Start-up of the day: fintech lends a hand to Italian businesses

The Italian start-up Credimi offers the largest digital platform for invoice financing and digital loans in continental Europe.

Credimi provides loan to companies using an almost completely automated risk assessment algorithm, helping companies simplified access to credit. The start-up has supplied a total of over 600 million euros to over 3500 Italian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Furthermore, Credimi is authorized and supervised by the Bank of Italy, meaning that it is subject to all capital, compliance and anti-money laundering and risk control requirements which apply to Financial Intermediaries. This ensures that the start-up is an even more reliable partner.

Innovation Origins talked with Ignazio Rocco, CEO and founder of Credimi, this is what he had to say:

How did you come up with an idea like this one for a start-up?

Before founding Credimi, I was a banking professional and a consultant. I had a real fascination with financial technology. So, in 2015, I wanted to invest in the fintech industry. Even though at first, I did not have the launch a start-up in mind. However, when I noticed there was a demand for fintech services in Italy, I decided to start a fintech company which focused on loans to SMEs. Plus, there were no other loan companies specifically for fintech in Italy. No one else was trying to serve the enormous Italian SME market either. Italian SMEs needed new services, faster and more flexible ones than those offered by the banks.

Ignazio Rocco, Founder & CEO. ®Credimi

Do you only operate in Italy? 

Yes, at the moment we are operating solely in Italy, but we are planning to expand to other European markets.

Did you create the technology that is used in your start-up?

Yes, we did. Our proprietary risk evaluation technology is almost completely automated and allows us to process and analyze thousands of data information in just a few hours. Our team evaluates the information collected this way and decides if a company’s request is able to be validated.

What makes Credimi different from other similar fintech start-ups?

Well our business model is different from most competitors, due to our proprietary risk evaluation technology (which is almost fully-automated) on the one hand. And on the other, the fact that Credimi has been authorized to lend from its own balance sheet. Which means it can approve loans to companies in real time.

Also, Credimi is fast, it takes an SME just 48 hours to know whether they are eligible for an advance. Then a few more hours to actually get the money. It’s simple, it only takes 10 minutes to apply for a loan. Most importantly, it is transparent. We have no hidden costs. In addition, we have special services for very small and micro businesses, which usually find it difficult to get financed by banks.

Who is the Credimi customer?

Credimi’s customers are all medium, small and micro businesses which very often need and ask for alternative credit and invoice financing solutions. As in faster, simpler, more accessible solutions than banks or other traditional avenues have on offer.

Did you have a role model when setting up the start-up?

I very much admire Xero, the online accounting software for small businesses, which offers a wide range of services. This is what we aim to do too: offer as many services as possible.

®Credimi

What has been the biggest challenge while building your start-up?

So, the biggest challenge was to build up the right team. I had no tech experience, so I needed to find other co-founders that would complement the team. That’s how Jacopo Anselmi, a 27-year-old anti-abuse strategist at Google, and Sabino Costanza, a talented project manager at BCG, came on board. Then I looked for other professionals in San Francisco and other Italian talents who would want to join the project.

What can we expect in the future from Credimi?

Credimi is currently focused on further expanding its client base, product range and talent pool. All that while still carrying on with its mission to help companies improve management of their working capital and their supply chain efficiency. In the future we will also be operating in other European markets.

How has been the response been to Credimi? 

We are receiving very positive feedback. The companies that use our services now number more than 3500 and they are satisfied by the speed and ease of our services. Also, the Italian innovation landscape believes in our project. Several of the most successful Italian entrepreneurs have privately invested €8.5 million in Credimi. Four principal investment funds have signed agreements to underwrite €300 million in loans originating from the platform, and contractual agreements have been recently upgraded to match our steady growth.

What is your ultimate goal?

Our mission and ultimate goal is to help SMEs grow and focus on their business and take care of all the needs of entrepreneurs: starting out from credit and small tech businesses.

Start-up of the day: on-the-spot accurate and fast disease diagnosis

Polish start-up Genomtec is trying to introduce a compact and practical device to general practitioners (GPs). This will enable them to analyze samples on-the-spot. As well as help treat symptoms straightaway and stop a disease from spreading further.

The diagnosis requires no more than a reduced sample volume of biological material. Moreover, the examination does not need any samples to be prepared beforehand. Once the sample is placed on the test card, the device will automatically test the material and provide the results. These can then be sent directly to the patient’s medical records or to an email address.

This process is based on the amplification and detection of specific DNA and RNA fragments, i.e. standard procedure for molecular diagnostics. However, not just GPs will get to use it. Because research involving Genomtec’s technology is able to be carried out on both on humans and animals. Plus in the fields of agriculture, the food industry and environmental contamination control. This technology is easy to use so that family doctors, pediatricians, oncologists, veterinarians, scientists, and also regular consumers will be able to operate it. Nonetheless, the technology is still undergoing further development. Although it already has a number of implementation options in many areas of medicine,. These include liquid biopsy, immunological and biochemical tests.

Innovation Origins talked with Genomtec’s CEO and co-founder Miron Tokarski, here is what he had to say:

Miron Tokarski, CEO & Co-founder. ®Genomtec

What can you tell me about your technology?

As you know, there are several competitors on the market. Though almost all currently use the old-fashioned qPCR technology. This is very energy-inefficient and also needs plenty of effective cooling in order to be able to provide the results as soon as possible. So, from day one, we decided that we need to move from the qPCR technology to a more novel technology. As in an isothermal technology. This has a lower energy consumption, which means that the device can be made smaller in structure.

Consequently, that was when we first realized that we needed to move from qPCR to isothermal technology. Then our co-founder Henryk sent us a very good idea for heating the system and measuring the temperature. This is important as these technologies require that all samples are all treated in a certain way. Subsequently, he found that it might be interesting to use optical heating. It means that we are using very powerful LEDs. These heat the test cards so that they are at the right temperature without the use of any other heating systems or sensors, or without any other active elements besides the test cards. The heating elements and the control temperature elements are built into the hardware of the control device. That way, we are able to heat the sample and measure the temperature at the same time. This ensures the temperature level will not experience any interference. This was quite interesting, because energy consumption is kept to a minimum so we can maintain the exact same temperature level more efficiently.

At that time, we also started work on acids which makes it possible to detect virilization patterns. We are still focusing on developing an acid which has a very low risk of detection and that can aid diagnosis as fast as possible. We are now able to get the results within seven minutes after the process has started.

And, who can use the Genomtec technology? 

In general, this is intended for general practitioners (GPs). There is a high number of antibiotics being prescribed around the world. This is being done outside of  hospitals and GPs sometimes don’t have enough experience or the necessary equipment. Therefore, this is a quite affordable device that we want GPs to have. They are then able to start with the correct treatment straight after the first visit. This means that the disease won’t advance any further and in many cases the patients will no longer need to go to hospital.

®Genomtec

What has been the biggest obstacle during the creation of the start-up?

From my perspective this has to do with microbiology. The quality of the acid is very important because you need to have results that are constant. And also, we’ve stated that if you want to use equipment on site, you cannot use refrigerators to store the test cards. That means that you need to build equipment that is compatible for applications at room temperature. So, taking all those factors into account, building a state-of-the-art technology that will not affect the sample. However, it must be fast and specific enough at the same time. This has been our biggest challenge from the start. Back then, we thought this was our ultimate goal. But, of course, there were some tough moments when it came to developing this. Because at first, the acids were not acting in the way we wanted. It took over a year to finally develop the first acid that was extremely effective.

And the most rewarding moment?

This was right at the start when we eventually found a way to develop this acid. As we are taking a different approach from other people, this is particularly interesting. But, another very good time was at the beginning of this year when we received the Fast Track to Innovation grant. It is partially funded by the EU and the Polish government, it’s a grant of $2.5 million (€2.2 million). This is quite substantial for technological development. It was an endorsement that the experts saw potential for a real breakthrough solution.

What can we expect from Genomtec in the future?

Now we are moving into this production phase for the test cards. In the next few months we will finalize the so-called beta system, and of course then enter the clinical trial phase. Over 500 patient samples will be tested so that means we will be able to verify our parameters. This is what will happen over the next 12 months. And this falls in line with our idea of bringing the device onto the European market in 2021.

 

Start-up of the day: designing energy efficient buildings

The Italian energy tech start-up Enerbrain turns regular buildings into smart buildings with their intelligent system. It is deigned to cut energy consumption by up to 30%. The result is improved cost-effective performance, indoor comfort and environmental sustainability.

In order to make environments more efficient, Enerbrain uses autonomous modules for real-time analysis of environmental data, remote energy management and control units for buildings. In a nutshell, a customized monitoring system collects the data and an IA system process the data and finds the best solutions. Then finally the control units regulate the existing system operating in the building. In addition to this, Enerbrain has designed a complete dashboard as well. This is available for browsers and tablets, and is where all the information can be accessed. Consequently, the web app enables the control of separate buildings or entire real estate portfolios.

Use of the Enerbrain technology can help reduce the energy consumption of buildings by 30% and cut operating costs by 10%. This could increase the value of the building by 7%, according to the start-up.

Innovation Origins talked with Giuseppe Giordano, CEO and co-founder of Enerbrain.

®Enerbrain

Why the focus on buildings?

At present, buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions worldwide. We spend on average 90% of our life indoors and we want to make our cities more sustainable, smart and people oriented.

What was the most challenging thing about designing this technology?

As we utilize the latest technologies such as IoT, Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, we had to put together a multidisciplinary team with expertise in diverse areas including HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), mechanical engineering, energy, hardware, telecommunications, software, data analysis, design, and operations. Assembling and cultivating a winning team – as well as investing in research and development a couple of years before being on the market – was a successful strategy.

How exactly does it work, making an environment more energy efficient?

It all starts with the eNodes, the sensors which constantly monitor temperature, CO2, relative humidity, VOC and air pressure. They send all this data to the Cloud. Then, the Cloud uses sophisticated machine learning algorithms that process the most ideal parameters for comfort and energy efficiency. This is then to the control units. Lastly, the control units receive all these figures and can consequently adjust the air conditioning in order to maximize comfort and reduce energy consumption by about 30%.

And, thanks to the Dashboard, it is possible to monitor and manage the entire building portfolio in real time

What was the biggest challenge while setting up Enerbrain?

Winning over the first customer required a lot of work and out-of-the-box thinking. Nowadays, every time we approach a new market it feels like another start-up story for us. It is very difficult to build trust without a previous relationship and it requires a lot of time. Yet the good news is that winning over the customer’s trust brings investors, team members, banks, partners on board and fuels continual growth.

What is it that Enerbrain brings to the table that other similar start-ups don’t?

Our system not only keeps energy consumption under control, but also automatically intervenes so as to improve a building’s energy balance. The operator can check the efficiency of the systems at any time – even with their smartphone. But the truth is that everything happens without human intervention. Furthermore, a machine learning algorithm enables the system to constantly refine its programming to eliminate any potential waste.

Do you operate exclusively in Italy?

No, we already have had projects outside of Italy. We have collaborated with Planet Idea to create the first smart city in Fortaleza, Brazil. We have taken on projects in France, Spain, the Emirates and we are currently working on several others around Europe.

Plus, we opened two international headquarters this year, one in Japan and one in Barcelona.

Who is the Enerbrain customer?

