In Mansouri Land, good ideas belong to everyone

Technical University of Denmark

When the coronavirus pandemic raged for the second year running and the whole world was queuing up to get the first vaccine shot, Associate Professor at DTU Chemical Engineering Seyed Mansouri had a good idea.

He could see how bottlenecks in the production and supply chain pushed the poorest citizens in the world’s developing countries to the back of the queue. He wanted to solve this problem by decentralizing the production of vaccines, making them available to everyone.

An idea proposal, an application to the Novo Nordisk Foundation, and a rejection later, Mansouri decided to take his idea to a major European competition for university students. Here he made the idea public as a competition with the main question: Who can turn idea into concept?

Three BA students from Germany won and—with Mansouri as supervisor—they continued the work. The result was recently published on the cover of the scientific journal Industrial Engineering and Chemistry Research: A mobile container unit that, located close to its end users, can produce up to 10,000 vaccine doses per day at competitive prices.

This open approach to the innovation process would probably be seen in most entrepreneurial circles as something of a gamble. Or maybe even as an own goal. But Seyed Mansouri disagrees.

“If I don’t tell people what my idea is, I’ll never hear their response and discover that we’re a match. I don’t believe in keeping ideas to yourself. It stops innovation and the process,” he says and adds:

“You have to be like an electron interacting with your surroundings all the time if you want to get things done.” And this is precisely what Mansouri wants.

Constantly on the look-out

In addition to his full-time job as Associate Professor at DTU Chemical Engineering, Seyed Mansouri is involved in a wide range of innovation projects.

For example, he has helped a Mexican exchange student develop and launch a coating that can extend the shelf life of fruits. He has worked with capacity build-up in Sri Lanka aimed at educating the population in waste management. He has entered into industrial collaborations with international companies such as Hempel in Germany on a digitalization journey or Zapata Computing in Boston to develop algorithms to quantum computing. And he has together with a Professor from Copenhagen University developed a new UV technology that can significantly reduce hospitals’ carbon emissions from anaesthetic gases.

In his own words, Seyed Mansouri’s brain “never stands still”. He has an ability to connect systems and people so that opportunities arise, and he is constantly on the look-out for the missing pieces that can realize his own or others’ ideas.

“For me, innovation is about linking up different ways of thinking so that others bring something new to the table. It can help me mature and realize an idea,” he explains.

This often means that Mansouri enters into collaborations with people who have a business mindset and can build a bridge between the academic world and the business world. In addition, he likes to get help from talented students who have the necessary time to mature the ideas. In return, the students receive support, guidance, and sparring from Mansouri.

“They get something out of it, and I get something out of it,” he concludes, stressing that ownership and idea are thus also shared between them. The most important thing for Mansouri is not who gets the final credit, but that someone gets the credit, because it means that an idea has become reality.

Mansouri Land

This open approach to innovation has meant that Mansouri has a network that is bigger than most and a highly impressive portfolio of collaborations. But there is also a downside.

“Sometimes human relations don’t work. This way of living has meant that I’ve faced hundreds of challenges, and I’ve failed an incredible number of times,” he admits.

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