Czech start-up Spaceflow is introducing technology to one of the most old-fashioned sectors – that of residential and office property rentals. “Our aim is to help digitize life in buildings for their occupants by providing easy access to all services, shared resources and the communication flow in the surrounding areas,” says Lukas Balik, company co-founder and CEO. Spaceflow was set up 3 years ago by a former economy student and two experts from the real estate sector. “They knew that change was just around the corner. Together we saw that we could make a difference with a technological platform for tenants,” says Lukas. It seems that they were right. Today the start-up operates in 12 countries, including the US, UK, Denmark, Germany, and Japan. Recently it raised €1.6 million in funding.
What exactly is Spaceflow?
Lukas Balik: We are a property technology company. Spaceflow is an app that connects buildings with their tenants. It enables communication between a tenant and building owners or managers as well as with other tenants. The app can help you to book common spaces such as meeting rooms, parking spots or amenities such as a barbecue, or report maintenance issues to the building managers. It can facilitate connections to services in the area, for example dry cleaning, food delivery. Also, it is a hub for further smart building integrations such as smart access.
Are these things really such a problem for tenants that they need a special app to book a parking space or report a leaking faucet?
Firstly, if you, as a landlord, want to attract and keep tenants, you must react to current trends when tenants increasingly want top-notch services and a range of amenities. As a landlord, you can offer them various services, like fitness, wellness, food delivery and so on. Technology can help you to do that. More importantly, landlords can get new streams of revenue this way. Through the app, property managers can streamline payments for services and keep an eye on margins.
What is about the innovation that makes you different from your competitors?
The app has a number of components and modules. For example, we connect our platform with other smart building solutions. To give an example, we can connect it with digital lockers, a parking system or an access system so you don’t need to use physical cards to open the door. Instead, you do that with your phone. Also, we have an in-house team of community managers. This is crucial, because sometimes landlords don’t have the capabilities or the time to deal with new technologies. So, our community managers can help them to bring the project on board and acquire the right content and services for the users. They also help to evaluate what works well, get the right data from the platform and curate the best possible experiences for the tenants.
What was the best moment in the company’s history?
Recently. That relates to our latest investment round with solid partners who helped us scale our platform for the new markets. Another big thing for us is that we have just launched our first project with Allianz. Who, apart from being a major insurance company, is also one of the biggest real estate owners globally. The company has more than 60 billion assets under management. Our first project for Allianz is in their flagship building The Icon in Vienna.
And what was the most difficult moment?
I think it was when the company just started out, when every mistake that you make can hit you quite hard. When we started the first pilot, we chose an external IT company instead of building our own IT team. Yet an external agency is always a step too far. We had to figure out how to put our own IT team together. If you want to build something for the long term and for a global market, you have to be close to your developers in order to be able to design the best features and the best product.
What are your plans for coming year?
Obviously the most important thing is to have as many happy clients and users across the market as possible. For that, we’re strengthening our business development teams in several locations. Our focus in this round is on penetrating the European market and we also want to have our first large projects in the US. I’d love to see a lot of progress within a year. We might potentially be able find partners in the US in the next investment round.
What do you want to do in 5 years?
Our ultimate goal is that Spaceflow will become the standard for every commercial and residential building.
The European Union is entering a new phase with the inauguration of the new European Commission, which was approved by the European Parliament yesterday after a long series of personal interviews. The new President, Ursula von der Leyen, has set a clear course for her commissioners. This is primarily aimed at making Europe climate-neutral. The other major pillar of its intended policy is to increase the competitiveness of the European Union.
The key question, of course, is how she and her fellow commissioners want to achieve these objectives. In the main, that means: research into better production methods and innovating the existing ones. Consequently, funding is needed for this.
Innovation and its investment is a dire necessity, according to the new European governance. In the first place, because the European Union must be completely CO2-neutral by 2050. This means that we will have to live, drive, fly and produce in a CO2 neutral way. So that’s quite a challenge. Secondly, because competing superpowers such as the US (2.8%), South Korea (4.2%) and Japan (3.3%) invest a much higher percentage of their GDP in innovation than the EU does. (2.1% while the target is set at a minimum of 3%). These countries subsequently also score better when it comes to innovating their businesses. Because of this, the EU is lagging behind them, so says Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, She is in charge of the innovation budget for the upcoming period.
As her predecessor Carlos Moedas had already announced last year, Gabriel wants to increase the budget of the research and innovation fund Horizon Europe from almost €100 billion to €120 billion. This amount is to be spread over the 2021 to 2027 budget period. This money should go towards basic research in universities as well as innovation by large companies, start-ups and SMEs.
Not a piece of cake
Which is a noble ambition that no member state should actually be opposed to. You’d think that it was a piece of cake. But it’s not. Life is complicated within the offices of the European institutions. They have to constantly do business with the governments of the 28 – and, if there is a Brexit, 27 – member states. Then those governments have to deal with their constituents in the cities and rural areas of their country. And the constituencies (especially those in the poorer EU regions) may threaten the innovation plans of this new European Commission.
The major battle is being waged via discussions by the heads of state or governments concerning the European Union’s long-term budget. This is something which they will have to hammer out in 2020. Von der Leyen wants more money from the member states to be able to implement her ambitious policy program. But the member states do not want to pay the EU a higher percentage of their GNP, says spokesman Roy Kenkel of The Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (PV) in Brussels. (As an example, the European Commission wants The Netherlands to contribute 1.11% of their GNP).
“The Netherlands is in favor of a larger innovation budget. We think that’s an excellent idea! But we also believe that this money could come from the resources that the European Commission has at its disposal if we were to continue to contribute the same percentage as we do now. Our GNP is on the rise, so our contribution will in any event deliver more money to the EU with the current, unchanged percentage of our GNP.”
Not mentioned in the budget
It makes more sense for the EU to restructure its budget and adapt it to the demands of our time, says Kenkel. That is what Von der Leyen also said in her speech yesterday. In Von der Leyen’s opinion, the MFF (otherwise known as the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework) should not be seen as a simple calculation of expenditure, but rather as a policy instrument that will modernize the European Union’s budget.
That might be the case, except up until now the problem has been that you cannot discern this in the document that the European Commission sent to the member states last May and which the member states are currently negotiating. It does not say, for example, that the Horizon Innovation Fund should be increased by €20 billion. Whereas the new European Commission does want to use this extra money to tie into specific industrial policy. Something that is new for the European Union, as the French EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industry, Thierry Breton, said to the European Parliament during his hearing last month.
Other expenditure areas
One way in which the extra €20 billion could still be included in the budget is for the European Commission to submit a separate additional proposal to the member states. That’s what Kenkel from the PV in Brussels says. Nevertheless, he thinks that this isn’t very likely as this is a cumbersome process and the negotiations are already underway. He believes that it would be more logical to discuss the matter during ongoing negotiations.