Our usual stakeholders are facility managers and all the other professionals involved in managing large non-residential buildings from an energy standpoint. The field of application for Enerbrain systems is as such airports, schools, hospitals and shopping malls. However, we have also designed specific applications for industry. As far as all of this is concerned, being able to cut energy bills has a decisive influence on the balance sheet.

What is your ultimate goal?

You see, in big non-residential buildings about 30 percent of the energy is wasted due to poor management of air conditioning systems. We are able to reduce this waste using a system that is quick to install, and which works immediately. If our systems were to be installed in all non-residential buildings in the world, 1.6 billion tons less CO2 would be released into the environment. That is equivalent to 170 million trees.

What can we expect from you in the next year?

Enerbrain is in a growth phase. Our focus is on scaling our impact across various markets. And establishing strong relationships with trusted partners such as energy utilities, energy service companies, facility management companies and engineering firms. We aim to reach a milestone of €10 million in revenue within the next 2 years. Expansion into foreign markets is a must. We are pursuing opportunities in Europe, Middle East, Asia and America. And we aim to stay agile and innovative. We want to extend our services along with our aim of being a trusted partner for our customers.

But ultimately, we want to be a leading company that is able to operate around the world and provide scalable solutions which have great financial and environmental impact.

 

Start-up of the day: audiovisual aid for the blind – smart glasses that can read a room

Technological advancements have created new opportunities for enhancing the quality of life for people with various disabilities. The Spanish start-up Eyesynth wants to improve day-to-day life for the blind.

The start-up has designed a pair of glasses which work as an audiovisual system for the visually impaired. The device is connected to a microcomputer and it records the surrounding environment in three dimensions. This is translated into intelligible audio that is then sent to the person wearing the glasses. Consequently, they work kind of like a pair of glasses that read the room, as it were.

The technology involved was developed and designed by the start-up itself. The glasses have three core features. They work in full 3D, which means that they allow the user to identify shapes and spaces. But also the ability to sense depth and locate objects accurately. Moreover, there are no words involved during this process – the sound is completely abstract. It is a new language that the brain is able to assimilate, and it is very easy to learn. Lastly, the sound is transmitted through the bones of the head. This frees up their ears for their regular range of hearing. This ensures that any subsequent listening fatigue is avoided.

Because the brain is capable of assimilating this information process fairly quickly, the blind person can soon wear the glasses and is able to focus on conversations or any other activities.

Innovation Origins talked with CEO Antonio Quesada, here is what he had to say:

Antonio Quesada, CEO ®Eyesynth

What was the motivation behind Eyesynth?

The start-up stemmed from two distinct routes: one ideological, and the other came from a technical challenge. The ideological route is simple. How is it possible that despite the enormous range of technologies available today, there is still no technological standard beyond the guide dog and the cane? We are firm believers in the “humanist technology.” This refers to technology which concerns the day-to-day problems that people face. That makes us all want to go the extra mile. Regarding the technical challenge, there was one key question: How can we provide spatial information to a blind person in a way that is both easy to understand and instantaneous? We are passionate about challenges, and it was while seeking a solution to both these questions that we founded Eyesynth.

Can you tell me about the technology, how does it work?

The fundamental design premise was that we had to create a system which felt very natural in use. That’s why we had to rely on existing mechanisms that are available in nature. The technical principle which we base it on, is that of “synesthesia”, which means “crossed senses”. When we are born, absolutely everyone is 100% synesthetic. This means that we can smell sounds, taste colors, hear images and all kinds of mishmashes of senses. For practical reasons, the developing brain disconnects certain combinations and only keeps those that are most useful within our environment. The curious fact is that up to 14% of the population has some kind of light synesthesia. Often people who have it don’t realize it, as they assume it is a natural process. In my case, I am slightly synesthetic when it comes to music and images. For me, every sound has a concrete shape in my imagination. Ever since I was a child, I am able to remember complex sequences of music thanks to the shapes that they form in my mind. The “Eureka! moment” came when I asked myself the following question: what would happen if I were to reverse this process? I mean, if I extract real geometric data from the environment and turn it into sound – could a person instinctively interpret that? The immediate answer is yes. We did an initial version of the image-to-speech algorithm and tested it with a friend’s nine-year old son who was born blind. The results were amazing. Then we tested it amongst groups of blind people, and the results were equally as good. That’s when we knew we were onto something important.

So, the Eyesynth’s original motivation was to create smart glasses for this child. But we soon realized that there was clearly a social need for this type of technology. We went on to form our own company with the aim of reaching as many people as possible. We are responsible for the development of both the software and hardware for our technology.

What has been the importance of Eyesynth?

Our goal is to expand blind people’s mobility and independence. This project has provided us with the opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful people with exceptional qualities. We want our technology to serve as a stimulus for showing the value of these people to the rest of the world. In neighboring countries, being blind is not an impediment to leading a full life. Whereas in other countries, unfortunately, being blind automatically excludes you from society. In these cases, we are convinced that people are cast aside, even though they have wonderful qualities that could contribute a lot to their society. That’s why we want to be the instrument that helps people reach their potential.

How is a blind person’s quality of life enhanced with Eyesynth?

From the start, our main goal has been to focus on the issue of navigating and recognizing the environment. We have succeeded in designing a system that does not use words, but a sound signature similar to the sounds of ocean waves that “changes its shape” according to what the glasses’ cameras record. As no actual words are used, there is no language barrier. Which means it can be used in any country. The system offers analysis of an amplitude radius of 120° up to a distance of 6 meters, updating data 60 times per second. This means a lot of information is available in real time. It is very important to note that we cover areas that a cane or guide dog cannot cover. As in obstacles up in the air as opposed to those on the ground, e.g., awnings, traffic signs or tree branches.

Having developed the navigation system, we now plan to expand the system with software functions such as facial recognition, text recognition and a lot of other new features that we will roll out over time.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7jC_127nGc]

What makes EyeSynth different from other similar startups?

Our technology is radically different from other offers on the market. We don’t base our recognition system on spoken language but take advantage of the power of the user’s brain to interpret the environment. It’s a real-time system, so response is immediate. On the other hand, the acoustic system we use is cochlear. We transmit the sound through the skull directly to the cochlear nerve. With this, we avoid having to cover the ears with headphones or earbuds. Plus, we eliminate auditory stress during lengthy listening sessions.

What has been the biggest obstacle that EyeSynth has had to overcome?

The image-to-speech algorithm is tremendously complex, and a massive quantity of data is required in order to be able to process it. This invariably leads to a huge amount of energy and computational power being used. That’s why we had to develop our own hardware capable of doing these high speed calculations while using a low level of energy. The challenges regarding both the software and hardware have been very intense.

Did you ever consider giving up?

In very complex projects with small teams, the ups and downs are more noticeable than in large companies. We have had to devise many solutions – in the areas of mathematics, machine vision, computer architecture, or ergonomics. And of course, how to finance all of this. We have become accustomed to finding ourselves in front of seemingly insurmountable walls. But with time, focus and hard work, we have seen that these walls can be torn down. There have been really tough times. Yet the team’s perseverance and the passion we have put into our work have helped us get to where we are today.

What has been the most rewarding moment?

Working on a project like this provides us with plenty of wonderful rewarding moments. Each week, we have a day allocated to visitors who want to test our prototypes. It is amazing to welcome people from other continents who come over just to spend a couple of hours with us and test the technology. Their personal stories, their resilience, but above all, the moment when we see that our technology works for them, well that all feels incredibly amazing to us.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBw1KaG2OFo]

What can we expect from you in the coming years?

We are currently busy with the manufacturing process as well as arranging distribution channels. We can’t wait for our glasses to reach the streets. We are eager to hear from the blind community to tell us what new features they would like for their glasses. They will then be able to do this through our internet forums.

Eventually, we want to become the technological mobility standard for blind people. We want to create a solid community that shares their experiences and helps us craft technologies and products that really does make their lives easier.

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

The response we have received so far from people who have tried our smart glasses has been fantastic. We are amazed at the human being’s ability to adapt to our technology. Users acquire a level of performance and accuracy that never ceases to amaze us. This is largely one of the reasons why we are moving forward in our mission to bring this technology to as many people as possible

 

 

Start-up of the day: vineyards operated by robots

The age when vineyards are operated by robots has arrived. As you read this, a robot could well be helping to cultivate grapes that might be used in your next glass of vino.

This is what the French start-up VitiBot is busy with. Vitibot provides winegrowers with robotics and AI so that they are able to radically change their work methods while still maintaining their competitive edge. Its robot, Bakus, helps to reduce the use of chemicals which pollute the air, water, and land and that are suspected of causing serious diseases. All this can be done without the need to resort to manual labor.

Bakus is an electric, autonomous and intelligent robot. It eases the winegrower’s workload, reduces their ecological footprint and improves the quality of the final product for wine drinkers.

VitiBot’s founder comes from vintner’s stock himself, hence his passion for this field. The start-up is aiming to combine modern-day technology with the traditional art of the winegrower. Basically, it wants to provide all the advantages that are available nowadays without compromising on the quality of the product. And do this while also taking care of the environment.

A proof of concept eventuated after studying the market which established that vintners were ready to take on robotics. Interest was bolstered by regulatory developments concerning chemical products. An initial series of 6 Bakus robots was subsequently completed in 2019; a €3.5 million fundraising campaign financed this. And they are currently in the process of raising a further €10 million in order to fund series production. They are planning to enter the market for French and European vineyards in particular over the next 2 years.

Innovation Origins had a brief chat about the start-up with Aurore Lecrocq, part of the communications team at Vitibot.

®VitiBot

How does the technology work? Did you invent the technology?

Vitibot has designed a product ththey have named BAKUS, which is a multipurpose robot. This robot is 100% electric and 100% autonomous. Consequently, BAKUS is able to operate independently and can do that night and day. And yes, VitiBot did design its own technologies and has already filed several patents for the robot and its tools.

What are the uses it can have?

Winegrowers are able to use Bakus to do the soil work, i.e., mechanical weeding and threshing – instead of using chemical strippers. Spraying is also done in a very controlled and limited fashion.

What was the motivation behind the creation of Vitibot?

Well, Cedric Bache, VITIBOT’s founder’s father, is a winegrower in Champagne, where the start-up was set up. So, the passion was there from the beginning. Yet we also want to encourage winegrowers to meet environmental, societal and safety challenges and keep their operating costs competitive. That’s how VITIBOT was born.

What makes VitiBot so different from other similar startups?

First of all, the robot was designed from scratch by our engineering team. They integrated the latest technologies that can be adapted to all kinds of vineyards. Also, our robot can navigate its environment autonomously with its sensors, day or night. BAKUS was designed to be as efficient as possible by using only electric actuators.

As a result, BAKUS only requires about €1 worth of electricity, whereas conventional machines use around 10 liters of diesel per hour. The tools take advantage of the robotic platform so as to provide a more efficient and consistent work output. This in turn drastically reduces the need for agrochemicals. Associated services can be accessed via an online platform. Plus it compiles all the data necessary to report on the health of the vines and make it easier to keep a check on how the vines are being looked after.

Can the robot be used for something else other than wine?

No yet. But, in a few years, we will adapt our technologies for other markets. We have already been approached to work in other areas.

Was there ever a moment when you thought of giving up?

No. Not for me.

What has been the most gratifying moment?

Yes, our victory last year at the robotics competition organized by the Champagne Committee was a major highlight. That’s because it signified that our technology’s value has been recognized by the professionals.

®VitiBot

What can we expect in the future?

