Interview: Electric buses are booming in Poland

Most people wouldn’t have guessed it, but there is no other European country where electric buses for public transport are as popular as they are in Poland. An important reason for this is that Poland is itself a large manufacturer of electric buses. It is estimated that about a third of all electric buses in Europe are manufactured in Poland.

Primus inter pares is bus and tramway manufacturer Solaris. Which is heading for a market share of about 20% on the European continent this year. Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus also make electric buses in Poland.

Innovation Origins had an interview with the head of e-mobility development at Solaris, Mateusz Figaszewski:

Solaris is one of the biggest European electric bus producers. How many of these buses are going to the local Polish market?

The number of electric vehicles that Solaris delivers to Polish customers changes from year to year. Altogether, our company has delivered over 360 battery vehicles to customers in 18 European countries, including 119 in Poland.

Furthermore we have over 500 orders for our electric Urbino buses, of which 194 will be delivered to local Polish customers in 2019 and 2020.

Which Polish cities are using your E-buses and how many electric buses are there in Poland?

The cities in Poland where our battery vehicles can be found are: Inowrocław, Jaworzno, Kraków, Ostrołęka, Warszawa, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Września, Chodzież, Katowice, Sosnowiec, Stalowa Wola, Ciechanów, Rzeszów, Ostróda, Bełchatów, Łomianki. Other cities with vehicles on order are: Kutno, Miechów, Poznań, Radom, Tychy and Włocławek.

The E-bus market in Poland is comprised of 155 vehicles at the moment, 119 of them have been manufactured by Solaris. Another 254 units are on order, 194 of which are from Solaris.

Mateusz Figaszewski

What can we expect in the next few years where electrification of public transport is concerned?

The aim of the European Commission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 by at least 60% before now and 2050. One of the ways to achieve this is to transform and electrify the European transportation sector, including urban public transport.

In line with that target, 50 European cities have already signed the “Clean Bus Deployment Initiative” – a declaration of intent on promoting large-scale deployment of clean, alternatively fueled buses. Many of these European cities have opted for electric buses.

The European electric bus fleet has already increased nearly 15-fold over the past 5 years. Still, we are convinced that we will see a further increase in the volume of orders. According to estimations from the ZeEUS program from UITP, 22% of all new bus registrations in 2020 will be electric and this number will continue to rise up to 45% by 2030.

The rest of the bus fleet will be at least partially electric driven or based for instance on hydrogen.

How important are European subsidies for the transition to environmentally friendly buses?

European and local subsidies from European Member States are crucial for maintaining the speed of market growth. Without them, many customers could face difficulties in securing budgets for the procurement of zero-emission vehicles. This is especially important nowadays as the technology is still relatively new. Therefore that makes it more expensive in the deployment phase than is the case for combustion vehicles.

Once we manage to achieve a scale-effect with higher order volumes, the prices for individual customers will also start to be more and more affordable.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that as a supplier we also see a growing interest in electric vehicles from private transport operators who are not subject to government subsidies. Running on electricity is cheaper than diesel.

What is Solaris’s market share in the European electric bus market?

The market share for Solaris in 2018 was 17%. This put our company in 2nd place in Europe with the United Kingdom included. However, if we take just the European mainland into account, last year we ended up as the market leader.

As 2019 is still underway, we are unable to give an exact number. We did however secure over 20% of orders placed for electric buses this year in Europe.

One problem in Poland is that electric buses need power and this power still largely comes from (dirty) coal. When do you think this will change?

First of all this is a question that should be addressed to policy makers. But as far we can see, all of the political parties in Poland, including the leading party, are aware of the need for decarbonization of different branches of industry, including the energy sector.

The pace at which this will be introduced is, however, very hard to estimate. As the country’s leading manufacturer of an ecological means of public transport, we strongly support any activities geared towards the transition to reusable sources of energy and making our energy sector more efficient and sustainable.

Poland is slowly saying goodbye to its reputation as the dirty man of Europe

This is the first part of a series about the measures that Poland is taking against environmental pollution and global warming. Tomorrow, part two will be devoted to the transition to electric buses in public transport.

