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A journey to research valorisation with Elisabeth Huis in ‘t Veld, founder of AINAR

Elisabeth Huis in 't Veld, creator of AINAR, sitting in front of a screen showing her game.

Elisabeth Huis in ‘t Veld is an entrepreneur and founder of AINAR, an artificial intelligence and biofeedback based ‘game’ which helps patients learn to control and prevent their fear of needles. In this article, we reflect on Elisabeth’s journey to successfully valorise her work, including outlining the challenges she faced and the support she received along the way.

Valorisation is the creation of societal impact from research and is an important, but often under-valued part of academia. One such example is the AINAR game, developed by Dr Elisabeth Huis in ‘t Veld. The research-based game uses algorithms to analyse an individual’s face to predict how they will react when being pricked by a needle, for example, during a blood test. During the game, the player’s camera will register early signs of anxiety or fainting, and the app will respond to get the player to calm down again.

Space to focus

While Elisabeth was completing her Master’s in Clinical and Medical Psychology and a PhD in Cognitive Neurosciences, she found inspiration from researchers she worked with, but was actively discouraged from valorising her work because it was considered a time-consuming process that would take away from her efforts to publish papers.

However, when Elisabeth started working for Sanquin, a Dutch blood donation not-for-profit, she was given the space to also focus on her own impact-drive work. She learnt the importance of applying scientific work in practice, and that science should not be done in isolation. This learning was only amplified during her time in the MBA programme and inspired her to start a business which would generate funding to allow her to create societal value from her work.

An opportunity to create impact

While working at Sanquin, Elisabeth spent time at the blood collection centre where she was surprised to see how often blood donors fainted at the sight of a needle, even before it had been inserted into their arms. This interested Elisabeth from a neuroscientific perspective, and she began to have conversations with stakeholders about a solution to needle fear.

Based on their insights, Elisabeth developed a business model and received the Dutch Research Council’s Veni grant, propelling her to take her idea to Sanquin and Tilburg University’s newly developing Knowledge/Technology Transfer Offices. Here she gained access to a business developer, relevant university contacts, and the facilities and stakeholders that she needed for her valorisation journey.

Challenges to overcome

In Elisabeth’s valorisation journey, she faced a number of challenges she had to learn to overcome:

  • Despite being grateful for the university support, Elisabeth found it was a challenge getting other organisations and private investors to co-fund the business knowing that everything developed was owned by the university.
  • Elisabeth found it challenging to balance her scientific mindset of being very precise, and the need to iterate and test ideas quickly.
  • She found it difficult to pursue valorisation activities due to having limited time between her research and educational responsibilities.
  • Despite its connections to societal impact, Elisabeth has faced the stigma around earning a profit from her own research from others in academia.

What helped drive AINAR’s success?

Elisabeth’s valorisation journey may not have been without challenges, but she was able to overcome them with support from her network and team, which are made up of people with complementary skills. Additionally, Elisabeth encourages her fellow scientists to learn from her journey:

  • Don’t hesitate to explore new ideas or delay starting the process of your valorisation journey. Sometimes it pays to take chances!
  • Speak to stakeholders and end-users immediately, as this ensures that the product will be used by the end-user.
  • Come up with a clear concept and be open to the opinions of others as it can provide valuable insights.
  • Lean on university resources as a valuable tool that can help you in this process.

Finally, Elisabeth would like researchers that want to valorise an idea to know that earning money from your science should not be seen negatively and can lead to great societal benefit.

For more articles, podcasts and information about research valorisation, explore UIIN insights.

This article originally appeared as part of the Erasmus+ funded STEM_Valorise Digital Gallery, which showcased stories of STEM researchers who have employed their entrepreneurial skills to valorise their research and create societal benefits.

Image credits: Fotoburo Bolsius

Catherine Hayward (author) worked as a Project Officer at UIIN. Her work focused on research and development within the topics of entrepreneurial education and valorisation in higher education.

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