Then there is also the question of how important the member states regard the growth of the innovation fund compared to that of other expenditure. Such as for the common agricultural policy and the cohesion fund. Funding for the development of poor regions must be paid from this. The European Commission actually wants to cut 5% off both of these expenditure areas. And that is definitely something that the countries that benefit most from these funds do not want to happen.
The signs are not very favorable in this respect, says Guillaume Gillet, He is the director of InnoEnergy in Brussels, an investment company that invests money from private investors and the Horizon Fund in promising, innovative start-ups in the energy field. “It is said that the Finnish chairmanship wants to reduce the budget for Horizon to €88 billion. It will only be possible to raise it to €120 billion if the European Parliament fights very hard for that.”
The question is how bad would that be? After all, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has already announced that part of the funds for cohesion and agriculture can be used for innovation in the agricultural sector and for the development of rural areas. The intention is that these funds will thereby contribute to making Europe environmentally sustainable.
The difference with financing innovation via these funds, however, is that the funds are distributed by the governments of the member states. Who in turn allocate these to their national constituencies. It now remains to be seen as to what extent this will benefit both European cooperation and European coordination in terms of industrial policy.
Not enough money for scale-ups
According to investor Gillet, the European Commission is also investing directly via Horizon in innovative start-ups who would otherwise be unable to raise money as their profitability is uncertain. That’s going well for now. Although a larger Horizon Fund would make this support more robust, Gillet states. So far, the problem has been that there is not enough money to invest in the further growth of start-ups. This makes it difficult for them to become fully-fledged companies that are able to grow and flourish in Europe. It is precisely these scale-ups that provide employment as well as develop knowledge and bring prosperity. “American and Asian investors are investing money in them. That’s because of their more aggressive culture when it comes to high-risk capital investment. Consequently, Europe is losing a number of successful start-ups.”
Whereas these are in fact what you would prefer to hold on to. Which is also what Von der Leyen said in her speech yesterday. Whether she will be successful in this respect over the coming period will become clear when the new MFF is mapped out next year.
Suzanne de Kok Selstad is the CEO of ‘Skape‘, a Norwegian start-up consulting organisation. She lives in Stavanger and is a first-time visitor of Slush, the annual innovation and Start-up festival in Helsinki. She writes about her experiences at “the World’s LeadingStart-up Event” for Innovation Origins. This is Day 2 of the event. You can read part 1 here.
We are several people from our county Rogaland attending Slush for different reasons. Trond Medhus, Opportunity Manager for Invest In Stavanger (Greater Stavanger Region) stated that “Slush is the place to be for meeting start-ups, investors and entrepreneurs. Since we are in a global market, we need to be out there getting inspired, listen to the entrepreneurial stories from different angles”. There is indeed no doubt that this is a place that allows us to look into the future – and a perfect place for valuable networking as well. We are meeting people with the brightest ideas, talents, students, investors and on-the-go we get insights on the future technological trends. Next year, we want to bring more start-ups from the Stavanger region over to Slush and use this conference as a place to inspire young entrepreneurs and give them valuable insights and network.
“Money is flowing in the start-up venues”
Cato Meling, head of conference at ONS, the second-largest energy conference in the world, mentions that “it has been an inspiring day at Slush with engaging speakers and interesting themes”. The State of European Tech 2019, which was presented today, essentially states that money is flowing in the start-up venues and there is a need for more women in tech. This positive vibe throughout the event is contagious and incredibly inspiring, and I will for sure be back next year.
“We need more women in tech”
Day two was also exciting, with different insightful themes. Again, we had to make a choice! Like yesterday, we heard people discussing the challenges about talents. But also, about the different demands of talents themselves. Do future talents want to live in big, expensive cities? Can climate changes create new business opportunities? What can we learn from history? Several interesting questions were raised, allowing us to think for ourselves and dwell on the complexity of the future.
Since we got the opportunity to cruise around Helsinki on an e-scooter yesterday, we had to listen to Fredrik Hjelm, Co-founder & CEO of Voi Technology and Lawrence Leuschner, CEO & Co-founder of TIER Mobility. They shared insights about how their companies work together with cities to change regulations. They challenge cities to rethink their transport system. Most cities today are dominated by cars. They, however, raise the question: do we really need two lanes for cars? Berlin is, for example, moving away from extra car lanes and Paris is implementing safety actions for bikers.
Cities can also think about changing the rules. More tenders for e-scooters in one in town? A maximum number of providers? Limit a licence for maybe two or three years? Madrid has a tender of 15-17 companies for different parts of town. And how about safety? Most accidents are between cars and scooters, we need to rethink the way they interact. It is, however, rarely the case between scooters or scooter and pedestrians.
Build a culture
Personally, I enjoyed the session about people, we know that it is all about people, especially in the startup world. How important it is to build teams, onboard new members, integrate them, build a culture. Always think of diversity: it breathes better decision-making, offers different angles. Start the process of building a company culture early and include people around you in the process. And if you lead a team yourself, dare to be vulnerable. Dare to say I don’t know and ask somebody who does.
At the end of Day 2, we saw the finals for research pitching. When I heard about these researchers, It immediately felt really good. So many bright ideas for future challenges… 95 ideas, 8 final pitches, one winner! The winner of the grand prize, the 100,000 Euro Skolar Award grant, is Thomas Hausmaninger from the National Metrology Institute of Finland.
“This positive vibe throughout the event is contagious and incredibly inspiring”
I felt privileged being at Slush where there were so many people who have this positive energy of being part of creating something. We need entrepreneurs, we need researchers, we need investors. The group maybe lacking were the politicians.
Slush 2019 is finished. Now, on my way back to Norway, I feel inspired, filled with new knowledge and blessed with a whole new network. I’ll be back!
Suzanne de Kok Selstad is the CEO of a Norwegian start-up consulting organisation. She lives in Stavanger and is a first-time visitor of Slush, the annual innovation and Start-up festival in Helsinki. She writes about her experiences at “the World’s LeadingStart-up Event” for Innovation Origins.
Finally my first live Slush in Helsinki! I streamed it for four years but hadn’t been able to actually visit the festival. My daily job, being the CEO of a partnership called ‘Skape‘, where we offer free consultancy and education for start-ups in the Rogaland county in Norway. This is on behalf of our owners, the 26 communities, and our Rogaland fylkekommune.
Today, I met a lot of people who are considering to start a company or people who already have started one, everything from ‘basic’ to matured entrepreneurs, innovative ones as well as the ones that still have to do their research while establishing their company. I met investors, public funders and politicians who have to decide about creating public funding possibilities to help start-ups. Politicians are in the position to change the purchasing system, so start-ups can have some assistance to reach their markets.