Right now VitiBot is still busy with a prototype. After the initial €3.5 million funding, we are aiming for a €10 million investment by the end of 2019 in order to fund the scaling up of our activities in France and across Europe. We are aiming to become the leader in vineyard robotics in France, Europe and all over the world.

What is your ultimate goal?

To revolutionize winemaking methods so as to make them safer and more environmentally friendly all around the world.

Aquatic robot mimics motion of tuna to break speed record

A TU Delft graduate student from Soft Robotics, Indu1strial Design Engineering, has created the fastest swimming flexible robotic fish. Mimicking the movement of real fish, the prototype is able to go as fast as 0.85 m/s. Which is at least 27% faster than what the previous record holder was able to accomplish.

It all started when Sander van der Berg was looking for a graduation project that would make a significant contribution to robotics. But also one that could be carried out within the brief time span that he had for it.

He found that opportunity in the topic of oscillating fin propulsion (robotic fish). It is a very promising field that is still in its early stages of research, which meant that there was plenty of potential for an innovative design within a relatively short time frame.

After reading a few papers, I soon saw that there was room for improvement. Which I eventually managed to do using a single direct current (DC)  propulsion system. This system is the first system that uses a single DC motor which can generate a higher number of the precise swinging movements that a robotic fish needs in order to move faster. This got its top speed up to 0.85 m/s,” said van Der Berg to Innovation Origins. 

The previous record was held by Jun Zhong and his associates. His bionic robotic fish swam at a speed of 0.67m/s back in 2017.

®Sander van den Berg

The flexible robot was able to surpass this record speed by using a fluent S-shaped motion to swim, similar to how a fish flaps its fins and tail. The part that is is actively used for this is pulled from side to side by a single DC motor. Another section bends according to the resistance of the surrounding water.

Moreover, unlike conventional propulsion rotor blades, the whole system is watertight.

Building the underwater robot required printing rigid 3D parts, a sheet of plastic which was used for the compliant section and needed to be able to bend, plus a soft silicon skin which was used to make the hydrodynamic shape. In addition, computer modelling was used to program the precise movements of the fish.

According to the graduate student, this robot could achieve even faster speeds.

“The goal was speed and so a higher speed was accomplished. The system isn’t totally optimized as yet, so an even faster speed might still be achieved, probably with the same prototype,” said van der Berg.

“It is important to note how important it is that our fish is able to swim freely and that it is compliant. There are robotic fish out there that swim faster when they were attached to a rig, for instance. They can’t turn their heads, that’s why they can swim faster and better than if they were actually swimming around freely. The compliant design allows for a more fluent motion (more efficient) and uses a single motor (also more efficient, less costly and less complex). And what’s really of paramount importance – it doesn’t harm the environment it swims in. If it hits something, it will just bend,” he added.

Van der Berg has now left the project as he has since graduated. However, there is currently a new graduate student hired for the project and a new paper is on the way.

Moves Like a Fish

The way in which tuna swim was used foremost in the creation of the robot.

Thunniform swimming is well documented as one of, or even the most, efficient forms of swimming. It uses vortexes to create a peak thrust at the back instead of a simple reactionary force. This is called a reverse Kármán vortex street.” 

®Sander van den Berg

What also appealed in this research, was the fact that thunniform swimming activates only a small portion of the tail. This in turn allows a large portion of the body to be able to carry a load. “This means that practical applications are possible. The gearbox system we designed is also quite wide, which turned out to be similar in width to that of a tuna’s torso. All in all, it was not designed like a tuna, but its capacity to carry a load, its efficiency and speed made it look and act like a tuna.”  

What is its contribution?

When discussing exactly what this prototype has to offer, van der Berg said that “there are many short term benefits. But the ultimate goal is to design a more efficient propulsion system as an alternative for most underwater rotor blade propulsion systems.” 

He does see potential in the route that this work is taking.

“Even before this can be achieved at a reasonable cost, there are already plenty of benefits to consider. I have already mentioned the reduced risk of harm to the environment. For instance, conventional rotor blades make a lot of noise and suck in debris. Sea life can easily be harmed by these fast and sharp rotating blades. Oscillation is much quieter, doesn’t harm anything it comes into contact with and doesn’t suck up any debris.” 
The way in which it respects wildlife makes it an ideal vehicle for research in this area.
As well as all of that, he believes that the benefits of oscillation systems can be used for underwater drones or submarines as it can increase efficiency in deep dives. This is mainly due to the fact that the flexible fin oscillation system is completely watertight.
®Sander van den Berg
Yet what this machine offers is not only limited to the underwater world. It just needs some extra research.
The prediction model for how well the compliant section works and the system’s design for higher speed could perhaps also be applied to airborne drones (using an oscillation system). More uses that I haven’t yet thought of might be discovered by someone else.” 
Consequently, the researcher states that it has major potential for efficiency in general. Even on water surfaces, fin oscillation can be 100% more efficient. This means that the possible areas of application are huge.

Start-up of the day: turning non-recyclable plastics into synthetic gas

The majority of plastic that is produced eventually becomes waste. Considering how plastic can take up to 500 years in order to decompose, recycling must take precedence in order to reduce the negative impact that this material can have on our planet. However, not all types of plastics are recyclable. For example, black plastic food trays are still impossible to recycle and tend to end up as waste.

The PowerHouse Energy Group is taking these non-recyclable plastics and turning them into raw materials (feedstock) which can be converted into gas. In order to do be able to this, the British start-up has created the DMG® System, which carries out this process in an environmentally responsible and economically viable manner. The DMG® technology can actually be used to dispose of a wide range of waste products by using them as feedstock. This is subsequently converted into their EcoSynthesis Gas during a combustion-free process.

Their technology leaves a minor footprint which utilizes less than half an acre, making it ideal for a variety of situations. On top of that, the gas produced by PowerHouse Energy is in turn able to be used to produce chemical precursors, enables extraction of a stream of ultra-pure hydrogen gas, or is capable of generating electricity for use within a business enterprise.

®PowerHouse Energy Group

Innovation Origins talked with director David Ryan about the 8- year-old start-up and the challenges of bringing this technology to the market.

How would you best describe your start-up?

We are a waste-to-energy technology company, we are focusing on regeneration of non-recyclable plastics and old components for the production of a clean gas that can be used as a replacement for natural gas in energy generation. Or alternatively, for where there is a market for hydrogen use as a resource. We do this by separating hydrogen from the gas so as to produce hydrogen which is compatible for fuel cells.

Director David Ryan. ®PowerHouse Energy Group

 What exactly are non-recyclable plastics?

Okay, non-recyclable plastics are typically plastics that are contaminated or those for which there is no current recycling scheme. At present, these include black food plastic trays or the hard plastic that we use for garden furniture and such like. Generally, there is no recycling available for these and these kinds of plastics will most likely end up in a landfill.

All in all, that sort of defines what feedstock is. What we do with it is: we introduce the feedstock into a controlled environment and then melt down the plastics until they are vaporized. We monitor the environment so that we eventually break down all of the long chain hydrocarbons, which gives us a mixture of gas principally made up of methane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

How much plastic waste do you process daily?

Technically, the unit we are currently working with has a capacity for 25 tons, but in our planning application for the first site, we have actually asked for the site to have a capacity of 40 tons. We think that the process will scale up to 40 tons, to a certain extent the process will work better this way.

However, at the moment the plant is working with 25 tons per day. It is a module plant and its a bit like it was dropped out of the back of a lorry. What I mean is that the main process unit itself is a bit bigger than a container, but only just a bit bigger than a container.

One ton of plastic, how much gas would that produce?

That would be a volume of about 30 square meters of gas, 30 to 35 depending on the sort of plastic. The gas has about the same sort of energy value as natural gas. That varies from 30 to 40 megajoules per kilogram.

Where does the plastic come from?

In the UK and in many parts of the industrial world, it would normally come from plastic recycling companies. Commercial and domestic waste goes to a major recycler. It first gets sorted in a municipal facility. Then it goes on to a plastic recycler who does a more careful selection of the plastic that they want. Lastly, what comes to our process is the plastic they are unable to use. It usually has been through three levels of sorting before it reaches our PowerHouse equipment.

So, is it mostly British plastic?

No, no. We are currently developing our first site here in the UK because this is where we are based. But it could be anywhere, and we carry out analysis of feedstock at each location so as to make sure that we are able to fine-tune the chamber conditions for the plastic in those countries. Because plastic, and how plastics are used, does vary from country to country.

What is the main difference between natural gas and the gas that you produce?

We are closer to the old form of municipal gas, before natural gas was ever used. This means we have carbon monoxide content, as well as methane. As such, in some ways it seems like I am going back to the future by generating a municipal gas. Some parts of the world are looking into shifting towards a hydrogen economy.  And this is one of the ways for switching over to a hydrogen-based economy, as we are already using a greater proportion of hydrogen in the gas stream.

Is there another use for hydrogen?

Yes. So, typically we can produce a volume of between 1 and 2 tons of hydrogen for fuel cell-powered trucks and shipping vessels. Therefore, one ton of hydrogen provides enough fuel for 30 trucks covering 300 miles. Normally, we would replace diesel, which has a daily production of about 70 tons of CO2. And a fuel cell-powered truck only produces water, there is no pollution.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaKKfP6Rt5c]

What are some of the biggest obstacles when it comes to building up a company like this?

The company should not have gone to the market when it did, which was without the technology. So, there was and is always the market expectation that we’re ready to go. While it takes such a long time to develop the technology. That was one. The biggest challenge is then securing sufficient funding in order to complete the research and development phase. And at the moment, my biggest challenge will be building the first factory. We have a demonstration-sized plant, but we have to build a full-sized commercial plant. Building that – that’s my next challenge.

Are all processes currently being carried out in a demonstration-sized plant?

Yes, and the laboratory and the desk engineering and such like. We are confident in the scale-up. Think about it, if you consider that we are introducing a huge amount of plastic into a chamber which it is about 800 degrees C, it is not such a technical challenge to envisage how the plastic will melt and turn into gas. This is why the scale-up issue is, in fact, related to the characteristics of the gas. As in, we need to make sure that the gas we are seeking in the commercial plant, is going to be exactly the same that we find in the demonstration plant. Although we do have a more synergistic approach.  We check the work that we are currently carrying out and are using it as a benchmark.

And what has been the most gratifying moment for you?

Getting the gas, producing the gasses. We did the desk engineering, the theoretical models and then went on and did the actual demonstration so as to prove that we were getting a syngas comprised of more than 60 percent hydrogen. This is good for precision-engineered hydrogen production. That was fantastic.

The actual commercial contract we signed for our first factory – that felt pretty good as well.

In the upcoming year?

This year we are applying for a permit for the first block of land. We are also h0ping to secure funding for 11 plants. Which means that I am talking to pension investment advisors and investment companies, etc., with the aim of funding a UK pipeline for 11 projects. And then next year I will be looking into developing 2 or 3 other sites.

What makes PowerHouse Energy different from other start-ups?

We have a unique product, there are similar companies working on waste oils, although at present, no one else seems to be busy with the waste gas route, specifically not with hydrogen. In this case, we see ourselves as pioneers within the hydrogen economy.

Start-up of the Day: top designs out of European bio-materials

Nid-O is a Spanish start-up that was born out of its funder’s desire to take a hands-on role on the planet’s preservation. Olivia Gauss saw the potential she was looking for in circular materials and furniture design. Nid-O connects thought its website European innovative material makers in circular economy loops with the best and boldest designers in order to provide unique limited editions furniture pieces signed by top designers.

