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Developing a Business Model

Date interview: March 24 2016
Name interviewer: Saskia Ruijsink
Name interviewee: Dimitri Schuurman
Position interviewee: PhD & senior researcher of iMinds living lab

Social-technical relations Re-orientation Platforms New Organizing Expertise Emergence Connecting Business models Altering institutions Academic organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: Living Labs ‐ Imec living labs (former iMinds Living Labs) (Belgium)

This critical turning point (CTP5) took place in 2013 and it is marked by the period that Olivier Rits joined the small sub team of living labs professionals that was formed by Tim Rootsaert and Dimitri Schuurman. This Critical Turning Point marks the beginning of a period that can be understood as the next step for living labs within iMinds: its conceptualisation gets clearer, its methods and approaches become more clearly and explicitly structured and its applications get broader, its capacity to really support a process of transformation gets bigger.

As is explained in iMinds CTP 3 and 4, Dimitri and Tim realised at some point in time that they focused on providing living lab as a service to support the innovation track of mainly SMEs in the ICT sector. However, in practice the organisations also had another track that happened more or less simultaneously: the track of developing a business model for its innovations. Dimitri and Tim did not have the knowledge and skill set to offer support on this track, but they did see the potential of creating linkages between the innovation and the business modelling track. It were Pieter Ballon and the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs (see iMinds CTP 1,2,3 and 4) who eventually took the initiative to enrich the team of Dimitri and Tim with a third person, Olivier, who did have the right the knowledge and skill set to offer support on the business modelling track.

This implied that the service of a living lab approach that aimed at supporting innovation tracks was now even more holistic: it did not only include a way to engage a variety of users in the process of developing an innovation, it also supported organisations in translating their innovative approach into value creation and a viable business strategy. This also implied that the new team of Dimitri, Tim and Olivier had more possibilities to co-create major decisions in the organisations that they worked with. Tim addressed that they often reported data that served as an input for business development. While they started to co-create in the business development track when Olivier joined them.

Dimitri adds that this CTP is formed by the fact that new competences were introduced to the team and by the fact that Olivier came in fresh. As Dimitri explained: “(...) he joined later. But that just makes it very important, because he came in with a kind of outside view. And he actually questioned many things and that was very important for us. Before we were doing many things, but we did not always ask ourselves critically: ‘How are we doing this exactly?’ And then, when somebody external comes in and asks: ‘Why and how?’ Then you are forced to think…”. So the fact that Olivier joined the team also triggered a much clearer conceptualisation of the living lab approach; it gave more structure and more direction to it. It helped a lot to give the process some kind of framing, a packaging and a structure that showed what the projects and the approaches used in those projects looked like.


This CTP was co-produced by Tim Rootsaert and Dimitri Schuurman at first: they realised that they were not progressing as much as they could. In their projects in contact with their ‘clients’ they realised that the co-production could and should reach another level. They wanted to move beyond reporting.

There were some experiments of having people from SMIT - Studies Media Information Telecommunication, a research group of the Free University of Brussels (VUB/ULB) - (who worked on business modelling) joining the team of Dimitri and Tim, but that was never successful, it was never a good match. As Dimitri explains: “They were thinking in an academic context, or at least, in a different context. They did not have the hands-on approach.

Then Prof Pieter Ballon recruited Olivier Rits. Pieter Ballon was promoting the idea of improving and strengthening their business modelling approach within SMIT, as it was one of the main fields of study of SMIT but it was underperforming. At first Olivier joined the SMIT research group at the VUB/ULB as a business modelling expert and Dimitri says that Olivier was not fully content in this position. He was then transferred to the living lab team and that was much more appealing to Olivier. In the first instance he joined in a concrete project. the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs managed the process to place him in the living lab team where he started working with Tim and Dimitri. The Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs is strongly dedicated to value creation (see learning in CTP1) and he was, like Pieter Ballon, eager to introduce the business modelling expertise in the living lab team. The working method within the living lab team then further developed organically.