Slush! We, me and my colleague need inspiration and learn from others, so it is great to be here, together with
There Are speakers on four stages, several mini-stages, so we have to choose our topics.
What did we learn today and what will give more reflection in time?
During the grand opening, it was said that new companies can create opportunities for future challenges. There is a challenge, it’s going really fast these days! And everything should have a social and environmental impact. And yes, of course, it is all about people, your team, culture and talents.
Finding talents is a challenge for some disciplines, but the talent is universal.
One needs diversity between the different environments. One should also take responsibility for one’s own education through different channels, institutional and through self-study.
So we were challenged to be “fucking fearless” when it comes to marketing, challenge the systems, maybe even do it without a marketing team?
Be a changemaker, is what we hear. You have a choice, so make a change in your footprint. Create value and create it for the long term!
Slush 2019 day one, to me: a lot of lights, dark venue, good food, good logistics, lots of service-minded volunteers, a lot to see, good communication app. A great day!
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.
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.
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.
Over the next three months, European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will draft a new European law for AI. As of December, she will be responsible for the digitization of the European market. She plans to present her new AI law in March. After that, the European Parliament and the governments and parliaments of the Member States will have to approve her new AI law.
The new AI law is to lay out the rules regarding the collection and sharing of data by, among others, the large American tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google whose internet platforms are being used on a massive scale by European citizens. At the moment there is only a guideline for e-privacy and one set of regulations for data protection (GDPR). The new law must include rules that make the collectors and distributors of data liable for any abuse use of this data.
Nightmare for the US
The greatest nightmare for the high profile big tech companies in the US is her intention to adopt new tax regulations following on from the new AI law. This should apply to internet platforms all over the world which make money from consumers in European countries. In recent years, Vestager has already taken Apple to court for tax evasion. She imposed a fine of 13 billion euros on them for this.
As far as she is concerned, the new tax regulations that she has in mind should be applicable worldwide. If she cannot do this because, for example, some countries do not want to cooperate, she said that the European Commission will continue to impose fines on non-European companies on an individual basis if they pay insufficient tax in the EU.
Breaking up Google and Facebook
She may also impose fines if American big tech companies abuse their dominant market position. She has done so in the past few years while she was European Commissioner for Competition. If these fines do not lead to an improvement in their behaviour on the European market, she wants to break up the American business conglomerates. That is what she said in response to questions from Paul Tang, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament. Tang is also member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats on behalf of this PvdA party (the Dutch Labor Party). Vestager then told Tang that she had the means to do this. She did not specify what kind of means she has at her disposal.
Gaining citizen’s trust
With its new European AI law, Vestager said they want to allay the fears of European citizens. In particular those who currently lack faith in the digitization of society. She says this is necessary as she believes there are two types of companies. The type that is digital – and the type that will soon become digital. In other words, sooner or later all citizens will have to participate in the digitization of everyday life, so she wants to make sure that the Internet is not intimidating to them.
In the second place, she wants AI to be used to make the citizens’ lives easier rather than more difficult. She wants to prevent digital platforms from collecting data via AI in order to influence the choice of consumers and businesses so that they can earn money from them. It was precisely for this reason that during her previous term as European Commissioner for Competition, she imposed a fine of 4.3 billion euros on the search engine Google.
More rules, less innovation?
The question is whether the new rules for AI will not stand in the way of innovation. Nicola Beer, an MEP from the Renew Group in the European Parliament, wanted to know whether Vestager had thought about how she intended to preserve Europe’s leading role in AI innovation. Vestager replied that she was looking for a more balanced situation. According to her, European citizens should benefit from the innovations that AI brings. Yet at the same time also be protected against their eventual misuse.
Meanwhile, the initial reactions from the AI group of professionals to Vestager’s plans for new legislation have been quite reserved. “I find it a bit vague that Vestager says that AI sometimes makes life more difficult.” That’s what Buster Franken says, AI entrepreneur and developer from TU/e. “It is true that AI influences your choices via Google. But that can also make your life a lot easier.”
‘Small-scale AI companies in the EU are the victims’
Franken believes that there is a danger that a new law will burden smaller AI companies with far too many rules. “We already have a hard time finding capital to invest in our innovations. If new rules are added now, that will adversely affect us. It also means that you have extra work in order to comply with them. Maybe we don’t have the money for this. While this new law is supposed to combat abuse by large companies such as Google and Facebook.”
“The point is namely that companies like Google can abuse data because they have loads of money. If there is a new law, they will undoubtedly be able to comply with it. Then they will simply look for another route. They have enough money to hire an army of elite lawyers. Small AI companies don’t have that.”
The Smart City Expo World Congress takes place in Barcelona, with 25,000 visitors the largest in this field. Over 250 of them come from the Netherlands. Report from the Holland Pavillion.
It is a coming and going of international delegations at the booth where the Netherlands give a dazzling show showing how Dutch municipalities and companies are at the forefront in smart and green mobility and in making cities resilient to climate change. Whether it concerns KPN’s 5G field lab on the Automotive Campus, the technology with which engineering firm Sweco will be able to give priority to electric cars at traffic lights and thus make them more economical, Dutch municipalities and entrepreneurs are in no way inferior to other countries in terms of innovation.
Dutch European Commissioner Frans Timmermans (who will be responsible for climate issues) wants to introduce a CO2 tax at the outer border of the European Union. This is in order to avoid products that have not been manufactured in a climate-neutral way. He announced this measure during his approval hearing at the European Parliament. There they are appointing the new European Commission which will take up office next month. According to Timmermans, this is the only way to get the European climate law passed which he is to present this spring. The exact date on which this border tax is to come into effect should be revealed in this climate law. It will apply to all Member States.
A 55% reduction by 2030
This climate law ought to include information on how the Member States will make their economies climate-neutral. CO2 emissions must be reduced by 55% by 2030, Timmermans announced. That is 10% more than what was originally agreed to. By 2050, CO2 emissions need to zero out on balance. With that commitment, in two weeks’ time he will start his mandate as European Commissioner for Climate Change. His most important task will be to deliver a so-called ‘Green Deal’. The new climate law is an important part of this. Along with that, he wants to overhaul legislation on greenhouse gas emissions and energy.
The problem is not that achieving CO2-neutral production is not technically possible, says Erik Klooster. He is managing director of VNPI, a Dutch association which brings together the major petrochemical companies (together with the chemical and metal industries, who are the main producers of CO2), such as Shell and Esso. “It is,” he states. The problem is that making the industry CO2-neutral makes manufacturing much more expensive. This makes the industry less competitive compared to industry in countries that are not implementing any climate measures. If there is no such border tax, European industry will be forced out of business. “Esso has been calling for this kind of carbon adjustment or carbon border tax for years,” says Klooster. “It is the only way to make Europe climate-neutral.”
