Material Mastery and Circômplex support circular economy in Ghent
About a year after launching Material Mastey in Ghent, the same three innovation specialists started a new project: Circômplex.
Three innovation specialists with a complementary skillset started a unique service company in Ghent, aimed at offering support to companies that want to become more sustainable. Johan Bonner has plenty of experience as a business entrepreneur, Jean Paul Gueneau de Mussy as a materials science engineer, and Adriaan Debruyne as an industrial designer. They’ve noticed - rightly so - that the costs of materials, transport, and energy continue to rise. In addition, legislation is constantly changing in favor of circularity and sustainability, and consumers are becoming more vocal. The options for doing business within the current linear economy are becoming increasingly limited. As a company, sustainable innovation is the only future-proof way to move forward. As simple as that seems, the reality of sustainable and innovative entrepreneurship is as complex as it is systemic. How can this trio help companies in that perspective? We spoke with Adriaan Debruyne about Material Mastery and their new project Circômplex.
What does Material Mastery do exactly and how does the spin-off Circômplex fit into the picture?
Within Material Mastery, we have been combining our extensive experiences and specialized skills in various sectors, academic research, and education for almost a year now.
We are focusing - as our name suggests – on materials and, more specifically, on their role in the circular economy. We want to offer ground-breaking design and innovation, and integrate our knowledge and expertise into a wide range of production processes. We have found like-minded partners and built up a network so that we can go about this in the most sustainable way.
With Circômplex, we want to take this to the next level. We want to not only create a place to house circular pioneers but also support circular initiatives and projects. More precisely, we want to work on four different aspects. Firstly, we want to improve general awareness of the need to think, live and work circularly. Secondly, we want to support companies and governments in their circular transition. Thirdly, we want to facilitate cross-fertilization and co-creation between internal and external actors. And finally, we want to test and launch circular alternatives through rapid experimentation.
We know we’ve raised the bar high, but we want to accelerate the transition to a truly circular economy thanks to various symbiotic collaborations and in doing so, put Ghent on the map as a pioneer. Of course, we do not plan on doing this alone. We are going to engage different stakeholders such as the universities and colleges, local customization companies, and entrepreneurs in the process.
We know we’ve raised the bar high, but we want to accelerate the transition to a truly circular economy thanks to various symbiotic collaborations and in doing so, put Ghent on the map as a pioneer.
In the introduction, we have already addressed the numerous difficulties companies experience in making this circular transition. How would Circômplex like to support Ghent-based companies in this journey?
It’s a challenge, without a doubt. Many CEOs are formulating ambitious goals in nicely designed sustainability reports, but more often than not there is no concrete action plan to accomplish these goals. Quite frankly, a lot of people within these companies do not know how they can achieve them. As such, they remain empty promises.
Companies often start with the objective to reduce waste flows and improve their energy management. This is necessary, of course, but really insufficient. When they think of circular plans, they mainly think of recycling, but that is the least strong strategy within the circular economy. Reuse, life extension, and product-service mixes of materials, for example, make a much bigger impact. However, they require different competencies.
Moreover, as a company, you have to be able to look over the wall. Systems thinking and cooperation within the entire chain is a minimum requirement. We often notice that our experience across different sectors and our broad technological knowledge, together with strong creativity, lead to real business opportunities.
How can Ghent, in your opinion, develop into the capital of technology of Europe? Where do you see room for improvement?
It is not enough to have a strong ambition and vision when it comes to a circular economy. We believe there is a need to set up many collaborations and experiments, to be able to create an impactful and circular ecosystem. We are convinced that this requires a physical space where experimentation, training, cross-fertilization, knowledge sharing, and innovation can take place.
This is exactly what we plan to do with Circômplex. We have noticed that many projects get stuck in the research phase. We choose to test an idea or theory more quickly. We aim for scalable initiatives, pilot projects, which can be picked up quickly by regional companies.
To achieve this, we need the support of the stakeholders in the Ghent quadruple helix model: the academic world, the policy framework, companies, and citizens.
We choose to test an idea or theory quickly. We aim for scalable initiatives, pilot projects, which can be picked up quickly by regional companies.
Why did you choose Ghent as your operating base? And entrepreneurs located in Ghent as a target audience?
All three of us have seen large parts of the world and developed many products that are sold worldwide. Now we want to make a sustainable impact in our own city, after looking at more international trends for years now.
Besides, there is no better audience than the inhabitants and companies of Ghent, for a social and sustainable alternative scene. After all, many inhabitants of Ghent are by nature not only curious and caring, but they also want to improve the world. That makes Ghent an ideal breeding ground for our project.
Finally, the circular economy also benefits from a local ecosystem, where everything is close at hand. We can count on various customized companies that play an essential role in making a circular model feasible and affordable.
After all, many inhabitants of Ghent are by nature not only curious and caring, but they also want to improve the world. That makes Ghent an ideal breeding ground for our project.
Many local companies dream of international projects. What are your ambitions abroad?
We are already working on several international circular projects with Material Mastery.
Naturally, we would also like to reach other nations with Circômplex.
First and foremost, we want to bring successful cases from all over the world to Ghent and launch them. Later on, we want to export the strong circular initiatives. We would need help from local companies, universities, and colleges to do so, naturally.
We believe that, if we can make projects profitable within a smaller city like Ghent, we can certainly scale this up to other regions and generate additional employment for the regular and social economy. We can then use these projects as benchmarks for their successful deployment in other locations.
Finally, what is your best tip for anyone who wants to start a business in Ghent?
Start from a strong sustainable vision and surround yourself with partners who operate within similar values.
It is also best to start small, with a talented and driven team that is willing to take risks.
Keep this in mind and you can achieve great results. Take it from us! And who knows, maybe we'll meet and be able to support new entrepreneurs towards a more circular approach to doing business!