As a consequence of their successive successes the iMinds living lab team grew from a small group of 6 to a group of almost 50 professionals. The role of Dimitri changed; he is now in charge of junior researchers. His management style is bottom-up; he enables co-production. Olivier to the contrary has a more top-down style. In this way they complement each other and the actually also co-produce the success of their team (also see contestation, that explains that the team does not always function harmoniously). To illustrate his style; Dimitri asks his junior colleagues which projects and research experiments they would prefer to do and then tries to make the puzzle with them. As he explains: “actually I ask them: What would you like to do the coming period? And from there I direct them and we make the puzzle together, in such a way, that, if everybody does a piece we will make the progress that we want, together.” But he adds that the approach of Olivier can be useful to complement: “(..) So we let it emerge from bottom-up and then we look: OK, what do I still need and then we will select and ask the ones with the best capacity to fill in those blanks.”  

In this CTP the efforts of both ‘team Tim and Dimitri’ and ‘team Tim, Dimitri and Olivier’ are highly important. Tim and Dimitri have really developed the micro level (see related events and see iMinds CTP3) focusing on  methods and approaches within a project, they also worked on the meso level, but that level was not developed with the same level of detail. Olivier then joined and he also brought in elements at the micro level (focused on business modelling). But he was particularly important for further developing the meso level, focusing on the project as a whole. With his inputs they actually managed to link the different micro approaches together into a meso project-level overall holistic approach.

The success of the iMinds living lab team is also explained by how they focus on a niche: they really developed the micro level and later moved to the meso and even macro level. But this appears not to be that common, the Living Lab approached is applied in many different contexts and a Living Lab usually focuses on the Macro level, in other words, it tries to set-up a larger structure of various stakeholders that then co-create various concrete projects (those project are the meso level). Dimitri and Tim had their first experience in the Flemish living lab project the Mediatuin (see iMinds CTP3); Tim was the manager of the Mediatuin Living Lab. Also the 3 Flemish living labs focused on the macro level. They were organised in rather formalistic manners and were concerned with questions like: How to set-up projects?; What kind of projects?; Which stakeholders to engage?. But there was no knowledge and no experience at the micro and meso level. In other words, nobody really knew what methods and approaches could be used and how you could use them (micro level) or how to effectively run a living lab project itself.  Dimitri and Tim just wanted to start doing things and particularly Tim as the manager of Mediatuin, supported by Dimitri also pushed for this to happen (see iMinds CTP3). Eventually Tim and Dimitri developed quite a lot of experience around the market needs and the demand for lean innovation methods and support. This included meso level elements but was most strongly developed at the micro level. By adding the business modelling perspective later with Olivier the completeness and overall consistency of their approach improved and that mainly impacted the meso level. The initial focus on the micro level was driven by their eagerness to concretely do things and it made them rather unique. As they are still developing the living labs approach it seems that they might now also engage more at the macro level in the new City of Things project (see related events).

Also the context is important in co-producing the development and (potential and actual) impact of the living lab approach. As is explained under related events the City of Things is now a project that gets very much attention. It developed in a context where the Internet of Things is booming. In the period that Olivier joined the context was already much more favourable than it was in the start-up of the first 3 Flemish living labs. By then there was still work to be done in terms of ‘evangelization’ (see related events and contestation in iMinds CTP3).

Related events

The events that triggered this CTP and that were triggered by this CTP include the following:

  • 2009: In this year the current Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs joins iLab.o where he starts as operational manager of iLab.o as is further explained in iMinds CTP2.
  • 2009-2011: In the period from 2009-2011 three living lab projects are prepared and implemented. The three projects are Telenet, LayLab and Mediatuin (iMinds CTP2 and 3).
  • 2011: Orchestrated by the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs; Tim Rootsaert, Dimitri Schuurman, Bram Lievens and Koen Vervoort become employees of the (predecessor of) iMinds and they become part of a team focusing on living labs. Prof Pieter Ballon is the director and the interviewee of CTP 1 and 2 (anonymous) is the Operations manager of this team or unit within iMinds.
  • 2011-2016: Under the leadership of among others Tim Rootsaert and Dimitri Schuurman, the living lab approach evolves and becomes more clearly conceptualised.
    • 2013: The living lab approach is not any longer evolving ‘just’ around user involvement, but also start to integrate a business modelling approach when Olivier Rits joins the team (N.B. this is this CTP, iMinds CTP5).
    • 2014-2015: Writing of and finalizing Dimitri Schuurmans’ PhD helped in framing and structuring projects and approaches; develop the micro-meso-macro model. “It put this process [the actual CTP] in motion. I had to concretise, from a more scientific perspective I had to explain what we do. And then the model with the three layers [micro, meso, macro] was the outcome. And I think that then, the role of business modelling that was brought in by Olivier [Rits], was the layer in the middle, our project layer [meso].
    • End of 2015: iMinds starts to offer bootcamps and master classes about the living lab approach
  • Beginning of 2015: it is clear the iMinds as an organisation will be restructured, the position and future of the living labs unit gets questioned within the process of designing and debating this new structure.
  • 2015: In 2015 an external office does an impact evaluation that also shows the added value of the living lab approach. This creates a strong internal position of iMinds living labs within the larger iMinds structure.
  • December: 2015: publication of ‘ Exploring the Benefits of Integrating Business Model Research within Living Lab Projects’  in Tim Review December 2015, written by Olivier Rits, Dimitri Schuurman, Pieter Ballon. The article is available online:
  • End of 2015: City of Things promises to be a new critical turning point, taking the livings labs approach yet to another level. It is a project about internet and ICT in the city and it runs in Antwerp (also see related events iMinds CTP4). It developed in a context where the Internet of Things is booming. In the initial living lab projects the context was much less favourable.
  • 2015-2016: iMinds and Imec  (Imec performs world-leading research in nanoelectronics. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has offices in Belgium, the Netherlands, Taiwan, USA, China, India and Japan. Its staff of about 2,400 people includes almost 740 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2015, imec's revenue (P&L) totalled 415 million euro., 2016) merge, the negotiations start in 2015 and the actual merging is a fact in 2016. This increases the pressure to show what the Living Lab is and does. The outcome of the impact study really helped to strongly position the living lab team in the new organisation.
  • 24th of February 2016: Smart Cities Seminar and Book Launch are also part of ‘the next step for living labs’, where they are connected to issues such as Smart City (like it is done in the City of Things project) – “The Smart Cities Seminar was organized by iMinds for the launch of the book “Smart Cities: How technology makes our cities smarter and liveable” by Pieter Ballon (iMinds - VUB), published by LannooCampus. The author had invited prominent players in the Smart Cities domain, such as mayors Daniël Termont (Ghent) and Bart De Wever (Antwerp), and Ger Baron (Chief Technology Officer of the City of Amsterdam), to share their visions and insights on the city of the future. The highly-attended seminar attracted more than 200 diverse participants from Flemish organizations, governments, research centers and companies (, 2016). ”


This CTP did not come about without any friction, which is mainly internal friction. It starts with the collaboration between Dimitri Schuurman and Tim Rootsaert. Dimitri and Tim form a strong team, but they also had some moments of tensions: “in the beginning it sometimes clashed between Tim and me. (..) He just kept on asking deeper and further and at some point I then just said: Yes” But this resulted in a good connection as Dimitri illustrates: “I also learned from it, it helps to move forward. And eventually, you create a real connection, because we actually turned into friends. Also outside [the living lab work].”

Dimitri explains that eventually Tim and he became a rather stable team and when Olivier Rits joins it starts to get more tumultuous again. He explained that it is however, actually natural that there is conflict during a critical moment of change: “Before you are with two and then you are all of a sudden with three. Well, it is normal that you do not have the same opinion about everything, the same vision and that you also enter into each other’s terrain every now and then. He [Olivier] sometimes had an opinion about my researchers, or he had to cooperate with them and then he could cooperate nicely with one, but not with another and then he said: ‘I do not want to cooperate with him/her anymore’. And this resulted into problems. But even then, he sometimes made a valid point and he made me realize that I might have to intervene more in certain situations.”