A leading role
That is also what Commissioner Timmermans told the European Parliament, who will have to approve his new climate legislation next year. “We shouldn’t want to bring in products that are cheaper because they have not taken the environment into account. I think that such a CO2 border tax will be subject to an assessment from the WTO. If, for example, a country such as China or India also starts to produce in a CO2-neutral way, we will drop that tax on their products.”
That’s also the purpose of such a levy, says Klooster. “The EU’s share in global CO2 emissions is relatively small. So we don’t have to do it for that sake.” The EU, and the Netherlands in particular, can play an important pioneering role by involving other countries in the world such (as India and China) in the production of clean energy. “Industry in the Netherlands is geographically close to each other. There are enough empty gas fields available in the next few decades for storing CO2 that has been emitted and captured. It is therefore cheaper to build a pipeline for CO2 transport to an empty gas field than it is in England, for example. Industry is scattered all over the country there.
Extracting CO2 from air
Another method of achieving CO2-neutral production is to capture the greenhouse gas and bind it to hydrogen via a chemical process. This creates a synthetic fuel that can be reused. This is also a way to ensure that aircraft that don’t fly electrically and therefore continue to emit CO2 will still be able to operate in a climate-neutral way, says Klooster. “You can extract the amount of CO2 that an aircraft produces out of the air, and then store or process it.”
The question is whether national parliaments are prepared to sign the climate legislation that Timmermans will be proposing. For example, the Polish Member of the European Parliament Anna Zalewska ( from the Conservatives and Reformists faction) said at the Timmermans hearing prior to his appointment as European Commissioner for Climate last month, that she feared it would destroy Polish industry. Much of it runs on coal. “Hundreds of billions of euros are needed to make the transition possible. We just don’t have that.”
Money for Poland en Greece
Timmermans replied that money had to be sent to countries such as Poland and Greece because they are unable to pay for the energy transition themselves. “My grandparents were miners in Heerlen. When the mines were still open, Heerlen was the second richest city in the Netherlands. After the closure of the mines, Heerlen changed into one of the poorest municipalities in the Netherlands. We must make sure that we prevent this from happening in the European regions that are currently dependent on coal.”
Timmermans stressed that there is absolutely no future for the coal industry. He wants to work together with national and local authorities, the European Investment Bank and make use of existing EU funds for this transition by diverting them towards making the EU climate-neutral.
Cost: 200 billion euros per year
An important part of the money needed to make poor, coal-dependent regions climate-neutral should come from richer EU countries such as The Netherlands and Germany. Their national parliaments must approve the new climate law, including the redistribution of financial resources. Commissioner Timmermans predicted that it would take in total €200 billion a year over the next five years to make the EU climate-neutral. “But the Member States are almost as stingy as the Dutch,” he said. “They have to open their wallets.”
Asphalt, roads, rocks, buildings – that’s how Cees Jan Pen describes Veldhoven, ASML’s home base. As an economic geographer, Pen is an independent member of the SER in the province of North Brabant and is a member of various national committees for advice on regional development. Pen is voicing his concerns about the state of Veldhoven’s city centre. In last week’s best-read article, he describes how the municipality desperately needs a vibrant heart. Not only for the native Veldhovener, but also for the expat from Taiwan.
The town needs to be revamped. A lot of catching up must be done when it comes to urban development. But isn’t Pen thinking in too narrow a way? After all, Veldhoven is part of Brainport Eindhoven, a region with 21 municipalities and about one million residents. Surely this urban area cannot compete with London (almost 9 million residents) in terms of facilities and environment?
No, says also Peter Savelberg, creator of the TristateCity model. This model merges the Netherlands, the Flemish part of Belgium and the Ruhr area in Germany into one large metropolitan region. “Over the past twenty years, people have increasingly moved to large cities as a part of urbanization. This has resulted in a vast urban agglomeration where between 15 and 30 million people live. There are around sixty of these ‘megacities’ in the world. All these cities or metropolitan areas are competing for talent and investment.”
Dutch cities, which have an average population of 150,000, are far too small to engage in this struggle, according to Savelberg. “In an area like Shanghai or Mumbai where some 20 to 25 million people live, the competition between Eindhoven and Amsterdam is irrelevant. I think we should move away from competition between cities and bring together all the various strengths of the different regions. Now you see separate municipal groups travelling around the world. They are all proclaiming that they are European hotspots. A Metropolitan region of Amsterdam (which includes 32 municipalities), a cooperation between Arnhem and Nijmegen (which includes 16 peripheral municipalities, ed.), the Brainport region – and so many others can now be found. It is not my intention to upset people with this, as I know it is a sensitive issue.”
But still Savelberg thinks it’s a shame that regions want to widen their markets on their own. “You are much stronger together. If you start out flanked by Flanders and North Rhine-Westphalia, you can count on an area with 35 million residents. There is a lot of prosperity and wealth in this area and a in particular, a lot of knowledge. People are highly educated, and the area has 8 universities in the world’s best 100. If you look at it this way, you are in the world’s top 10 in terms of megacities.”
The only thing is how do you do that, connect regions? Should everything have to be overhauled according to the Chinese metropolitan model? “Absolutely not, the Dutch, Belgians and Germans really do not want to want to live in 100-storey skyscrapers. We are used to space, a private garden, a good barbecue and things like that. Whereas in China they do almost everything by public transport, the Dutch hop on their bicycles. But the Germans and Belgians are also doing that in growing numbers. This is not only good for sustainability, but great for everyone’s well-being too. This is only set to increase with the growth of the electric bike,” says Savelberg.
Letting go of city limits
And how is that connectedness? The good road network and the many reciprocal commerce in the area serve this purpose. Savelberg: “Despite cultural differences or language barriers, the Dutch, Belgians and Germans have managed to find a way to reach out to each other for decades. These collaborations could be stimulated even more. Universities cooperate on European projects, but it would be good if this could be done in a more structured way.”
Savelberg sees there is still too much thought being given to city centres: “Plenty of research is being done in the field of health In Maastricht. This also applies to Utrecht, where it is referred to as ‘living health’ and Groningen as ‘ageing health’. Then I would say: look at what you can do as a network for healthcare. Let go of those city limits.”
Investing in railways
That doesn’t mean we’re there yet. Even though the road network is in good shape, the railways could still use a major upgrade. Also, there aren’t as many trains between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany as you would like for such a ‘cosmopolis’. Savelberg: “Prorail has estimated that it is possible to run many more trains one after the other. In order to make this happen, we need to invest in a more effective safety system. As well as more high-speed lines are needed to improve connections between areas.”
Savelberg: “We are facing major changes; rapid technical development, the rise of data, robotization and so on. It changes the economic order and changes companies that we are currently familiar with. Perhaps in a few years’ time, the manufacturing companies as we know them today will have changed into data companies. Who knows? We want to keep looking ahead, take the next steps towards growth. The network that you assemble around you plays an important role in this.”