The sight of the Belchatów brown coal power station is both forbidding and impressive. A huge hole several tens of meters deep and kilometers wide stretches out in front of the power station. The plant spits out thick clouds of smoke day and night. Everything in the hole is dead. Except for the gigantic trucks that are constantly driving back and forth between the quarry and the power station. The area around Belchatów is regularly shrouded in mist and the smell around the power station intensifies in winter thanks to the numerous households in the area that are still kept warm with old-fashioned multi-burners.

It should come as no surprise that the power station in Belchatów was regularly criticized at the climate summit in Katowice last year. Belchatów is the world’s largest brown coal power station. And it is the greatest, single emitter of carbon dioxide in the EU, with more than 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year. It is also one of the reasons why Poland is often called the dirty man of Europe.

The fact that Poland depends on coal and brown coal for almost 80% of its electricity is a thorn in the side of Brussels. Even worse, it is felt that Warsaw is also not prepared to abandon its dependence on coal. The furthest Poland has been willing to go so far, is to reduce its dependence on coal by roughly 50% by 2040. The government deems anything more than that to be too expensive. Poland therefore has declined to sign the EU protocol on the supply of CO2-neutral energy by 2050. Just as the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary are also refusing.

The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland

This intractable attitude towards Brussels could give the impression that nothing at all is happening in Poland with regard to improving the environment. But that is not true. In a series devoted to environmental and climate measures, Innovation Origins will show that Poland is even ahead of the rest of Europe in some respects.

Read also: Coal Curtain replaces the Iron Curtain

For a start, the figures reveal that we, as The Netherlands, ought to be cautious in our criticism. Because of its high energy consumption per capita, The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland does. In 2017, Poland accounted for 319 million tonnes and the Netherlands for 175 million tonnes. In per capita terms, that amounted to 8.4 tonnes of CO2 per Polish person and more than 10 tonnes for one Dutch person. So the situation in Poland is not that dire after all.

When multi-burners are used during winter, nitrogen oxide emissions rise in Polish villages and towns, particularly in the south. Photo Maurits Kuypers

Also, the right-wing populist government PiS party seems to be realizing that doing nothing about climate policy is no longer an option either. For example, the government recently announced that with Michal Kurtyka, a special minister for climate issues has been appointed. While the conservative pro-coal minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski has since vanished from the cabinet.

And last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Parliament: “Conventional energy sources will remain important for our energy system for a long time to come, but the situation is changing. There was a time when we couldn’t afford to invest in renewable energy sources. But now we can’t afford not to invest in them.”

Societal change

But the most important thing is that Polish society is changing. Nature and environmental policies are becoming increasingly important. The most noticeable change over the last few years was the increase in the number of protests against the extremely high levels of fine particles (smog) during winter months.

Last year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimated that 44,000 people in Poland die prematurely from poor air quality every year. Living in Warsaw for a year would be equivalent to smoking 1000 cigarettes. No wonder that the purchase of air masks was one of the biggest sales successes last year.

The response to this criticism is still a little slow at government level. The scheme to replace old multi-burners in houses with new ones is going rather sluggishly. Even though on paper as much as €25 billion has been made available for it.

Smog cities take steps towards banning multi-burners

The situation is different in municipalities and towns. In Krakow (long known as smog city number 1) multi-burners that emit too many fine particles and nitrogen oxide were banned this year. Other cities are also taking steps in this direction. Most experts therefore expect that the problem with the old polluting multi-burners – by far the most important cause of fine particles – should be solved in the not too distant future.

Another reason for optimism about air quality is the rapid deployment of electric buses. According to Solaris Bus & Coach (a local manufacturer of buses and trams from Bolechowo, a suburb in Poznan), there are already 16 cities with battery-operated buses. This is a win-win situation for Poland, as most of the E-buses come from their home country. In addition to Solaris, electric buses are also being manufactured in Poland by Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus.

The Solaris factory, Photo Maurits Kuypers

Companies for a cleaner environment

Companies aren’t just standing still either. Press agency Reuters reported this month that 20 major companies have signed up to the EU targets for CO2 neutrality by 2050. In defiance of the Warsaw government. Among them are the PKN Orlen refinery and PKO Bank Polski, both state-owned. The Polish subsidiary of the ING Bank has also signed. As have subsidiaries of the French company Orange (telecom) and the German company Innogy (chemistry).

“Of course, we will not achieve the goal of climate neutrality overnight. However, it is important that we take immediate action,” says the Charter of the 20 companies. Deputy Director of ING Bank Śląski Joanna Erdman told Reuters that signing this document is a very natural step for the bank. ING was also one of the first lenders who refused to continue financing new coal projects.