It also allows buyers to be part of the materials’ development as Nid-O will re-inject a final bonus of 5% of the revenues in their investigations.

All the materials they work with are coming either from industrial or organic waste. They have been created for a real lasting lifecycle but are biodegradable and/or recyclable. They have no toxic chemicals added and no environmental impact; even if they degrade slowly they would finish as nutrients for a natural ecosystem, or they can be recycled. Additionally, their micro-collections are fairly crafted in Barcelona workshops or small factories according to material needs.

The start-up is in its early stages and it is preparing to launch the first limited edition next months, which combines the design of Luis Eslava with the new material Honext, which is an alternative to wood. Gauss is not shy in expressing her enthusiasm and excitement. She feels “like a mother deeply believing in her kid’s potential and eager to see how she’ll blossom”.

Innovation Origins talked with her about the initial stages of the start-up, the challenges and her vision.

Olivia Gauss, funder. ®Nid-O

 

How did you come up with the idea?

After a working in marketing/communication, I decided to take action and contribute to preserve the Planet. I actually wanted to do so for years but could not find how so, at the end of the day, I was mainly sorting my home trash, avoiding supermarkets and a few more daily moves. Once I decided everything started to come together like a puzzle, piece by piece, until the whole Nid-O concept was figured out. I started to investigate about circular economy, meet people, talk, learn; I found out that on the one side many SME’s, or green startups, had been investigating for years in R&D to develop new clean materials. On the other side, many great designers of all generations were putting sustainability at the heart of their thinking. When I was a child, my dad made some home furniture for us with recycled materials, he was a self-made decorator, we grew up surrounded by Design books and I loved it. The loop was closed.

You mentioned circular economies and how you aim find ” the most innovative materials makers in circular economy loops”, what exactly do you mean with this?

We’ve been sourcing various new circular materials that are still under development by European green startups but reaching their final R&D stage. They’re all coming from waste (whether industrial or organic) and biodegradable and/or fully recyclable. We are talking about unseen materials, all referring in terms of technical properties to a well- known one such as wood (MDF), plaster, plastic or leather. The idea is to impulse them in Premium Design as soon as they’re technically ready, preventing them from being only and exclusively associated to functional purposes just because of their waste origin. Waste is a resource and can definitely be beautiful once transformed by science, technology but also talent and commitment.

What kind of materials do you guys use?

Together with Luis Eslava, a talented Spanish designer with international experience, we are currently prototyping our 1st limited edition of small furniture. We are working with Honext, a revolutionary fibreboard coming from the paper industry waste and completely biodegradable/recyclable. This is a healthy new material (no VOCs emission and no toxic binder inside) standing over traditional ones like Plasterboard or Particleboard depending on properties. It’s moisture resistant, fire retardant and even insulating. It went through many years of R&D to ensure this transformation of cellulosic residues into market products. The whole team of this green startup from Barcelona is committed with circular economy and sustainability in general; their factory has no environmental impact and the production process has been optimised through industrial local deals.
Then for the next editions we might go for a ‘lettuce wood’ like Feltwood (also Spanish) or even a ‘ bio-plastic’, plastic-free obviously, like Parblex from Chipsboard (UK) or Nuatan from CraftingPlastics (Slovakia/Germany) if timings fit.

Read moreStart-up of the Day: top designs out of European bio-materials

Start-up of the day: advanced, accessible MRIs

Medical imaging technologies allow specialists to look inside the human body in order to diagnose or monitor certain conditions. Various methods enable the visualization of specific parts of our bodies. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of the most versatile methods as it is able to be used in a wide range of medical diagnoses. MRIs are popularly used for looking inside the human brain.

The Eindhoven based start-up Advantis introduced a new software technology which improves brain MRI analysis. By merging it with cloud technology, their innovative program – Brainance MD® – makes brain images more accessible, user-friendly and data-driven. Brainance targets three different brain MRI examinations and provides a highly advanced browser-based software environment with state-of-the-art scientific methodologies. It also combines highly reliable results with an intuitive user interface. 

Brainance software is being offered to healthcare organisations.

Innovation Origins talked with Paris Ziogkas, Co-Founder and COO of the Dutch start-up.

What motivated the development of Advantis?

We identified early on that healthcare professionals have a strong need for more data-oriented, reliable, accessible and user-friendly neuroimaging software tools which can assist them in achieving an early and accurate diagnosis of severe brain pathologies. As part of their daily work, physicians spend critical amounts of time analyzing medical images. In some cases, they may even be misled by less reliable applications which might even lack useful processing features and connections.

Subsequently, Advantis was founded after several years of research in the field of neuroimaging and especially in the domain of fiber tracking, which is 3D reconstruction of nerve fibers of the human brain. On top of that, through constant interaction with physicians such as neuroradiologists and neurosurgeons, we gathered the right kind of user input for the expansion of the software to further enhance brain MRI sequences and processing connections. As a result, Brainance MD®, in its current version, is a cloud-based and all-in-one neuroimaging platform that can be used for the visualization and processing of multiple brain MRI sequences: Diffusion Tensor Imaging, DSC Perfusion, task-based and resting state Functional MRI.

What is the importance of Advantis?

Well, we would like to improve the sensitivity and efficiency of diagnoses of severe human pathologies such as Brain tumors, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and ALS. Our company helps to make advanced medical imaging more accessible, data-driven and affordable for the entire healthcare ecosystem no matter the size or type of each organization. Now small and medium healthcare organizations such as diagnostic centers and smaller-sized clinics can also invest in state-of-the-art imaging software technology and increase the quality of their services for their patients.

Do you think that there are many start-ups tackling the same issue?

The medical imaging field is a crowded field with all sorts of retailers when it comes to size and operational system. However, there is plenty of room for innovative companies who can present novel approaches to diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of human pathologies. This is due to the fact that the medical imaging range includes multiple imaging modalities and technologies such as CT, MRI, PET, US which are used for the study of several pathologies seen in various human organs. As a result there is no solution that fits all and there is no retailer that can cover the entire medical imaging sector. Especially in the field of brain MRI sequences that we analyze, we are confident to believe that Brainance MD® is able to offer the proper tools and processes for physicians so that they can achieve better diagnostic results in less time.

So, what makes Advantis stand out from the pack?

In our particular domain, apart from the traditional stand-alone suppliers which develop offline off-the-shelf software, we have not yet seen other start-up companies which offer the same functionalities in a clinically approved software environment. However, we like competition as that makes us work harder and progress. Plus we are excited to see other cloud and AI medical imaging start-ups emerge and succeed, as together we all shape the new era of medical imaging. At Advantis we strive for high quality products and we focus on feedback that we receive from our healthcare users on a daily basis.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?

Starting up a company in the medical device sector is in itself a highly demanding venture. The medical device field is extremely regulated – which is a good thing – although it creates significant obstacles for new companies during their go-to-market strategy. From the very first days of our foundation as a company we embraced all required regulatory frameworks and standards such as ISO 13485 and CE directives and made them part of our corporate DNA. This gave us the advantage of obtaining both certificates in time for the release of our product onto the EU clinical market.  Apart from the regulatory aspect, we are an R&D oriented company and we need to meet our own standards of quality together with our commercial KPIs as much as possible within the projected time frames and budget.

Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?

Never! Entrepreneurship is an addictive “sport” and we always strive to do our best despite the challenges and obstacles that we face. The positive feedback that we receive every day from our users motivates us to keep on going and achieve even higher goals.

And, what has been the most gratifying moment?

I believe the fact that we have had a highly advanced medical software product certified and made this available within the clinical market in less than 2 years of design and development was our biggest accomplishment. Apart from the commercial aspect of this milestone, it was extremely important for our R&D team to see the results of their work being adopted by expert users.

What can we expect from you in the coming years?

We are working in two different areas at the moment. The first one involves the optimization of Brainance MD® in terms of processing conduits and features. The second has to do with expanding our coverage of other human organs, which in turn will provide physicians with an all-in-one medical image processing platform that is able to assist them in achieving early, accurate diagnoses of severe human pathologies.

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

We have been commercializing Brainanace MD for the past 1.5 years in the clinical domain and the feedback has been really positive. The topics of the feedback vary. We receive comments concerning the extremely simple to use and intuitive user interface which invariably leads to less time spent having to use software. As well as the multiple-purpose processing features which can provide the user with more insights. And the ease of accessibility, as users can operate Brainanace MD just by having an internet connection and a web browser. Last but not least, the more dynamic pricing schemes which allow smaller healthcare organisations to adopt this technology and make it part of their daily clinical practice.

Start-up of the day: drawing with augmented reality

Learning how to draw has never been easier nor as interesting. The innovative mobile app SketchAR does this by using augmented reality, machine learning and neural networks. It is the first assistant powered by AI for drawing using augmented reality.

The best part about the Lithuanian start-up is that you can draw on paper, and you can also draw on walls, which allows you to make your own awesome murals. So, the app can put virtual images on a paper or a wall in order to let you trace drawings from your phone.

But, how does it work?

Just hold up your phone and watch as virtual images appear across your surroundings. The app will work better on A4/A5 sizes of paper. However, you can also put any image on a wall and subsequently trace it. Please not that in order to paint on a wall, you need to use smartphones with ARKit and ARCore.

Of course, augmented reality glasses, or a mix of these, are the best way to draw without limits and it’s then that true synergy is able to take place when you combine various things such as art and technology.

 

 

Innovation Origins had a brief interview with founder, CEO, and mural artist Andrey Drobitko.

SketchAR founders. ®SketchAR

How did you come up with the idea for SketchAR? 

The initial idea was for a tool for artists like myself; a convenient and straightforward method for tracing sketches onto a large surface. Later we discovered that for those who are looking into acquiring new life skills – ‘learning to draw’ is one of the most frequently searched items on the internet.

Do you think that there are many start-ups tackling the same issue?

We don’t think so. We know that we are the only app in this domain, because of the technology we developed which works on flat, blank surfaces.

What makes SketchAR different from other similar start-ups? 

We understand two spheres in depth: art and tech. The second thing is our Marker-less CV-tracking of flat surfaces powered by machine learning and neural networks. We analyzed hundreds of thousand of videos from our users (with their permission) when we we built up our CV core. The ideas was to ‘see’ different types of surfaces, hands, paper, and their structure.

And as I said, there is no other app which teaches drawing using AR, and which does not use markers (like QR codes).

How would you describe your technology?

Using augmented reality is the most straightforward way to take a first step. The first line you draw will lead to endless possibilities for you.

 

Did you create the technology used in SketchAR?

Yes. Since 2016 we focused only on how to make the camera understand such complex surfaces like a blank piece of paper or a wall.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole SketchAR process? 

‘ The fear of blank paper’ is not a fear just our users have, but one of the fundamental problems for computer optics. There was no solution when we started. We had to create that ourselves. Even software like ARKit or ARCore cannot work with this. We spent more than three years just focusing on this issue.

 

Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?

I never think about giving up. It’s just rock’n’roll.

What has been the most gratifying moment?

Every time I see users who create something with SketchAR, I feel proud of our product and our team. The whole product is all about a new era of art, education, creative, etc. Every day is an adventure.

And the second moment was when we won the most prestigious award for digital products – the Webby Awards. SketchAR won the Best Use of Augmented Reality Product of the Year Award 2018.