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
How can you check if an engine is damaged? You can wait until it stops working. Then it is obviously broken. You can take an engine completely apart and examine every single part of it. But then the machine is switched off for a while. You can also listen to the engine while it is working. And this is exactly what the start-up Neuron Soundware does. This company specializes in audio diagnosis of machines. Every machine makes sound while performing its tasks. If there is a mechanical issue, the sound signature of a machine changes. For example, the engine might make extra squeaks, says Pavel Konecny, the company’s CEO and founder. However, Neuron Soundware does much more than what a car mechanic does when they say that something is banging around in the engine. The technology developed by this Prague-based start-up allows you to determine from the engine’s sound if it is working properly. Or if it is close to breaking down. Or even how long it can operate without breaking down. Neuron Soundware uses sound to detect mechanical problems in machines.
How do you do it?
Pavel Konecny, CEO: We use a combination of technologies that use Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things to detect changes in sound made by machines in use. We created a system of piezoelectronic microphones mounted on the machine. They sense machine’s movements which we humans can hear as sound. Next, we digitize that signal with our IoT device placed close to the machine. We train the AI to recognize when the machine has any issues and when it works properly. The system learns the machine’s standard movements as well as any anomalies. If the system hears any kind of anomaly, we let the customer about it by email or text message.
At present, we have experience with 16 different types of machines and about 100 IoT devices that have listened to various machines. But it’s not a complete list. We are aiming to add more machines. As each machine type has many different sizes and configurations, we tend to focus on the calibration of algorithms for certain types of machine. If a client comes with a specific machine, we process it on our location, our Acoustic Academy. This is where we collect sounds samples. We record them, test the sensors’ position and after all that, we can add that machine to the list of supported solutions.
There are few companies around the world specializing in acoustic technologies. What is the difference between you and them?
Our competitor from Israel provides a simpler solution than we do. They only focus on production performance and haven’t attempted to address predictive maintenance tasks. When it comes to our rivals from the US, the difference is technical. We are monitoring the machines every second 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their system can read data once a hour. Also, they rely more on traditional techniques when it comes to accessing machines. Our focus is more on learning from data.
What has been the best moment in the company’s history?
When the CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella mentioned Neuron Soundware and what we do in his keynote speech that he held in Prague. He could have chose nany other AI startup, but he chose to speak about us. It really was a show of appreciation for us.
What are your plans for a coming year?
We are moving our focus from designing and building a product to focusing on the efficient delivery of our products. Currently, we are considering partners for the manufacture of the device and building up standard delivery procedures. We have to learn how to scale up the standard sales and delivery solutions. We’ve just increased the number of people in our sales team and we are building up all the procedures around sales and support of our customers, partners and distributors.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
We want to monitor hundred thousands of different machines all over the world. That’s is definitely possible. Our study estimates a possible market of up to 200 million machines and about €65 billion in revenue. So there is really plenty of room where we can scale up.
Are you interested in start-ups? Read more articles on this theme here.
“That won’t work! It’s like a Harry Potter spell!” – These are the kinds of words he heard when he first applied to one of the accelerator programs. It’s true, their idea does sound a bit like a magic trick, as DAC wants to revolutionize cooling technologies and cool air with air. Yet behind this idea are not Hogwarts’ wizards, but a team of Ukrainian engineers and scientists instead. Each of whom has numerous scientific publications to their names along with several patents. The originator and leader of the project is Oleksandr Razumtsev, holder of 6 patents and author of 25 scientific papers. Pavel Panasjuk (from the Czech Republic) is responsible for business development. And they registered the company in Poland, because ultimately there was a venture capitalist there who believed in the scientists’ idea.
What is the Dynamic Air Cooling system that you have invented?
Pavel Panasjuk, COO: It’s a cooling technology that doesn’t use any chemicals or water. It is about converting energy that is in the air into kinetic energy. So, warm air flows under low pressure through our equipment. Some of the thermal energy is taken away during this process and the air then becomes colder. In a nutshell, we cool the air with air. It sounds kind of like a perpetuum mobile. But it works. In May this year we built a prototype just to prove that it is feasible. At present we are able to cool the air by 60°C. For instance, we can cool 3 sq. meters of 30° C air down to -30°C and we need only 60 seconds to do that.
What’s the reason behind this technology? Is there a problem with the cooling equipment that is currently on the market?
The technologies currently in use are harmful because they use chemicals for cooling which are 4000 times more dangerous for the environment than CO2. Just 250 grams of chemicals used in refrigeration systems have the same climate effect as 1 tonne of CO2 emissions. There are already technologies out there that use water for cooling. But in countries where there are extremely high temperatures, there is always a problem with access to water. Except it’s not the case that we’re solving one problem by worsening another problem. Some countries, as with the European Union and the G7, have understood this problem and have since ratified the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which obligates them to limit the use of chemical substances in cooling processes. Therefore, we must come up with a completely new technology that is environmentally safe and doesn’t use chemicals or water.
What obstacles are you facing?
First and foremost, funding. So far, we have covered about 90% of the costs for the research and production of the prototype with our own money. We received 10% from investors and an investment fund. But now we need further funding in order to be able to progress. We estimate that we need about €700,000 to get the product to the stage where we can offer it on the market. The second issue is people. Our team is prepared for the technical process. But adapting our device to the various markets and industries is very challenging. Therefore, we now have to expand our team with people who understand marketing, patent protection, product design and communication with investors.
What was the worst time for the company?
When we switched on the prototype for the very first time. We almost burned everything down. We built the device from parts available on the market and bought an electric turbocharger. Unfortunately, the turbocharger was designed for cars and not for cooling equipment. When we connected the prototype to the power supply, it was a fiasco. Oil fired out of the turbocharger. It was even on the ceiling. After consulting with the manufacturer, we modified it. That was one of the best times for the company.
What happened next?
Oleksandr called me and told me that everything worked. After 4 years of research and preparation, what our assumptions about our theories turned out to be accurate.
What are your plans for the coming year?
In the first place, securing a patent and preparing a complete patent strategy and expanding our team. We already have Ukrainian and Czech patents, now we want to extend our patent protection. The second thing is the producing a prototype for one of our clients. At the moment our equipment is at TLR4.
We have signed an agreement for the construction of cooling equipment for a commercial space which the client will test out.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
According to our plan, in 2 ½ years we will have a finished product which we shall enter the market with. And in 5 years’ time, we want our technology to be recognized by other manufacturers and be used in their equipment. Because we don’t want to just sell our equipment. We want to sell technology that will make this world at least a little bit better.
Are you interested in start-ups? Read more articles on this theme here.
