be interesting to go back to the theory and the personas,” says Lambriex, adding that he and his colleagues are looking into the possibility of doing a follow-up project with SSF on best communication practices.

Chemelot Campus and Service Science Factory management teams celebrate their successful collaboration

In his eyes, the value of the project is undeniable: “We would like people in Limburg to be proud of the campus and to see it as the growth engine for the Limburg economy in the ten years to come. Each new knowledge worker on campus will mean ten new jobs for the region, be it in services or in production. Just do the maths: 1,500 new jobs over here will create 15,000 jobs in Limburg.”

“There is a sense of urgency and we are working with the right team and the right commitment from our shareholders. The feeling is that the sky is the limit and that we are free to explore the boundaries and go beyond. It is very inspiring to be at the centre of this ambitious project.”

Or, as Frank Schaap puts it: “Where there is chemistry, unique things can happen.”


By Sueli Brodin



Photo album of the Service Science Factory’s report presentation at Chemelot Campus
Service Science Factory project review


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