AkzoNobel asks startups to ‘Paint the Future,’ and become a partner

By Robert Wielaard

AMSTERDAM – AkzoNobel is calling startups to join its global ‘Paint the Future’ challenge and win a shot at working on sustainable business opportunities with the Dutch paints and coatings giant.

There is a July 20 deadline to submit smart, sustainable solutions in paints and coatings technologies. Finalists get invited to a ‘collaboration event’ and winners are offered partnership deals with AkzoNobel to develop sustainable business opportunities.

“Pioneering new technologies and solutions for our customers is something we’ve been doing for hundreds of years,” says Klaas Kruithof, Akzo Nobel’s chief technology officer. “Today, we invite others to join us in pushing boundaries. The Paint the Future challenge shows how we drive collaborative innovation in the paints and coatings industry.”

Qlayers CEO Josefien Groot

AkzoNobel’s Paint the Future challenge is a big leg-up for startups keen to flaunt edgy products or services. Just ask Josefien Groot, CEO of Dutch startup Qlayers. This year, AkzoNobel bought a stake in her company that came up with a technology that revolutionizes the coating of large surfaces such as windmill blades, storage tanks and superyacht hulls.

It uses neither rollers nor spray guns but a robot that applies coatings faster, more cheaply and consistently without a drop of paint going rogue. Automated technology is safer and faster than manual processes. “By eliminating overspray, it’s a sustainable solution that saves costs,” says AkzoNobel. ”An automated printing head will change how industrial coatings are applied.”


Also, QLayers can add functionality to coatings. Sharkskin microstructures, for example, cut drag in water or air. Qlayers can also apply microstructures that de-ice surfaces and assist in maintenance. QLayers got into AkzoNobel’s crosshairs by winning the ‘smart application’ category of the company’s 2019 Paint the Future contest. In just over two years, the contest has produced 18 successful solutions, says AkzoNobel.

“For startups, think how much more you could do with access to AkzoNobel’s expertise, resources and global reach,” says Ally van der Boon, Paint the Future Program Manager.

The company is active in paints and performance coatings for industry and consumers in more than 80 countries. It employs 32,000 people and recorded sales in 2020 of €8.5 billion. Its revenues in key marine coatings brands — International and AwlGrip —  totaled just over €1 billion.

For startups bursting with technology ideas, the 2021 Paint the Future program will explore solutions to five challenges:

  • Enhanced functionality: What exciting new functionality and/or transformative power can your technology offer to bring surfaces to life?
  • Customer experience: How could your solution improve the way our customers experience our products and services?
  • Smart application: How could your solution change or improve the way paints and coatings are applied?
  • Circular solutions: How would your solution enable circular use of materials at any point in our value chain?
  • Smart manufacturing and supply chain: How can your solution help us create and adopt smarter manufacturing and supply chain solutions?