What can we expect from the coming year/years?

We expect billions of dollars, Lamborghini, and a yacht 100m long (just joking). Actually, we are busy with developing something really amazing. You will get to see it in time.

Within the next 5 years we will be the leading virtual assistant for creativity, highly personalized; and SketchAR will be the most powerful CV-tech when it comes to that environment.

Who is the SketchAR customer? 

Novices in art, mainly those between 20 and 35 years old. They are people who have always wanted to get into drawing but never did.

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

Most of the feedback, of course, is how people want to use SketchAR with the AR-glasses. But not everyone has a smartphone yet. So when AR glasses are on the mass market, we will have the most personalized assistant, because of the data collection that is already being used in smartphones.

Why the focus on drawing? 

Because our passion is art and tech. Also, I am a pretty famous mural artist.

 

 

 

Start-up of the day: driving towards sustainable tourism

Tourism can put a lot of stress on local environments. For example, tourism is responsible for about 5% of global CO2 emissions. The transportation sector is responsible for roughly 75% of these outpourings. While air travel is by far the largest polluter, buses and cars also share some responsibility. Portuguese start-up Live Electric Tours wants to alleviate the stress tourism causes on the environment while allowing you to still move freely through cities. And most importantly, share times with your nearest and dearest, no matter how far away they are.

This start-up offers tourists a fleet of 100% Electric Twizy cars for urban road trips. The user has complete freedom in exploring the city, being able to take their time during their adventures and stop whenever they want. They also provide tours with predetermined routes with a GPS audio guide on fully-electric vehicles so you are able to enjoy your travel time with maximum comfort and efficiency.

Yet most importantly, all their cars are equipped with video cameras so you can live stream you travels online. Mobility, sustainability and connectivity – all in one place.

Djalmo Edgar Gomes, Founder and CEO of Live Electric Tours, talked with us about the start-up and its challenges.

Djalmo Edgar Gomes,
Founder & CEO. ®Live Electric Tours

What was the motivation behind the creation of LIVE Electric Tours?

Well, Live Electric Tours was born out of a need to create an innovative solution for tourist mobility that would generate the least social and environmental impact on cities which have become congested due to a huge growth in tourism. We wanted to create a new way of getting to know your way around cities for this reason. On the one hand, pollution free; and on the other, a response to a trend from a new breed of tourists who want to stay connected and share their experiences online. The combination of all these brought about Live Electric Tours, the first solution for tourist which combines mobility, sustainability and connectivity.

Why is Live Electric Tours important?

Live Electric Tours is relevant when it comes to tourism in Portugal. Aside from still being quite a small start-up, every year it contributes to the mobility of thousands of tourists in the cities of Lisbon, Porto and Évora. We are an alternative to a target group that visits a city and who do not want to deal with public transport, guides or group tours. Our solution is for those who are looking to feel free and own their own vacations.

What is the technology of the cars?

Our cars are highly technological. We took an ordinary Renault Twizy and totally transformed these wee cars, and we included hotspots in order to be able to share the internet with anyone nearby the car. Plus a GPS with a predetermined tour with more than 30 points of interest. In addition to all of this, we have a virtual tour-assistant in various languages which provides plenty of tips on the best things to do and places to visit in Lisbon. And finally, all of our cars have something unique in the world – a camera – which allows users to share their experiences of discovering the city with their friends and family live on social media. This is where we take an experience to another dimension. So you are able to explore Lisbon, Porto or Évora and at the same time share these sounds and images with friends.

Plus, all our cars are 100% fully-electric and emit no CO2 whatsoever.

What makes the start-up stand out from the pack?

Live Electric Tours distinguishes itself from other start-ups in its ability to make things happen. Given all the challenges of launching a start-up, we were able to put forward other arguments so as to distinguish ourselves from the competition. Having such a unique product in the world makes us a company that thinks outside of the box.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnr70a0iJak]

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during this process?

The main obstacle has always been human resources. Hiring is not an easy task for a start-up at a time when the unemployment rate in Portugal is really low.

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

Giving up was never an option. However, in the beginning when we were taking the initial steps and looking for investments, getting to the end of the month and then having to pay salaries – when the company wasn’t generating any money – were frustrating moments that we overcame with a lot of resilience.

What has been the most gratifying moment?

Well, we have managed to open in 3 cities in just 2 years which was very rewarding, as expanding Live Electric Tours means presenting this experience to new customers. However, our greatest achievement was when we were considered the best tourism start-up in Europe by the European Commission in 2018. That was a huge acknowledgment for our efforts.

How does the future look like for Live Electric Tours?

The coming years are challenging because we want to reach every city in Europe with a futuristic solution for tourist mobility. Subsequently, year after year we have to work hard to make it happen and reinvent our concept. Nonetheless, in the next 5 years we want to be in more than 30 European cities and eventually expand to other continents.

What is your ultimate goal?

The ultimate goal is for Live Electric Tours to be recognized worldwide as a tourism super brand, something everyone wants to experience when deciding to go on holiday.

Start-up of the Day: know your HIV status in a jiffy

One thing is extremely important in the fight against HIV/AIDS : #KnowYourStatus. As far as the topic of sexual health is concerned and as in any other, knowledge is power. Being aware of your condition can not only save your life and help you live a perfectly normal life, but it will also prevent you from unknowingly spreading the virus.

However, the mere act of getting tested can represent a challenge to many people. The UK based start-up BioSure is removing the middle person, which in turn eliminates a lot of the barriers that get in the way of getting tested. The BioSure technology allows you to get tested in the comfort of your home and provides immediate results with the highest level of accuracy. Therefore, this is a form of healthcare that empowers people to take control and responsibility for their own well-being.

There are no questions, no waiting, no labs, no excuses.

Innovation Origins had a short interview about the start-up with CEO and Founder Brigette Bard.

CEO and Founder Brigette Bard. ®BioSure

How does it work?

The BioSURE HIV Self Test is the world’s simplest HIV test because it doesn’t need any mixing or measuring and you can do it wherever and whenever you like. It has an accuracy of more than 99.7% and requires just a tiny drop of blood. In just 15 minutes it offers you your own easy-to-read results.

What was the motivation behind the creation of BioSure?

Well, BioSure was founded on the same fundamental principles as pregnancy testing was (a self-test everyone is familiar with!) Nowadays, a woman would never take time off work to go and see a healthcare professional, be subject to questions about having unprotected sex and then have to wait days for her result. People deserve a much greater choice in how they choose to test themselves, plus they are much more capable and prepared to take responsibility than a lot of policymakers give them credit for. So, at the end of the day we provide a choice.

 

What are the benefits of using BioSure?

It puts you in control and quite honestly, it could not be any simpler! Everything you need is included and the safety lancet only needs the tiniest drop of blood. A tip, always use the side of your finger because there are far fewer nerves there. After this, place the lancet device on the blood and it will automatically fill up with exactly the right amount, then push the device to the bottom of the buffer pot –  and hey presto – minutes later you know your own status. As we say, ‘it’s as easy as Prick, Suck, Poke.’

There’s lots of other things we’ have thought about. The most important thing that people want to know is can they trust their result. The BioSURE HIV Self Test has a genuine inbuilt sample control line, so the negative line will only appear if you use enough blood and you have done everything correctly. If you do something wrong or don’t use enough blood with this, no lines come up – so you can be confident about your result. Incredibly, not all HIV self- tests have this and end up always giving you a negative result even when you do them incorrectly.

 

What makes it different from other similar startups?

We are still a small team, that are adept, agile and most importantly, deeply passionate about what we are doing. We feel incredibly fortunate to do what we do and to really be making a difference to people’s lives. Our team here are amazing and our core values based around quality, credibility and trust run right through every part of our business and drive us to continue to innovate and be the best we can possibly be. We are totally committed to our journey

 

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?

Where to begin? When we started, it wasn’t even possible to sell an HIV self-test, so we managed to get the legislation revoked working together with lobby groups in the UK. Back then, there wasn’t even a regulatory framework established for gaining CE marking, so we helped develop that – plus there was skepticism about whether people would even want to test themselves. When we eventually launched in April 2015, our test was the highest risk in-vitro diagnostic product (IVD) ever to have been approved and the level of excitement and media coverage was incredible.

Generally working in the field of HIV in itself is an obstacle, as people are still unbelievably reticent when it comes to talking about it, the big companies are worried about negative PR and in general people are scared. We have invested heavily in education, because so many people still don’t know that treatments are so good nowadays. E.g., that if you take anti-retroviral medicine regularly, the virus is able to be suppressed to undetectable levels, which means your own health is protected and amazingly, you can’t pass it on. So getting the message out that you don’t have to be worried about knowing your status, but that you should worry about not knowing it. Because if you don’t test for it, you can’t treat it.

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

Loads! We couldn’t have chosen a more difficult path to tread – strict regulations, narrow minded stakeholders, creating a market from scratch (which is long and expensive!). But, it has been amazing and we have now launched in South Africa, Kenya and Brazil, with plenty more to come. We get messages of thanks from our customers pretty much every day and believe we are creating an army of HIV warriors – that is an amazing motivator!

What has been the most gratifying moment?

The core hope at the very heart of our business is that we want to make a difference – and we believe that we do. We’ve embarked on a journey on how to make people feel more confident in their choices and take responsibility for their healthcare. The double whammy is that we are actually changing the conversation about how people think and feel and talk about HIV. We know we are pioneering this and are so amazed that we are now delivering this on a global level.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Watch this space! We are rolling out BioSURE in a number of countries now and have an R&D pipeline for tests for other conditions.

What is your ultimate goal?

Our ultimate goal is for BioSURE to be THE trusted self-test brand, so our dream is to be on every retail pharmacy shelf, giving people more and more choice in how they test themselves, and deliver a message and communication that make them feel confident and empowered to take control.

BioSure is a U=U partner and our team are genuinely passionate about supporting the U=U campaign and the global plan to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030 by helping people find out their HIV status on their own terms.

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback that you’ve gotten?

There are literally thousands of stories and questions you can look at on a free and anonymous independent social enterprise site called PEBL. To quote ‘there’s no risk of identification, nastiness or abuse.’ You could even join in on the conversation

 

Is it available in the whole Europe?

Theoretically yes, as the BioSURE HIV Self Test is CE marked and it is available on-line, in particluar via Amazon, but we have concentrated on our key markets in the UK, South Africa and now Brazil. Fingers crossed you will see us on the shelves in Europe in 2020!

Start-up of the day: Let’s go shopping! -just let me take a selfie first

When someone is shopping online it is not uncommon that they spend quite a lot of time just looking for the perfect item. That one that you really like which  complements your features. The start-up Styleriser has created a technology that is able to cut this time down considerably, as it allows retailers to make unique recommendations based on your individual characteristics. All you need is a selfie.

The main idea behind it is to build software that resembles the physical experience of walking into a fashion shop and getting assistance from an expert who understands what you are looking for and what suits you. Only this time instead of a person giving you advice; it is an algorithm, the result is a digital shopping assistant. 

In a nutshell: Digitally curated shopping.

Innovation Origins had a brief chat with CEO and co-founder Mark Hunsmann, who told us a bit more about the start-up.

Founders. ®STYLERISER

How does it work?