Diesel engines are the most efficient combustion engines and are difficult to replace in the transport sector at short notice, says Martin Mittelbach, an expert on renewable raw materials. In the future, he sees the combination of electromobility and hydrogen as the only alternative for sustainable mobility.
Mittelbach is an expert on biodiesel and sustainable mobility. Despite this – or precisely because of this – he has a sober view of developments in the field of environmentally friendly drive technologies. His evaluation includes infrastructure, vehicle production and energy generation as well as economic feasibility. The following are his seven strategies for sustainable mobility:
1 Alternative to diesel: fuel from biomass
Electric and hydrogen propulsion are still in their infancy. Until they are ready for the market, combustion engines will be indispensable. That is the perspective of Mittelbach, who conducts research at the Institute of Chemistry at the University of Graz. To improve the ecological balance, he recommends synthetic fuels or biodiesel. Biodiesel can be produced from waste and residual biomass or biomass from fast-growing plants. However, those have a bad reputation in Europe and research has stagnated, as the researcher notes. But he himself sees great potential in this. Rapeseed, for example, could fulfil two tasks at once:
Protein supplier for animal feed;
Oil supplier for fuel;
This would reduce both oil and soya imports.
2 CO2 tax to reduce air traffic
The chemist detects one of the biggest problems in air traffic. A flight from Graz to London and back causes three tons of CO2 per person. This is one third of the average CO2 emission per person and year in Austria. Alternatives to kerosene are currently far too expensive. According to Mittelbach, a CO2 tax is unavoidable. This would
put an end to cheap flights;
bring short-haul flights back on (a train) track;
3 Natural or liquefied gases instead of marine diesel oil
A ship generates – in relation to freight – much less CO2 emissions than road transportation. The problematic part is fuel, which emits large amounts of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide. In 2020, sulphur content in marine diesel will be reduced from 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent. However, the amount will still be 500 times higher than in normal fuel. The researcher sees an alternative in the medium-term use of natural or liquid gas.
4 Switching to trains
Switching from trucks to trains would make sense, says Mittelbach. Due to the low flexibility and capacity, however, this would only be possible to a limited extent.
5 Pushing for trolleybuses
Local emissions, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are especially harmful in congested areas. Mittelbach demands
car-free inner cities;
expanding public transport;
He recommends pushing for the use of battery-powered trolleybuses that are cheap, flexible, and environmentally friendly.
6 Small cars for short distances
Mittelbach sees electric cars as an important alternative to conventional vehicles in private transport – as long as the refueled electricity comes from renewable sources. The dilemma with electric cars lies in high energy consumption involved in battery production. This only pays for itself after thousands of kilometres have been driven. According to the researcher, small cars have a much better life cycle assessment than a Tesla and are ideal for short distances.
7 Hydrogen has future potential
The problem with hydrogen is that it currently comes from non-renewable sources – and is produced from natural gas in an energy-intensive process. The advantage over electricity is
its shelf life;
that it could also be used to power trucks and airplanes;
The latter, however, is currently still ten to one hundred times more expensive.
Nevertheless, Mittelbach sees electric mobility and hydrogen as the only alternatives in the transportation sector.
For climate change turnaround to succeed, however, the commitment of politicians and citizens is also needed. Mittelbach calls for the entire transport system and e-mobility to be questioned.
Volkswagen has started the rollout of NXP’s secure vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology in its 8th generation Golf series. The technology enables cars to talk to each other, improving safety and protecting car drivers as well as cyclists and pedestrians, NXP says in a statement.
“The technology can prevent accidents by having cars communicate with each other, independent of car brands and without the support of cellular infrastructure”, NXP adds.
Volkswagen says road safety forms the core of its commitment to its customers. “As a high-volume manufacturer we aim to be a pioneer in this space”, said Johannes Neft, Head of Vehicle Body Development for the Volkswagen brand. “The introduction of V2X, together with traffic infrastructure providers and other vehicle manufacturers, is a major milestone in this direction. Volkswagen includes this technology, which doesn’t involve any user fees, as a standard feature to accelerate V2X penetration in Europe.”
According to Torsten Lehman, senior vice president and general manager of Driver Assistance and Infotainment at NXP, the technology has been proven in more than one million test days globally. NXP and Volkswagen have closely collaborated for high-reliability and performance, as well as for standardization of V2X communication that addresses cybersecurity and privacy protection.
V2X in Europe
Wi-Fi-based V2X is a mature technology that has been tested for more than 10 years. Presently, 1,000 km of European roads are equipped with V2X technology based on Wi-Fi with 5,000 km planned through the end of 2019. Its research and development, testing and standardization have occurred within a strong global eco-system of suppliers and car manufacturers to ensure reliability in diverse road and traffic conditions. Wi-Fi, therefore, forms the basis of the European standard that has been chosen for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. An additional benefit is its availability independent of paid cellular services. Other developing cellular-based technologies can be added complementary to Wi-Fi-based V2X.
Some of the characteristics of V2X:
It enables awareness and communication between cars, road infrastructure like traffic lights or street signs, and other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
It is a technology that is collaborative, allowing it to “tap into” surrounding sensor data from mutually equipped cars to warn of hazards and prevent accidents.
V2X is a technology that complements other ADAS sensing technologies such as radar, LiDAR and cameras.
It helps vehicles to “see” more than a mile ahead and around corners to provide early warning of obstacles, hazards, and road conditions.
It has the ability to “see” through objects, delivering more information than that obtained through the line of sight only.
Its sensing capabilities are unaffected by poor weather conditions.
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.
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.
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.
Last Thursday three European start-ups recieved €50,000 in prize money from the European Commission as winners in the European Social Innovation Competition. Out of the ten finalists, their solutions to the global plastics problem were judged by the jury to be the best. The money is meant to be used for growing their businesses. According to Mark Nicklas, head of the Innovation and Investment for Growth department at the European Commission, this competition is about so much more than just the three winners and the prize money.
“We want to help those innovators who have good ideas to implement their ideas. It is a waste if society cannot benefit from potentially great techniques or ideas. We think it’s important that someone with a good idea gets support so they are able to turn that into a business.” According to Nicklas, this support is far from a matter of course when it comes to all of the member states. The European Commission is endeavoring to close this divide. “Entrepreneurs or innovators often do not know where to look for support. Or there is little support available from their local government. We want to nurture good ideas and encourage local authorities to do the same through a competition like this.”
Out of some 550 submissions, the jury (consisting of experts on social innovation and the circular economy) chose the 30 most innovative ideas with the highest potential for a positive impact on society. “They all followed a three-day masterclass in Turin so they could further develop their ideas. Here, they exchanged ideas with each other, received tips from experts and learned everything about sustainable business operations. They each rounded this off with a business plan.