As is explained under content, Dimitri addressed that the new comers’ view of Olivier was important. But this was also conflictive and caused some turbulence. Olivier started to question everything and he still does it and this can be difficult but it is also useful. Dimitri illustrates: “By first questioning, completely and fundamentally questioning. He still does that and sometimes it is a bit hard, but is very good… To actually question everything.” Additionally, Olivier brought in a more rational management approach compared to Dimitri’s style. Where Dimitri focuses on people and embraces non-linear organic development processes, the approach of Olivier is more linear and functional, as Dimitri explained: “He sometimes sees things very rational. ‘What do we need to change?’ Then he would say ‘We need those elements and the rest, we just get rid of it’ But then it does not work, since it is just like an organic totality, and some things come to the front at some point in time, but that happened in a process or trajectory of growth and for me, that trajectory should stay organic.” Dimitri adds that it eventually is the people who create knowledge, but that it is also important to capture this knowledge, to make sure it does not stay in the heads of the people. And the arrival of Olivier did put a process in motion to further capture the knowledge of people, to materialize it and clarify what it was that the living lab team was doing and how it could be improved. This step in the further conceptualization of the living lab methods and approaches really got a push because of the small conflicts that were evoked by Olivier disturbing the equilibrium that had emerged between Tim and Dimitri.

Dimitri also explains that the feedback he got from colleagues about the work that his team did for clients (mainly SMEs in the ICT sector) can be confrontational, but it also allows for personal growth. The living lab team normally delivers PowerPoint presentations to their clients that then form the basis for a debate. Sometimes he got harsh feedback on the presentations that were developed by junior researchers working under Dimitri’s supervision as he illustrated: “This was not good. The content was simply not good enough. That you have accepted this, and let it pass through, it was not good enough. Or even: ‘it was bad’.”  This made Dimitri question himself as he expressed: “Is the way I am doing it not good enough? Do I actually do it wrong all the time? Are there things that I do not see? But eventually it turned out that it was good, but that somethings could have been better. But it is a process, you question yourself and then you get better in what you do. I think this happened a lot during the last years and months.”

Dimitri concludes that eventually the three of them have found their way to work together. Also their management supported in the process as they sensed that they had to create some more clarity.  He explains that there is “(…) enough clarity so we feel responsible for our own part, but at the same time we have enough freedom and we do not feel imprisoned in a certain straight jacket.


Both Tim Rootsaert and Dimitri Schuurman sensed at some point in time that their living lab approach (an approach that was developed around broad user engagement) needed to be taken to another level. It needed an extra layer and it got clear in their work with SMEs that there was a great potential to include a business modelling and business development focus. As Tim explained it, they realized at some point in time that it was critical to link the process of developing innovations to the process of developing business models, strategies and plans: “Because a business needs to create value. And OK, we use that [the innovation that is developed in the living lab trajectory] and that might be the solution, but how do you then translate that into a business strategy?” He also adds that they (Tim and Dimitri) felt that they reached the limit with further developing a living lab method around user engagement. Tim emphasizes that this is a combination of reading the evaluations and interpreting the feedback that they got from the SMEs they worked with, but besides that it is intuition.

Dimitri explains that the process of change towards the inclusion of business modelling was organic. He explained: “For a long time we had the idea that our model was flexible in the sense that there was space for including external expertise. But in practice, that did not really happen. (..) Then there was a concrete project (..) that demanded business modeling expertise” and then Olivier, who worked at the SMIT group of ULB/VUB was put forward to work on the project with Tim and Dimitri. After that he was included more prominently in the living lab team. Dimitri explained that he felt as if everything somehow logically happened: it unfolded organically. Like Tim, he did realize that at some point in time they needed to have a trigger for some change in their living lab work. He also felt there was a need for different and external expertise in their service package.

It seemed that also Prof Pieter Ballon and the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs realized and sensed that there was a real (latent) demand for including a business modelling focus within the living lab approach. This resulted in introducing Olivier Rits to the team, first in a concrete project.

However, it was not foreseen how this would materialize, what kind of tensions it would bring along and to what kind of innovations within the methodology it would lead. It was expected that it would greatly contribute to the success, also, or maybe particularly, at the level of the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs and Prof Pieter Ballon. They clearly believed in adding the business modelling perspective.  Olivier immediately brought in very concrete and applicable content and that eventually materialized in the LLAVA matrix – this is the Living Lab Assumption and VAlidation (LLAVA) matrix (also see the publication about business modelling in TIM Review: Rits, Schuurman, Ballon 2015) -, which offers framing for a business and innovation development trajectory. 