Well, our software analyses a shopper’s facial shape and complexion based on selfie uploads, and then comes up with a set of optimum clothing colors for that particular person. Knowing the range of the best colors for a particular user, the technology filters stocks from shops which it is integrated with, then just a few seconds later, comes up with products that should match. Or, to be specific, our individual style data gets fed into other information which trigger product recommendations, e.g., previous shopping behaviors, etc.

What was the motivation behind the creation of STYLERISER?

Well, the problem on the consumer side is often a case of being overwhelmed and insecure when shopping for clothing online, massive rates of returns and generally poor conversion rates are a clear reason!

As founders we have been running an academy educating color, style and image consultants, and have been engaged in one-on-one shopping and wardrobe assistance ourselves for almost 10 years. Driven by digitization and various shopping attitudes with respect to millennials, it was obvious to us that the precious and timeless expertise of the image consulting profession needed to be made available in digital form. So we decided to face the challenge and create a tech solution and plug it right into apparel e-commerce, where it is really relevant!

What makes STYLERISER stand out from the pack?

There is a massive number of technology firms offering major data analysis as well as many external size-fitting solutions. However, we haven’t seen anybody as yet assisting shoppers to get a handle on color-suitability insecurity. STYLERISER provides an accurate and professional color recommendation tool and as a next level, we’ll also perform real-time style recommendation for shoppers based on their facial shape and complexion.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?

Well I guess the fact that it is a new approach – selling a service that has not yet been effectively been proven using data.

And, was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

Sure, there have been times, slow development often frustrates me.

On the other hand, what has been the most gratifying moment?

It was definitely when we succeeded in getting the first correct results from our analysis tool prototype!

®STYLERISER

What can we expect from the coming years?

We are pretty confident that the color and style assistant will become something like a standard feature, similar to the ‘classic’ photo search which is pretty much mainstream nowadays. In the long run, we expect our software to be much more advanced and smoothly integrated with most technologically advanced fashion shops on both sides of the Atlantic.

What is your ultimate goal?

Our aim is to enable consumers to build a rather advanced app-based style profile, or StyleID, which they can use to ‘check-in’ with on many shopping sites for clothing.  Without having to go through a rather primitive style questionnaire for every single shop or rely on the personalized data that certain shops use in their algorithms.

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

Usually people light up when we explain what we are creating! It’s kind of a no-brainer and people are wondering why this doesn’t already exist.

Finally, who is the STYLERISER customer?

Our primary customer are e-shops such as Zalando, Farfetch, Nordstrom and many other smaller ones. We’re targeting shops that serve style-conscious consumers in upper-middle and upper class demographics.

 

Start-up of the day: self-driving transportation

The Swedish start-up Einride define themselves  as the intelligent transportation company. Their autonomous trucks are making the transportation of goods more intelligent, emission-free, safe, cost-effective, and ultimately more sustainable. These self-driving vehicles are fully-electric and coordinated via intelligent routing software which integrates customer with traffic data alomg with other functionalities in order to optimize delivery time, battery life and energy consumption. Which makes the journey from A to B as efficient as possible.

At present, the start-up has two self-driving trucks, the T/Pod and the T/Log. The former is their first autonomous truck and is aimed at road transportation of a variety of goods, while the latter is an adaptation specifically designed for the transportation of logs. It has no driver’s cab, but can be remotely controlled by a human operator where needed. No driver’s cab – and no driver – means a smaller vehicle, increased loading capacity, greater flexibility, increased safety, lower operating costs and optimized energy consumption, which means the T-log is able to run solely on batteries.

In order to know more about the motivation and goals of this start-up, Innovation Origins talked with founder and CEO Robert Falck

CEO and Founder Robert Falck. ®Einride

How was the idea for the start-up born? 

I used to work for one of the large OEMs producing diesel-powered trucks, which are responsible for a substantial part of global CO2 emissions. I grew increasingly uncomfortable in that role because and over time I came to realize there was an alternative to diesel-powered trucks. In a sentence, rapidly developing self-driving technology had enabled a shift to battery-powered, fully-electric transportation. At the same time, I knew that the industry was pretty much stuck in their old ways. It’s not that they’re not well-meaning, but they’re stuck in a business model. I realized that change – if it was going to happen at all – had to be revolutionary. It had to come from the outside. So, then I left and founded Einride.

How do the autonomous vehicles from Einride works? 

The basic formula comes down to this: remove the driver’s cab and the driver, and you solve a lot of problems associated with electrification and batteries. You get a smaller, lighter and much more flexible vehicle. Charging times becomes less of an issue, etc.

We do this by using a combination of automation technology and remote control. You don’t remove humans from the equation completely, but you reduce the number of humans involved by replacing drivers with operators who, from a distance, simultaneously manage and control by remote up to 10 vehicles. It’s a bit like platooning, but much more flexible. What you end up with is a sustainable and very cost-efficient solution, allowing transport buyers to be able to save money while they also reduce their CO2 footprint very substantially.

What makes Einride different from other similar startups? 

Well, we see that we stand out from other companies in the self-driving business primarily because of the way we make transport more sustainable. It is quite possible to perfectly retrofit a conventional diesel truck with self-driving technology and remote control. There are companies looking into a solution like that. And you’ll make a pretty good business case out of that. But you’ll do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, you’re likely to increase emissions, because you’ll make transport cheaper. Self-driving tech without electrification could turn out to be a curse for the environment.

 

T/Pod ®Einride

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole Einride process? Have you even ever thought about giving up?

When we started Einride, we were met with skepticism from a lot of people. I don’t blame them though. We were a newly-started Swedish company with huge ambitions, challenging the traditional automotive industry with radical new ideas. Back then, self-driving cars were still seen by many as science fiction nor was electrification the obvious future form of transport that it is nowadays. Batteries – it was thought – were powerful enough for small personal cars, but not trucks. A lead engineer at Scania was quoted saying battery-powered trucks were “perfect for transporting crisps.” So, it was sometimes a struggle convincing investors, partners and so on. And yes, at one point early on I almost gave up. But I was fortunate to have extremely talented people on the team who kept believing in the project. And so, we kept fighting. And quite soon it paid off.

T/Log ®Einride

What has been your most gratifying moment?

The most gratifying moment I think was when we were given permission – earlier this year – by the Swedish Transport Agency to expand a pilot for DB Schenker to a public road in central Sweden. We were actually the first company to have a fully-electric, autonomous truck up and running on a public road – on a commercial basis – in the world. Since then, the skeptics have been a lot quieter.

How does the future look for Einride?

We now have several very large American companies as customers, so during the next year we will establish a foothold in the USA and run some pilots there. Operations in Sweden will also be expanded. And we’ll begin industrializing production of our vehicles. Furthermore, in the future we will have hundreds of vehicles operating in both the US and in Europe. We’ll have built a complete system together with our partners – with 5G connectivity, charging infrastructure and so on – to support those operations. It’ll be the future of transportation, perfectly scalable. And we’ll already have put a dent in those emission curves.

Start-up of the day: Unpack your home anywhere in the world

It is getting easier and easier to have a nomadic life. Trailers and mobile homes alike have allowed people to move their living rooms around the world. Nevertheless, the start-up Brette Haus SIA has developed the ultimate nomadic house: an elegant wooden foldable house, designed to be easily transported, installed on site and connected up in just three hours. Plus, the houses already have all the necessary sanitary equipment and electrical engineering prefabricated, which makes it not only easy to move around but also comfortable to live in.

Brette Haus SIA is based in Latvia, although it was first born in the suburbs of Moscow. The start-up aims to provide people with the option to move across the world with their everyday homes.

Innovation Origins talked with Gennadii Bakunin, co-founder and CEO of Brette Haus.

Brette Haus founders. ®Brette Haus

What was the motivation behind the creation of Brette Haus SIA?

Well, we read the book “Nomadic Living: Relocatable Residences” by Sibylle Kramer and it made us understand that there is a strong demand for nomadic housing, however, there is no standard supply. Almost every solution on the mobile homes market is now some sort of unique piece of art. Architects and enthusiasts build tiny portable cabins for individual and specific purposes. So, we  thought a bit about transformative designs. Our goal was to get away from container-like forms while still maintaining mobility.

What contribution does the company make? 

We are guided by an innovative approach when it comes to our current and future steps. The foldable feature isn’t a new one, but our hinge system and ways of increasing space are. At the moment, we are using a special metal hinge axis mechanism which is patented and unique. The practical space-doubling feature is patented too. Also, we already have about ten patents as part of our plans and three more pending. This will all be branded as ‘property of Brette Haus SIA’. Our goal here is to make foldable homes as available and practical as regular housing.

We are the only product which can deliver up to 100 square meters of ready-to-use space using one regular 12-meter platform, no matter what the mode of transport is: truck, ship, plane etc.

Do you think that there are many start-ups out there tackling the same issue? 

The e-commerce trend is making housing industry unpopular. So, we only know of several projects in our field. Nowadays, companies are trying to solve affordable housing problems, but not many of them think about B2B problems, such as prolonging seasonal tourism usage, for example, or logistics optimization. Brette Haus, with its wholly grounded approach can solve both B2B and B2C problems. For B2B, it can be used for events (such as exhibition spaces, cafes, stores), tourism accommodation (e.g. bungalows, hotels or for glamping); or seasonal workers accommodation ( for farms, construction businesses). Then for B2C, Brette Haus can also serve as secondary housing (e.g. home office spaces, greenhouses, guesthouses) or as temporary living spaces.

Do you see how the Brette Haus’ foldable house could also have additional uses? 

We thought about B2G [Business-To-Goverment] applications as any other start-up might imagine. We see that our products could be really useful in emergencies. It’s not like a standard UN metal or plastic box.  You really can smell the wood in it and feel at home, which is very important when it comes to accommodating survivors. Moreover, we shouldn’t disregard transportability. The system is ideally suited for placing our housing units on a regular platform of a truck, train, ship or even a plane.

What about the technology?

We have some rural living and camping experience and that’s the reason we want to bring a bit of forestry to our products.  Yet we understand the architectural and sustainability needs as well. Back in 2013, we worked as a team on building an assembly line for prefabricated houses using similar technology like Cross Laminated Timber, which we are currently using. CLT has proven itself, and it’s still solid wood too without need for any extra insulation. The assembly line is based on LEGO principles – all the parts are made to measure separately and we combine them in the product which is then prepared for delivery. This approach allows us to make houses faster and cheaper. The biggest lead in time is 60 days at the moment – which is almost nothing when it comes to wooden housing.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEzp5zwk_uU]

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the process? 

Getting a bank account in Latvia is a tough one. The start-up industry here is very young and bank analytics are securing the system in every conceivable way. Actually, it was not surprising when we heard about fraudulent operations at the ABLV bank several years ago. Yet it is still not a very friendly climate for new companies like ours. Start-ups need fast and flexible decision-making procedures as far as banking is concerned.

Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?

Our philosophy is simple: if one of us is stuck somewhere, we just move to another task for a while or switch tasks. Sometimes this approach slows the project, but in the end, we keep moving forward. It’s like being a snow-removal truck driver – just don’t ever stop.

What has been your most gratifying moment/biggest accomplishment?

We were really surprised that our idea was accepted as an innovative business by several countries at the same time. We even had to choose where we could relocate. It was not a tough decision to make. Start-up Department of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA)  explained to us the benefits of moving to Latvia with our project and provided us with all the necessary support.

What can we expect from your company  in the coming years? 