Getting a broader perspective
A three-day course such as this may seem short, yet it’s extremely useful for participants, Nicklas states. “The difference in their business plan after they had adjusted their initial version was huge. And on top of all this expertise, they make new contacts as well. Not only within the industry, but also among each other. That’s also very valuable. Moreover, they learn from each other. For example, they talked about how legislation on waste in their country is regulated. This in turn led to new insights. They also have their own business coach. This coach helps them with the things that you typically come across when you set up a start-up.”
Aside from all of that, the ten finalists pitched their ideas and all the semi-finalists had the chance to meet potential investors and financiers during the final held last Thursday. They may not have won first prize, but they did have the opportunity to benefit from a broad EU network.”
Social Innovation Impact Award
During the announcement of the winners on Thursday evening in Brussels, the Social Innovation Impact Award was presented as well to one of the semi-finalists of last year. This year the award and prize money of €50,000 was won by “MTOP goes digital”, an Austrian-based blended learning program that helps young, highly qualified refugees enter the local labor market. Under the theme “Rethink Local”, the 2018 Competition looked for projects that turned local challenges emerging from the changing economy into opportunities for the younger generation. “Here, we look at what start-ups have achieved after one year of work. A jury looks at whether they have achieved their goals and whether their initiative has a positive impact on society. This prize is also an incentive to spend the €50,000 well,” Nicklas explains.
New this year is an alumni network of which all participants from previous editions are involved. “We want to encourage participants from previous years to help new start-ups. They can exchange experiences here or ask each other for help. They all have different backgrounds and are active in various sectors, which can lead to some great cross-pollination. As the European Commission, we think it is important to stimulate cross-border cooperation.”
Drop in the ocean?
Certainly when it comes to the plastics problem, which affects not just one country, but the whole world. “In Europe alone, we are talking about more than 27 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. This forces us to look at how different links work. We have to look for ways to do something different. We want a clean circular economy for the whole of Europe. That is only possible if we look across borders.” But aren’t these start-ups just a drop in the ocean?
Nicklas: “This year, the EU has developed a strategy with measures for reducing plastic waste, increasing recycling and plans for developing bio-based plastics. We have also made agreements with large companies in the industry. They are working to recycle at least 10 million tonnes of plastic by 2025 and are looking for ways to produce less waste. So, a lot is happening already. And I hope that the start-ups from this competition will also make their contribution.”
Solutions should not only be provided by the government or by established industry, Nicklas believes: “Solutions are also welcome from the community at large. They also have a role to play here. It doesn’t even have to be a groundbreaking technology. An idea that changes people’s behaviour which causes them to use less plastic or make consumers more aware, is also part of social innovation.
Optimism is putting a smile on the faces of Hardt‘s founders in Delft. This week they announced that they had once again managed to attract major investors. Including the renowned Tukker, technician and investor from the very outset in Booking.com. As well as Kees Koolen, one of the original investors in Uber. They are investing millions in the construction of a new, longer test track at an as yet undisclosed location in the Netherlands for the high speed suspended metro system – the Hyperloop. Within ten years, it should connect all the major European cities to each other. That means you could, for example, travel from Rotterdam to Milan in the blink of an eye.
But why Hardt instead of the competition?
The question is – why are they buying shares in Hardt’s hyperloop? And not in any of the other four hyperloop system developers that are currently out there? There is Zeleros in Spain (in Valencia) and Hyper Poland in Poland. You have HTT (Hyperloop Transportation Technologies) in the US, and Transpod, a Canadian-French company. Then there is Hyperloop One, a company that is also designing a hyperloop and has built a test track in the desert near Las Vegas with capital from the British Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson. Not that it matters at all, but Branson is rather more well-known than Kees Koolen from Hengelo. Though Hardt has the former professional football player Gregory Van der Wiel as an angel investor. He is world famous as well, albeit that Van der Wiel would rather stay in the background when it comes to this kind of thing, or so it seems. The key question is what distinguishes Hardt from these four hyperloop companies which all seem to be making good progress too. And are they rivals?
‘Lane Switching’ is the magic word
If you ask the investors in Hardt why, you always get the same answer: “Lane switching,” Anne Koolen says. In other words: the possibility to change the route of these magnetically-suspended capsules.
Koolen has a technical qualification and is spokesperson for her father Kees’s company Koolen Industries. The two of them assessed the potential for an investment in Hardt. “Hardt has been the only one of all those hyperloop developers who has shown that they have the technological know-how to do this.”
That’s what marketing manager Martijn Koerts at InnoEnergy (an investment company that invests money from the European Commission and from private investors in innovative, sustainable start-ups) says. “The most important thing about the lane switching technology is that you are able to plan several routes in a single tube which the hyperloop moves through.” You can use it to divert a hyperloop to a stop in a city between, say, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. If you didn’t have that lane-switching technology, you could only go from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. Therefore, a stop in for instance Cologne, a city of 1 million residents, wouldn’t be possible. “Because all the hyperloops that come afterwards will then have to wait until that one moves on. That takes too much time and is not what the intention is.”
‘Lots of carriages makes the Hyperloop affordable’
Without lane switching a hyperloop network would just not be affordable, says Jelte Altena, marketing manager at Hardt. “Then you would have to build separate tubes for the various stops and routes. This isn’t feasible because it takes up too much space on land. What’s more, it’s far too expensive. Those costs can’t be recouped. You have to make sure that enough carriages can glide through one tube, so that the construction costs for those carriages can be repaid.”
Regardless of how you look at it, if the European Commission, in consultation with the individual member states, decides to build a network of pipelines for the hyperloop, then Hardt’s lane switching technology will be indispensable. After all, what can’t be paid, can’t be built. It is that simple.
It’s not that the other hyperloop companies should pack up and dump everything just because they lack this lane-switching technology, according tto Altena. Hardt is currently discussing the standardization of hyperloop technology with the other four developers – including the American and Canadian developers – as part of a workgroup led by officials from the European Commission. Hardt took the initiative for this with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Altena expects that at some point there will be a tender from the European Commission which the various companies can respond to. “It is conceivable that we might work on specific points in cooperation with each other. That we will form a consortium of companies where we would combine the necessary technologies together.”
Magnet in tube that diverts route can be switched on and off
The Hyperloop technology used by Hardt is based on a tube which is 3 meters in diameter. The carriage that glides through it is pulled by a magnet located at the top segment which it almost but not quite touches. There is therefore no contact at all with the tube walls. The tube itself uses vacuum pressure to move. This means that there is no resistance from air. As a result, the suspended metro can reach a speed of up to 1000 kilometers per hour using less energy than a train. The motor will be electric so there aren’t any CO2 emissions.
Switching lanes can be done at the junction by switching on the magnet in the segment of the tube that curves towards the other route and by switching off the magnet on the main route. This way the magnetic field draws the suspended metro into the other tube going in a different direction. “It sounds so simple,” says Altena. “But someone had to come up with that bright idea.”