This CTP has mainly shown how important it is to keep on reinventing your own services. It was crucial and critical for the iMinds living lab to include a business modelling approach.

It is also clear that such a process is not always easy for the ones involved. It requires that you are open to reposition yourself and that you are willing to reflect. Dimitri Schuurman explained it by emphasizing the importance of questioning. He said that Olivier Rits questions everything and that can be annoying but is also very important. For Dimitri he is even a source of inspiration: “I remember that I had to give a presentation around my PhD plan and I had to address which people inspired me. I know that I put a picture of Olivier there, partly as a joke, but somewhere I felt: there is something here, it is important.”  

Then Dimitri also learned that a living lab actually requires from him as a researcher to work in different contexts and to take different roles. The living lab ideology also promotes this idea of researchers who engage themselves in real-life projects and move out of their ‘academic bubble’. But Dimitri knows that this is not easy at all. He is an academic, but also works as an implementation oriented project professional, taking the role of a consultant and also a manager in many occasions. He illustrates the duality very clearly: “I sometimes compare it with having good and bad days. (..) I have a role that is somehow in between. Tim [Rootsaert], Olivier [Rits] and [another colleague (anonymous)] consider me as an academic. And sometimes they act giggly when I use Von Hippel and Chesbrough. They think that, that is already difficult. But for an academic, Chesbrough is not even really academic. I am in an ‘in-between-position’ and sometimes that is slightly strange. In a good day it is fun. Then I realize that I can contribute something academically. I can make publications, I can publish in journals, I can speak at a seminar and talk with people and feel like: ‘I am contributing here’.  And also at the business side I can feel: we add value for our clients by making them look at their processes in this way and we take a certain role in Flanders as a region, we stimulate innovation there and that relates to realizing certain goals. But in a bad day it is neither of those, as if you sit in between two chairs [and not on top of one or both of them]. Academically I feel irrelevant, because I do not have enough data, or I have not read enough, or I feel I cannot clearly validate and argue my line of thinking. On such a bad day I can also think: Auch, what we deliver here is not much, it is not useful for us as a business (..) It is interesting, but I cannot directly apply it. And that is kind of my balance: What has the highest weight? But now, I feel that I reached somewhere and that the good days seem to overweigh the bad ones. But this is always a struggle: combining the academic knowledge based and validated approach and the other side of practice and application. It makes it interesting and challenging, but also restless.”

Eventually one of the main lessons for Dimitri is that you cannot control how processes of change develop and you need to allow for an organic development process in which intuition is very important, without just blindly accepting all that comes. He illustrates it with his own development trajectory. Dimitri developed himself from somebody who was primarily a researcher into somebody who still does research, but who also is clearly a manager. That development process unfolded itself organically, it was not planned. He said that this type of development path fits his personality. He emphasizes that for him it is mainly important to listen to his intuition, it should ‘feel good’: “I just go for it and just embrace it. And then I see. I only do this when it feels good. I will not blindly do what people ask me, no, I trust and follow what I sense and feel.

In conclusion, for realizing impact you need a good team and that requires complementarity. Olivier, Dimitri and Tim are complementary and that increases the impact that they have in Flanders and beyond in promoting and stimulating innovation by the means of living labs. Dimitri connects people. In a team there is often the good cop, bad cop division, in theirs, Dimitri says: “with Olivier we can make jokes that I am the good cop and he is the bad cop.” But when he thinks about it longer he realizes that Tim Rootsaert is actually the most important senior in their team in terms of keeping the team (including all junior researchers) together. He chats with people and knows what is on their mind. Dimitri sees himself as somebody with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and he likes to materialize many opportunities and that is not always realistic. But eventually, he realizes, he knows which choices to make. And he makes his choices intuitively. And that, he realizes, his intuition, is eventually his most reliable advisor.


References, 2016 – Launch of Smart Cities book; accessed on 08 July 2016

Olivier Rits, Dimitri Schuurman, Pieter Ballon (2015), Exploring the Benefits of Integrating Business Model Research within Living Lab Projects’  in Technology Innovation Management Review December 2015, accessed on 08 July 2016 (2016)

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