Episode 8

The
Spark
 


Episode 8 - 19 April 2018

Boredom and eureka

Maarten van Herpen knew at the age of 12 that he wanted to work at a Philips laboratory. Determined to get in the door, he actually made it, and is now one of the organization's top inventors. We caught up with him to see how to get something onto the assembly line.

Maarten van Herpen has learned that inspiration can come in any number of ways. A spark, or a flash. Or it may even come while you're gripping a newspaper clipping. Many great films and novels found their inspiration from an impactful headline, or a powerful photograph in the morning paper.
 

But what about those with a career in the sciences? Can the news have the same effect on a budding research scientist, or should they cancel their subscriptions?
 

Maarten van Herpen is proof that they shouldn’t. With over 100 patents to his name, his job description might as well be Mad Professor. In fact, when pitching his wild ideas, he’s heard more than once lines like “I think it’s crazy, I don’t believe in it, but here’s some funding and prove me wrong,” he says.
 

Sitting down to talk with him, it’s clear that he’s constantly having eureka moments, but what’s most impressive is that his epiphanies and novel ideas actually see the light of day.
 

At the age of 12, Maarten was just as much a dreamer as he was a realist. Struck by an image of a state-of-the-art Philips laboratory in the local paper. You might even say that this is the moment that Maarten got his ‘spark.’
 

“That was really an inspiration to me,” he recalls. “I wanted to work there.”
 

And with that, Maarten devoted himself wholeheartedly to one day working there, which is not difficult to understand for a young kid with some initiative.

A life and career as an innovator

 

Already before his inevitable career at Philips, Maarten was turning an endless stream of wild ideas into quirky inventions and practical products. One of his PhD experiments was as small as they come; measuring breaths.

How to create innovations for low resource settings? Maarten's a champion for innovation that creates impact.

And to prove the strength of his laser analysis method, he started with the least among us – ants.
 

“Every two minutes, an ant breathes,” says Maarten of his early trial subjects.
 

This was a time when science wasn’t thought of as cold or calculating. It was treated justly, as a bold and exploratory field, whose pioneers where literally going where no one had gone before.
 

While other children were off playing ‘spacemen’ and dreaming up what the future of technology would be, why not get in on the real thing?
 

A question that continually preoccupies him, he says, is “how can we take these ideas to a next step?”
 

Maarten has been integral to the shift in perspective that allows Philips to think about health globally. His career is a great example of how patience and perseverance can turn a moment of inspiration into a lifetime of success.

“There’s some serendipity in my story because work and private life, they evolved in a special way,” says Maarten.

Maarten is an inspiration to anyone who’s ever had an idea that was “just crazy enough to work.”
 

His inventiveness is only rivalled by his persistence, and insistence that whatever project he’s started with a spark ends with a bang. We’re happy to have Maarten at Philips, where we can hear those sparks and bangs from the other side of his laboratory door.
 

“With other topics I might have given up. In the past four years there have been some tough moments, but I persevere because it’s too important. That all makes it worth it.”

So how did Maarten invent his career? Here are his top tips:

  • Take ownership of your own career. A lot is possible, but you need to take the initiative yourself.

  • Work together with other colleagues. It’s easy to connect to your colleagues and people are generally very open to talk to you and work together.

  • Be persistent. Your ideas matter, so don’t give up too soon, but also be open to the ideas and viewpoints of others.

  • Accept that working at a big organization like Philips can mean some actions can take a long time to get done. In the long run, the extra effort pays off.

  • Celebrate your success. Working at Philips gives you the opportunity to make tremendous impact, so be proud of what you accomplish and celebrate with the team.
Episode 8 - Video thumbnail

Listen to the podcast to hear Maarten’s story, including his work with the Philips Africa Innovation Hub, where innovations are created to reduce preventable death in women and children.

And if your mind is always turning out new ideas, why not turn those ideas into something? Check out our career opportunities now.

A dynamic career that no one could have planned.
Even you.