This year we will be dedicated to direct B2B sales. We have to sell as many houses as needed in order to bring our dream to life – that of building a SAAS platform for Brette and related products. Because what we see online now is a nightmare. Last year Amazon invested 6.7 million dollars in a prefab plant and this means e-commerce must circumvent the housing industry too. Customers will be able to pick out a house with just a few clicks using a convenient online platform.

We want to execute a rental business model in a couple of years and to initiate the formation of a used Brette cabin market. Aside from that, we have ideas on how to add our foldable feature to various industries such as RVs and tiny foldable cabins for kids. We’ll offer manufacturers our base idea so that they can make their own standardized solution and are able to market it.

Start-up of the day: helping the brain via music

Music is one of the oldest art forms known by humankind. While it might be difficult, maybe impossible, to know how prehistoric music sounded, we do know it was around. Throughout history, it has been used for entertainment, magic, rituals and religion among many other functional and non-functional practices. The Spanish start-up Sancal Method (Método Sáncal) is using music as a tool for developing cognitive abilities.

The powerful effect that music is able to have on the brain is well-known. For example, music can help with memory, pain reduction or stress relief. Although music goes beyond the act of just listening; playing it also counts. This young start-up is working under the principle that learning to play a musical instrument is one activity that can have the biggest impact on our brain. As such, it has the power to develop and strengthen the brain. This might not represent anything new on its own. Yet when it is combined with the digital technology developed by the start-up, it is possible to not only track cognitive development of people through music, but also to help those suffering from cognitive disorders or diseases that affect these functions, e.g. cancer.

Innovation Origins discusses the start-up with musician and co-founder of the Sancal Method, Marián Sánchez Calderón.

What is the Sancal Method?  

Well, the Sancal Method is a real revolution in the field of cognitive training. Cognitive abilities are those abilities which actually make us human beings: perception, attention, memory and language, executive function and coordination. We are exposed nowadays to a highly changeable world with a lot of input and stimuli which our cognitive systems are not sufficiently ready for in evolutionary terms. That’s why we have data that shows that more than 1/3 of the population suffers some kind of cognitive disorder and that this is not only related to people with dementia. We have more neurodevelopmental disorders in children and more stress and anxiety as we age. Part of the problem is that we don’t have a pharmacological alternative and current therapies are going to be obsolete for more and more highly-trained people.

Why music? 

Because it is the activity that has the greatest impact on a neurological level. Thanks to neuroimaging, we know that it is the only activity capable of modifying certain brain areas, optimizing our brain and taking it to another level. Learning music, in short, makes us better.

So, we have transformed this latest scientific knowledge into a business proposal through two innovative processes: the design of a multidisciplinary methodology (based on learning music) and the development of an intelligent online platform.

How did you come up with this idea? 

I studied music and architecture, and I taught piano for more than 10 years. During my Masters, I gave piano lessons to a group of older adults, and it was then that I realized that this process was giving them more than just musical knowledge. It meant a significant improvement in their health as well, they felt better, and they achieved a finer quality of life. So, I looked for scientific evidence on that. That was when I discovered the scientific angle in neuroscience and music on which Sáncal Method is based.

Can you describe Método Sáncal in 3 words?

Neuroscience, Music, and Technology.

®Método Sáncal

How do you combine music and technology? 

Thanks to our methodology, in which all of our content is based exclusively on learning to play music. Moreover, all content is especially composed in order to train each cognitive ability. Running this content though an online intelligent platform will help with optimizing improvement in each particular person. The user just has to connect a digital piano keyboard (which can cost as little as €50) to a computer with a MIDI USB and then log in to access all of the personalized programs.

In the beginning, the user goes through a “Welcome package” in which we evaluate their cognitive capacity and cognitive needs. With this data, our platform chooses the best content for them using predictive models. We evaluate the user again every 5 months in order to show any relative improvements. We monitor the entire process so that way we are able to optimize the program for each particular person.

Who is using the Sancal Method? 

We are currently focusing on the healthcare field, working with older adults in order to delay neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers. Along with oncological patients who have cognitive disorders. By working with them, they are then able reverse these cognitive losses which have been caused by the toxicity of their treatments. We train therapists in our methodology, and any prior musical knowledge is not necessary. They become Sancal Experts and when they are licensed for this, are able to treat those in palliative care in their centers (hospital, clinics …)

In the meantime, we would like to enter into the field of education too.  As we want not only to treat someone when they have a disease, but also help prevent these diseases early on. In schools, our tool can teach them that playing the piano not only teaches them music, but at the same time optimizes their neurodevelopmental process. This will give them a competitive advantage in the future.

What makes Método Sáncal different from other similar startups? 

We are the only cognitive training platform whose content is based on learning to play music using the piano. This make a big difference, because we use the activity which has the most impact on the brain.

Did you design the technology behind Método Sáncal? 

Yes, we did. We are a multidisciplinary team made up of musicians, engineers, developers and neuropsychologists, so we were able to develop the technology and the content in a multidisciplinary way. This is very important in order to achieve excellence in our work; it is a very enriching process. We use the Artificial Intelligent so as to improve peoples’ lives.

®Método Sáncal

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole Método Sáncal process? 

Entrepreneurship is a difficult process, and even more so in the healthcare field I would dare say. We have formed a multidisciplinary team and we began in-house, because we believed that we could create something that is very good for society. It was very difficult to break through into the medical field in the beginning. The most difficult thing was generating the confidence necessary in order to be able to enter this sector.

Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?

Well, entrepreneurship is a bit of a roller coaster. Many times, you’re really up, but many others you are completely down and those are difficult times. We have been fortunate in having genuine users since we founded the company. Seeing improvements every day is the engine that keeps pushing us forward.

Can you tell me your fondest memory during the whole Sancal Method process? 

The first time a user told us that we had changed her life after 5 months of using the Sancal Method. She was a 38-year-old woman who had suffered a very pronounced cognitive decline after overcoming breast cancer. When she started using the Sancal Method, we managed to help her reverse that affliction in its entirety.

What can we expect from the coming years?

We aim to establish ourselves in the healthcare market and begin our journey into the education market when it comes to the optimization of school performance. In the long run, we want to be the reference in the cognitive training market on an international level. 

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

We have a dropout rate of less than 5% and our patients are delighted with the platform. In fact, many times after months of treatment, they continue to use the platform because they love it. And for us, that’s a dream come true. We are also staring to get a very good reception as far as the professionals are concerned. It is something that’s very innovative and they are becoming more and more aware of the potential of the tool.

What is your ultimate goal? 

To change the paradigm regarding music education. It is a tool with which we can achieve an evolutionary leap in our cognitive development and in our neurological optimization. When we learned how to read and write, our brain evolved. We can take a similar step by learning to play music from an early age. Musicians have larger and faster brains, and now we are able to bring about a change in the general population.

This way we will be able to live longer, and more importantly, live better.

Start-up of the day: looking out for (hu)man’s best friend

A dog is our best friend, always by our side taking care of us. Now we can take care of them in a way that could extend their lives by up to two years. Czech start-up Actijoy offers the technology and equipment needed to track a dog’s wide range of behavioral patterns in order to provide the owner and veterinarians with real-time data tracking that is able to eventually prevent diseases.

Actijoy can monitor activity, nutrition and changes in a dog’s behavior in one go by interconnecting three devices – the Health & Activity Tracker, WiFi Food & Water Bowls and the Actijoy app. The Actijoy system can detect dangerous anomalies including symptoms associated with diabetes and kidney disease. Both of which are easily treatable when caught in time.

Innovation Origins talked with Jana Rosenfelder, dog lover, COO, and co-founder of Actijoy.

How was Actijoy born?
Actijoy started 3 years ago when Robert Hasek, founder and CEO of Actijoy, began running outdoors. He invited his furry best friend Darwin to join him. Although he assumed that Darwin was a physically fit dog thanks to his regular walks and love of chasing tennis balls in the huge park, he actually struggled with this new activity. Robert was surprised by this revelation, and subsequently a veterinarian confirmed that Darwin was not as active as he should be in his daily life. As concerned pet owners, Robert and I wanted to measure just how active he was and we sought a tool that would help with Darwin’s fitness journey. However, none of the available dog trackers on the market fulfilled our needs. That’s how the idea for Actijoy was born.

Actijoy Founders. ®Actijoy

What are the benefits of ActiJoy?
Well, people often find out too late that there is something wrong with their dogs. Did you know that neglected symptoms are the most common cause of premature death in dogs? Actijoy can alert dog owners to a change in their dog’s behavior that they may not even able to notice. Such as how their dog is sleeping or how many times they wake up during the night. Unusual sleep patterns may be a sign of pain or physical/psychological problems. The other thing is excessive thirst – can you tell when your dog is drinking too much water? This can be a sign of diabetes, kidney problems or Lyme disease, all of which can be managed when caught early. If they are not, consequences can be irreversible.

Do you think that many start-ups are tackling this same issue?
We started developing Actijoy because we saw that dog healthcare is not comprehensive. There are dog wearables and smart bowls on the market. Yet there are no all-in-one solutions that work together with all of the data. If we want to get in shape and focus on our health, we have to monitor our activity, rest and food & water intake, and that goes for dogs as well.

What is something that a dog owner could discover about their dog using Actijoy?
Something interesting – thanks to the Actijoy notifications, every Actijoy dog owner can now know how active their dog was during the day. As a matter of fact, people rarely get up off the couch and they have no-one else to blame but themselves. Nevertheless, they do not want to let their dogs suffer from their lack of physical activity. In the end, the health of their dogs is in their hands. Knowing what the minimum daily activity goal is for their dogs motivates dog-owners to go out with their dogs for at least a little walk so that they both reach their daily activity goal together. Therefore it’s a win-win.

Is it suitable for all breeds?
Yes, it is suitable for all breeds and any dog weighing 6 1/2 lbs/3 kgs or more.

Do you plan to expand this to other members of the animal kingdom? 
We originally intended to use the Actijoy solution for cats as well. However, during our development we found out that if we want to offer a solution that works, we’d have to use completely different algorithms for cats. As the important indicators for cats are slightly different than for dogs. That is why we decided to focus on dogs first.
Actijoy is not a universal solution for all animals. We understand dogs and thanks to our devices dog parents are better able to understand their dogs as well.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole Actijoy process?
Well, hardware is hard, which is not exactly a cliché. The development phase was difficult and sometimes we reached an impasse. The hardest part was to accept that a lot of work had to be thrown away and we had to start from scratch all over again.
A different matter is, of course, finance. Covering production costs with our own resources is generally unrealistic. We started looking for an investor and we managed to find an investor a year after the starting up. Until then, we bootstrapped the project from our resources and with the help of two Angels from F&F (Family and Friends). We were able to accelerate the production process thanks to this investment.
At present we are facing new challenges at the stage of market entry as the sales phase has given us completely different obstacles to deal with. So, each phase has its own biggest obstacle. There is always a challenge and that’s why we are enjoying the work more and more.

Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?
Probably that moment was at a time when we had almost no leeway beneath our feet and no investor on the horizon.  It was frustrating knowing that we were working on something great but we may not be able to finish it.
There was one Sunday when we agreed with our co-founders that it was over because we did not have any money. We suddenly got a call from an investor the next day.

Actijoy App. ®Actijoy

What has been the most gratifying moment? 
The investment came from Brit, the second largest international pet food producer company in Europe, which we considered a huge success for Actijoy! It was not just an investment, but also smart money, which is always essential for the project’s success.

