The Amsterdam region has many initiatives to make the future waste-free and circular, from students with creative ideas to entrepreneurs with innovative plans. But anyone who wants to turn waste into a resource for new processes and new products will sooner or later run into questions that can only be answered in a laboratory. That's why 'Open Kitchen Labs' at Amsterdam Science Park has been started: accessible, shared laboratory space, including equipment and expert support, at affordable pricing.
Open Kitchen Labs is an initiative of Monalisa Goswami from Spark904 and UvA chemical researchers Joost Reek and Chris Slootweg who are both active in the field of sustainability and circularity. Spark904 has been offering companies access to analytical equipment and expertise at the UvA science faculty since 2018 and Open Kitchen Labs now provides a welcome extension. It revolves around fully equipped, flexibly available lab space and includes basic equipment, consumables, and expert support. "We are mainly targeting start-ups in circular chemistry and sustainability," says lab manager Arthur Scheerder. "Setting up a lab is expensive, and often such start-ups don't need full-time access to a lab. Open Kitchen Labs is available on a prompt basis, for periods ranging from a few days to several months, and at attractive pricing."
According to Joost Reek, faculty professor and coordinator of the UvA research focus Sustainable Chemistry, Open Kitchen Labs is important for the eco-system at Amsterdam Science Park aimed at bringing innovative ideas to maturity and stimulating entrepreneurship and valorisation. "The Demonstrator Lab offers researchers and students the first opportunity to discover whether their idea can lead to a product or service with relevance to society. In the next phase, they can now go to Open Kitchen Labs, and further develop it as an independent business. In this way, we facilitate ideas in different stages of development." Reek expects that the small businesses in Open Kitchen Labs will stimulate the initiatives of the Demonstrator Lab, in which Chris Slootweg is also involved. "Conversely, the companies in Open Kitchen Labs will benefit from the scientific knowledge of the eco-system at Amsterdam Science Park," Reek says.
The idea behind Open Kitchen Labs is to remove barriers for everyone, Goswami says. "On the one hand, you have advanced startups that want to improve their process, for example. Having their own lab is still a bridge too far, but they don't want to outsource research to commercial labs either. On the other hand, you have companies doing their first tests in garages or small business premises, without many facilities and often not really safe. We are open to everyone."
What does Open Kitchen Labs offer?
The sharing concept makes the Open Kitchen Labs all the more affordable, says Scheerder. He explains a kind of 'gym approach' with different subscriptions that provide access to the lab space, facilities, and support. The 'flex' subscription involves truly shared lab space for just a few days a week. The 'complete' subscription provides the user with their own lab and storage space for the entire week. With the 'premium' version, even continuous access to advanced university infrastructure via Spark904 is guaranteed. The latter is arranged on a project basis with the other subscriptions.The exact rates are negotiated with the user, Scheerder says. "For a simple exploratory project with a relatively short duration, you can think of something around a thousand euros. That amount increases as you need more space, more time, and more facilities. But in all cases, the costs are much, much lower than when you invest in your own lab space as a company."
Open Kitchen Labs launched in December 2020 with a pilot for which Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA) provided a physics2market grant. In addition, Matrix Innovation Center at Amsterdam Science Park made lab space available. By now, about five startups have used it and the experiences are definitely positive, says Goswami. "Everyone has made progress and the support from the lab manager is especially appreciated. We have also already seen contacts develop with researchers from the UvA science faculty." Recently, Open Kitchen Labs acquired funding for a second phase of the pilot with contributions from IXA, the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, the FNWI faculty, and UvA ventures.
Evaluna Marquez Salazar co-founded Caffe Inc, a startup developing the concept of extracting pigments from coffee waste and use those for textile dyes and printing inks. The material that remains can be used, for example, for the cultivation of oyster mushrooms. Caffe Inc is all about waste valorisation and demonstrating that waste equals value.
Open Kitchen Labs provides just what we need
"Starting a lab comes with much more than just doing experiments. You need permits, you have to organize your supplies, that's all quite a hassle and takes lots of time. As an alternative, you can outsource the research, but as a startup we prefer to do the research ourselves. Open Kitchen Labs provides just what we need. Everything has been taken care of, everything is there, so we just can focus on the experiments."
"After validation of our idea, we are now in the phase of pilot production. We use the lab from time to time to do in-depth analysis of our product. Open Kitchen Labs together with Spark904 provide the perfect environment for that. We discuss our research results and if needed we have access to the advanced analysis equipment at the UvA."
"By performing experiments myself I really get a deeper understanding on how things work. I now have more insights into the different steps of our process. I feel much more independent, I do not have to rely on other people to do our experiments. Adding to that, the sharing concept of Open Kitchen Labs puts you in touch with other starting companies that are exploring their own ideas. You don’t just share equipment, you also share experiences."
"We are now also developing a quality analysis approach that we prefer to do 'in-house' as opposed to sending samples to certified analysis labs. When we have a commercial production plant, then possibly it will make more sense to have our own analysis lab. But as long as we are in the development phase, Open Kitchen Labs really is very useful."