Will we soon be living in Rotterdam and working in Paris?
According to Altena, passengers should be able to board the Hyperloop in 2028. He can’t say how much a ticket will cost. “If it turns out that the tube needs to have a larger diameter, this will affect the price. But we are already looking into what passengers are willing to pay for their daily commute using the various modes of transport that are currently available, such as airplanes or trains.
If the Hyperloop really does get going in 2028, that will drastically change work-related commutes. You will then be able to commute between Paris and Rotterdam, for example, in the time it now takes you to travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train. You won’t have to move. “That’s exactly what we predict,” says Altena. And when seen from this perspective, the suspended metro should be packed.
Rense van Dijk worked in the energy sector for many years yet always felt uneasy about the amount of CO2 that is emitted. That’s one of the reasons why he eventually he went on to do something else. Last year he launched a company which is dedicated to making homes more sustainable. In the past month he has signed several agreements with investors that will enable the company to expand into this new market, including, amongst other things, the installation sector.
What motivated you to set up Woon Duurzaam and what problem does this resolve?
“When my own central heating had to be replaced three years ago, I wanted to find out what the alternatives were. I wanted to stop using a gas boiler so I asked several installation companies tocome up with a solution and give me a quote for it. Most of them said they couldn’t, so they wouldn’t give me a quote. Others did give me a quote with a solution that didn’t suit my house. That was because they hadn’t looked into my living situation. Then I started to find out for myself how I could make my house more sustainable. I installed a heat pump which draws in heat from the outside air. It heats the water in my radiators. I replaced the radiators with a type that, thanks to an improved technology which uses less hot water, still generates a lot of heat. This also saves a substantial amount of energy. I also installed a heat pump in the attic. This works as an airco during summer and provides heating in winter. And I had insulation material installed in the cavity walls. Chips that were blown into these walls through little holes. These holes were then cemented up again. I haven’t done certain things because they didn’t really offer much energy savings compared to what they cost. You could also insulate the floor and I could have replaced double glazing that isn’t HR++. But the return on those kind of investments was outweighed by the costs. All in all, the whole process cost me about €20,000. I borrowed this at a low interest rate through a government scheme. This loan can be deducted from your income tax, just like your mortgage. On balance, I am saving money, despite the loan that has to be paid off in 15 years. While I was doing all this in my own house – which was built in 1938 – I came to realize that a lot of people must have been asking the same questions. And that there was a need for advice on how to make homes more sustainable. That’s how I came up with the idea to start Woon Duurzaam.”
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
“We still haven’t completely overcome the biggest obstacle yet. We have to get rid of gas over the next 30 years. What has been difficult so far is that politicians and the media are giving out mixed signals about this. In the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, you read about how none of this is affordable. Former leader of the Dutch Labor Party, Diederik Samsom, was at the head of the negotiating table on the built-up environment at the climate conference in Paris. He told the media that he himself hadn’t done anything to eliminate gas from his own home either. He said: ‘I’m not going to do anything yet. I’ll wait a little bit longer.’ Because the Netherlands was so shocked by biased articles in the media and he just wanted to reassure people. I get that. But they just fail to understand that there is a real need to get rid of gas in houses and make these buildings more sustainable.”
What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?
“When we realized that in order to make 80 percent of the homes that were built after 1930 more sustainable, a financially attractive deal could be made. We are talking about around 5 million homes across every category: terraced houses, detached houses and apartments. That was in November 2018, half a year after its foundation. A second breakthrough happened this year when we entered into agreements with large market players who want to work with us. This month, we signed an agreement with the energy supplier Greenchoice to run pilot projects next year in order to make their customers’ homes more CO2 neutral. Various manufacturers of heat pumps such as Vaillant and Panasonic as well as Nathan, a representative for Alpha Innotec pumps, have asked us to do their installations for them. That’s because the regular installation companies are not able to do this. Generally, they are only specialized in the installation of gas boilers.”
What can we expect from Woon Duurzaam in the coming year?
“Next year we want to remove the gas systems from a hundred homes and offer a deal that will help consumers make their homes more sustainable step by step. You don’t have to do everything at once. But it’s important that you do all the right things properly and not do anything that’s unnecessary.”
Where do you want Woon Duurzaam to be within 5 years? What is your ultimate goal?
“We would like to have made 10,000 houses more sustainable by then. We are working in the Netherlands at present. Through our relationship with InnoEnergy, one of our investors, we see that markets in other countries differ from those in the Netherlands. But we also see that there is also a need there for a reliable party who is prepared to make homes more sustainable. So we want to work on that as well.”
What does Woon Duurzaam’s innovation do better compared to other products in your segment of the market?
“Our sole aim is to offer solutions when it comes to making homes more sustainable. These must be geared to the situation of the people we work for. We don’t work with standard quotes. We offer well thought-out plans that are carried out properly. Such a service wasn’t available in the past. It is now.”
Today, the European Commission announced the winners of the 2019 European Social Innovation Competition. The three winning projects from the 2019 “Challenging Plastic Waste” Competition will each receive 50.000 euro for demonstrating outstanding potential to reduce plastic waste and improve re-use and recycling at a systemic level. Drumroll: and the winners are:
MIWA (Czech Republic) An innovative, financially sustainable circular distribution and sale system for food and non-food products with re-usable packaging.
SpraySafe (Portugal) An edible spray to be applied to the surface of foods in order to preserve them, thus reducing the need for plastic wrapping and containers.
VEnvirotech (Spain) A biotech start-up that transforms organic waste into biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) bioplastics using bacteria.
The three 2019 Winners were selected from a total of 543 initial applicants from across Europe. In July, 30 Semi-Finalists took part in the 2019 European Social Innovation Competition’s Academy; an intensive training and coaching programme designed to develop their initiatives. Out of these thirty semi-finalists the jury chose ten finalists.
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs commented: “the European Social Innovation Competition clearly shows how we can tackle some of the biggest challenges facing European society through innovation and entrepreneurship. I would like to congratulate especially the three winners and to thank all of the participants for their entrepreneurship, ingenuity and enthusiasm.”
During the event, the European Commission also announced the launch of the European Social Innovation Competition Alumni Network. All of the Competition’s Semi-Finalists, Finalists and Winners will now have the opportunity to join this community of entrepreneurs, thus fostering cooperation between innovators across the different themes covered by the Competition. They will also benefit from added exposure, as sector relevant bodies and aspiring innovators will be able to find them on the new online directory.
This year it’s the 7th edition of the competition organised by the European Commission run across all EU Member States and Horizon 2020 associated countries. The competition acts as a beacon for social innovators in Europe, employing a proven method for supporting early-stage ideas and facilitating a network of innovators shaping society for the better. Each year the Competition addresses a different issue facing Europe. This year the focus is: Challenging Plastic Waste.