What can we expect from your company in the future?
We are working on Actijoy as a product both for home use and as a product that can be used by veterinarians to help in treatment or the diagnosis of health problems. Already we are testing our devices at several clinics.
At the same time, we would like to introduce another new product from the Actijoy ecosystem every year. We are already developing new products and have many more in mind. Dog owners have a lot to look forward to!

What is your ultimate goal?
We believe that moving our products across households into the arena of veterinarian equipment is the right thing. Imagine that it is not a dog owner who calls a veterinarian if there is something wrong with their dog, but a vet who calls them when there are specific changes in the dog’s behavior and should come for a checkup.  All that thanks to data sharing. And that’s the kind of pet care we want to achieve in the next five years.
We are still open to new collaborations with vets, so if someone is reading this and likes what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Start-up of the day: fashioning graphene out of food waste

A French start-up has developed a high-quality liquid graphene that can be used in material resistance, thermal management and metal substitution. Unlike graphene oxide dispersion, Carbon Waters’ graphene is 100% pure and stable and it is safe to use in industrial and research settings. Plus it is environmentally friendly.

Graphene is an extremely thin carbon sheet which performs in a unique way in many areas. Layers of graphene are stacked together in order to form graphite, the most common form of carbon material. Graphene is the thinnest known compound and exhibits incredible properties.

Innovation Origins talked with Alban Chesneau, one of Carbon Waters founders.

®Carbon Waters

What is Carbon Water?

Carbon Waters is a young chemical company specialized in graphene production but also in the development of additives and coating which use graphene. The thing that is very particular about the way we produce graphene, is that we don’t use powder at all. Basically, we produce graphene from graphite and everything is done in a liquid form. Subsequently, this means that there is no risk concerning nanoparticles or nano-powders. This is something that is really novel – not using any oxide dispersion in the production of graphene. Everything is done in water, in active solutions which also prevent risks associated with organic powders. We have achieved a very stable solution of graphene in liquid, something that is absolutely very hard to accomplish, a lot of companies are working on this.

What was the motivation behind the creation of  Carbon Waters? Was there a problem that you wanted to solve?

So, I am not the inventor of the technology. I was working in a consulting company specializing in technology and innovation. I thought that the way they prepared the graphene was amazing, especially because it addressed sustainability. That’s why we then we began to discuss with several industrial companies what we should do with our graphene. We were able to resolve issues around surface protections and component extensions by developing coatings which extended the shelf life of the components. And this is how Carbon Waters came about. It was not at all the case that we started out with an idea for a new product, but rather that we already had a product and we sought the best way to use it in the most sustainable way.

Material science is very hard as you know. You end up with a new material and there are plenty of possibilities.  When you start out, it is hard to tell which context you will use it in or where it will best work.

 What makes Carbon Waters different than other similar start-ups?

One characteristic of Carbon Waters is the development of toxic-free products. Right now, a lot of coatings use contact residual materials and there are risks involved in using them. What we do, and what we really want to keep doing in Carbon Waters, is to use graphene so as to replace these materials. Develop a product that is problem-free and much more environmentally friendly. One thing that we have also achieved, is that we have demonstrated that our graphene is bio-degradable. So, we have a product that is toxic-free – not just for living beings but also for the environment.

There are numerous companies that focus on this area, but they are much more concerned with performance than with the environmental part. What we want to achieve is two things:  have a major product which performs extremely well. As well as a product – that could even be used in medicine – which is also bio-degradable.

What has been the biggest obstacle that Carbon Waters has had to overcome? Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?

 Yeah, as graphene can be used in many different products we need to expand very rapidly as well. Our main challenge is being able to increase the quantity of graphene that we produce as quickly as possible. And because the process is new, we first needed to properly understand all of the parameters. We have done that now and are currently building a bigger reactor. This means more money and also more chemical expertise: chemical engineers. This is the main challenge that we have at present.

 Has there been a moment when you thought, ‘this isn’t possible’, and considered stopping?

 No, it is possible. It is just a matter of time and money. Right now we are having meetings about bringing new investment on board into the company in order to expand productivity. We need to do that as soon as possible. We are already trying very hard. However, this is just a technicality, we know that we can do it.

What has been the most gratifying moment during the Carbon Waters process?

The most gratifying moment for us, is when we see that our graphene has discernible effects on products. We saw with several prototypes that we were achieving terrific positive results. That showed us that we are heading in the right direction and that we need to keep on moving forward.

 What can we expect from the coming years? 

 Well, our goal is to have three validated prototypes for graphene coatings. But we also will be closer to have our second version of the reactor by the end of the year. We will also be preparing a fundraiser which will be held next year.

We want to further develop our graphene in the future. Graphene is made from carbon. Carbon can be derived from various sources, even from bio-degradation processes. One goal is to produce graphene from food waste. Creating carbon out of food waste, then using graphene in this way will, in essence, mean that we will have oil paintings and coatings made from food waste.

What is your ultimate goal? What is your vision for the future?

Our ultimate goal is to produce a product that is completely circular.  One goal would be to produce graphene from food waste. We will have made oil paint from food waste!

Start-up of the day: food made from air

A world in which we won’t have to use land or water  in order to produce food is closer thanks to the work of Solar Foods. The Finnish start-up aims to make food without the use of agriculture. They have created Solein, a revolutionary natural single-cell protein resulting from an all- natural fermentation process involving C02, water, and electricity. The end product looks and tastes like wheat flour and it contains 50% protein, 5-10% fat and 20-25% carbohydrate.

Another great advantage of the Solar Foods’ product is that it will not run out. It is not affected by weather, irrigation or soil. Consequently, it is possible to imagine that as the supply of this environmentally-friendly protein is increased, the world’s food carbon footprint will go down.

Solar Foods’ Solein’s original concept originated from a NASA space program and it was developed by the Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). As of 2018, Solar Foods is participating in the ESA Business Incubation Centre in Finland.

Innovation Origins had a short interview with Dr. Pasi Vainikka, CEO and Co-Founder of Solar Foods

®Solar Foods

What was the motivation behind the creation of Solar Foods? 

About one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions which are caused by human action is due to what we eat. We need major changes there in order to become sustainable on this planet.

What makes Solar Foods stand out from the pack?

We are not connected to agriculture and are still able to produce the world’s most environmentally friendly protein. A disconnect from agriculture provides interesting opportunities for scaling. Aside from that, we are able to play a part in many future foods instead of just one category.

Do you think that there are many start-ups tackling the same issue?  

No. Those that exist are aiming at fodder, not food. 

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole Solar Foods process? 

There have been so many critical moments along the way, I cannot name one. Maybe the biggest hurdle was having to deal with all of them.

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

No.

Solar Foods’ Reactor. ®Solar Foods

What has been the most gratifying moment in the whole process?

The moment we saw the real product/protein for the first time.

What can we expect from the coming years? 

We are aiming to introduce it to the market in 2021. Which will mark the beginning of a global shift towards scaling.

What is your ultimate goal?

We would like to produce food in a very environmentally friendly way so that the planet is able to cope with it. We want to present a totally new, natural food which is viable and scalable. “Science is like magic but it is real.”

Start-up of the day: smart technology for more energy efficiency

SMARTIVE

In Spain, a start-up founded by passionate professionals aims to contribute to sustainable growth and energy renewal. By developing intelligent platforms, SMARTIVE wants to improve operations and efficiency inside the energy market. Just as their name suggests, the start-up is a smart company, which means that they use smart technology such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing or data mining algorithms in order to come up with the best possible sustainable solutions for their clients.

For the time being, the start-up is focusing on wind turbines. They aim to reduce operation and maintenance costs by 20% and increase wind turbine efficiency by up to 10%. SMARTIVE technology is also able to predict wind turbines failure 90 days in advance with an accuracy rate of about 96%, which can help clients save a lot of money.  Aside from that, they use real-time data analysis to supervise, monitor, diagnose and make prognoses of wind turbine performance.

Innovation Origins talked to Jordi Cusidó, CEO of SMARTIVE and this is what he had to say:

How would you describe SMARTIVE? 

SMARTIVE is a start-up company that develops IT solutions in order to monitor, diagnose, make prognoses and control energy assets. We are very specialized in the wind power market. SMARTIVE has developed a unique diagnosis platform for this market – SmartCast – which enables early failure prediction for wind turbines. SMARTIVE has also developed an innovative SCADA solution to monitor & control wind turbines. Both tools can be used simultaneously.

 

Jordi Cusidó, CEO. ®SMARTIVE

What was the motivation behind the creation of SMARTIVE?

The operation and maintenance (O&M) of renewable energy assets, and especially wind turbines (WT), is a huge challenge. Currently, WTs stop working due to failures at least 3% of their running time. Actually, when it comes to older wind farms, these figures may increase by up to 10-15% per case and in extreme cases by up to 30%. This leads to enormous losses, quantified in terms of more than €15B per year worldwide. SMARTIVE co-founders are committed to sustainable growth and renewable energies. Subsequently, they decided to co-found SMARTIVE so as to be able to respond to that challenge through the use of technology.

What makes SMARTIVE different from other similar startups? 

We attribute SMARTIVE uniqueness to our passion for innovation and new technologies. SMARTIVE invests in new developments and allows PhD students to work in the company and collaborate with leading research institutions like UPC, UVic, CENER or Eurecat, among others. Our team includes 3 PhD students. Some of our contributions are also published in associated research journals. We are the only company that combines technologies like adaptive machine learning, artificial intelligence, deep learning, IoT, big data, blockchain and cloud computing. We are not about one single technology. And we are committed to getting the best results possible.

As such, SMARTIVE is capable of developing different algorithms for every single WT in order to achieve the best results.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?

The main obstacle is the energy market itself. The energy market is led by huge companies that are usually very conservative. So, trying to convince big players like Naturgy, Innogy, ACCIONA, EDP … (all of whom are current clients of SMARTIVE) may take as long as a year and a half.

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

We’ve been very lucky ever since SMARTIVE was founded. Nevertheless,  it was tough before we launched our start-up. The first potential investors gave up on the idea. After they left, we found our special business angel (Ramon) who really believed in us and helped us start the business.

What has been the most gratifying moment?

There have been many greats moments,

  • 2010 the Thesis Award as the best Thesis, that was actually the starting point
  • 2011 Valortec Award as the best Business Plan for a Technological Start-Up in Catalunya
  • 2014 signing with our first customer
  • 2015 Incense Award presented by ENEL
  • 2016 Most Innovative SME in Europe presented by EEN & EC
  • 2016 signing our first contract with major clients ACCIONA & NATURGY
  • 2018 signing our first international contract, INNOGY (Germany), Finerge (Portugal)
  • 2019 SMARTIVE UK foundation

How does the future look for SMARTIVE? 

Our first challenge is to consolidate our position in the European Market. SMARTIVE has recently opened SMARTIVE UK Ltd., so we are aiming to gain a good position in the UK and German markets.

SMARTIVE is starting up in the PV sector together with some of our current customers.

In five years, we expect to be consolidated in the EU market with offices in London & Hamburg. We expect to open in Boston, US, so we will be able to tackle the US energy market. By then, the company will be a leading player in the digitization field working in the wind, solar, hydro industries. The company will keep up its investment efforts in innovation and R&D.

What is your ultimate goal? 

Our ultimate goal is to be a world-leading company in the digitization of energy assets. Our ultimate goal is to reach an Initial Public Offering (IPO), preferably in the NASDAQ.

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