Ghent is a place for open innovation and inspiration, cultivating dreams of science.
Want to see a proof point of Eastman’s decisive journey to transform into an innovation company? Visit Ghent, Belgium. There you’ll find the company European Innovation Center, christened just a year ago as the company’s research and application development hub for all the continent.
“There is definitely an unmistakable energy here, a sense of collaboration that is critical for innovation to happen. We need that collaboration, inwardly and outwardly, to fully connect the dots and enhance the quality of life in a material way.”
That sentiment comes from Peter Roose, Eastman’s director of interlayers technology and the leader of the Innovation Center. Roose was at the center of the Eastman team that identified the proper location in Ghent and got the facility up and running.
The team chose the location with a sense of purpose and, not surprisingly, landed in an academic setting. Eastman established its newest technology department in Tech Lane Ghent Science Park, located in Zwijnaarde near Ghent and an extension of Ghent University.
“We’ve been working with research groups at Ghent University for many, many years, and our company and the university have a shared sense of the importance of innovation,” Roose said. “This location makes perfect sense for Eastman.”
Ghent provides a central hub for the company’s scientists and materials experts to co-innovate with customers in a wide spectrum of Eastman products and applications, including coatings, inks, plastics, personal care, energy, animal nutrition, and ingredients for the agrochemical industry.
With 1,000 team members in Belgium, the Eastman presence in that country is substantial, and 700 of them work in the city of Ghent. Eastman’s strategy of open innovation — with customers, industry collaborators, startups and university researchers — plays out on a consistent basis at the European Innovation Center.
“When you’re able to consistently bring together so many talented and creative people — academics, students, our customers, and, of course, Eastman team members — you really create opportunities to innovate in an impactful way,” Roose said. “We’ll drive our application platforms to new heights by increasing the connections we make.” Roose is a passionate speaker on the topic of innovation — and that goes especially for the times when conversation turns to Eastman connecting with and inspiring students through its proximity to the university.
“We look for opportunities to integrate into the curriculum of the students; that’s something extremely important in Europe, so it’s a practice we follow,” Roose said. “We’re relying on the academic centers to supply scientific talent, and it’s important to partner up with universities.”
Developing and cultivating that next generation of scientists, he said, requires the long view. Roose said the team at Eastman’s European Innovation Center is committed to it.
“There’s a shortage of people involved in STEM education; you’ll find that the attractiveness of this field can be low for youngsters,” he lamented. “A career in science isn’t tangible enough for many of them. It takes long involvement to establish a career, and youngsters don’t see the value early enough.
“So we’re determined to work with students, because the earlier you can get them excited, the better the chances they’ll become captivated by science. We need to breed that love for science. We do that when we give presentations about Eastman materials. We invite people in our labs. We invite schools to work on small projects for us to show them the value of materials for Eastman. We want young people who come into our labs to start to dream of a career in science.”