Erdman: “At the moment, the discussion in Poland revolves around whether we ought to endorse the CO2 targets. When it should actually be about how we want to achieve that.”

As I said, this message from companies is slowly but surely beginning to resonate with the government in Warsaw. For instance, after parliamentary elections in October, the energy plan for 2040 has been partially amended in favor of the environment. For one thing, according to the old plans, all onshore windmills were supposed to disappear. That’s because they were considered too unsightly. Now the aim is to keep capacity at about the same level.

Onshore windmills are not very popular in Poland. Photo Expresselblag/Pixabay

Gigawatts on the rise

Warsaw wants to make a decisive leap forward as far as solar energy is concerned. This year, the 1 gigawatt threshold will be exceeded for the first time. A further 15 gigawatts will be needed over the coming 20 years. The VAT on solar panels has been reduced. And an incentive fund of € 235 million has been set up for private individuals as well.

The government foresees slightly slower development when it comes to offshore wind energy. Poland prefers to wait until this technology becomes cheaper before investing heavily in it. Expectations are that this will happen after 2025.

Lastly, Prime Minister Morawiecki sees an important role for “clean” nuclear energy as an alternative to coal. Poland is one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that does not yet have a nuclear power station. That will nevertheless have to change by 2033. Warsaw states that nuclear reactors are an important alternative to coal-fired power stations. This is because they are ‘adaptable’. Which basically means that they can be cranked up at night when the wind isn’t blowing. Or in winter when there is hardly any sun. That will ensure that there is never a shortage of electricity.

Independence from Russia

There is something that plays a role in the background to all these plans for 2040. And that’s the desire to become independent of energy from arch enemy Russia as soon as possible. Alongside nuclear energy, the import of liquid natural gas (LNG) serves as an alternative to Russian coal and gas.

The electricity plan for 2020 and 2040 currently looks like this:

The electricity plan for 2020 and 204020202040
Brown coal8,6 gigawatt3,4 gigawatt
Coal15,6 gigawatt7,6 gigawatt
Gas and cogeneration2,4 gigawatt12,4 gigawatt
Onshore windmills9,5 gigawatt9,8 gigawatt
Offshore windmills08 gigawatt
Solar panels1,3 gigawatt16 gigawatt
Nuclear energy04 gigawatt

 

European Commissioner Timmermans wants CO2 tax at the EU’s outer border

CO2 uitstoot schoorstenen

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.

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans announces the CO2 border tax in the European Parliament Image: still live streaming

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.”

Also read: Former Secretary of State of the United States: Quadruple the CO2 price and let the polluter pay

Empty gas fields

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.”

Also read: Aviation industry to European Commission: ‘money is needed to develop zero-emission aircraft’

National Parliaments

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.”

Euro-parliamentarian Anna Zalewska, from the Conservatives and Reformists faction, says that Poland does not have enough money to abandon coal.

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.”

Also read: BMW Director: ‘Make recharging electric cars as easy as recharging smartphones’

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.”

Start-up of the day: nanotechnology will help treat intestinal diseases

Illustratie Sovigo

250,000 Europeans suffer from Crohn’s disease. More than 700,000 patients are in the United States. There are also thousands more in Japan, Australia and Canada. In total, several million people worldwide live with the diagnosis of “chronic inflammation of the intestines.” And with its unpleasant symptoms, of which frequent diarrhea is one of the least problematic. The richer a country is and the more northward it is, the more likely it is that its inhabitants suffer from this disease.

Sovigo is a company that aims to alleviate these medical issues with a precise method for targeting disease. It was founded by two biotechnologists: Paweł Mituła and Grzegorz Kiełbowicz. Previously, Paweł used to work in projects within the field of nanotechnology for chemical companies. Grzegorz worked for the pharmaceutical industry. They have now joined forces and want to apply nanotechnology to pharmacy. For their first area of focus, they chose diseases of the digestive system and started out with non-specific diseases of the intestines.

Paweł Mituła, COO

You want to help people suffering from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, except you are not inventing a new cure. What exactly are you doing?

Paweł Mituła, COO: We are working on a new technology for administering medicines via nanotechnology. We are making nanocapsules which are about 100 nanometers in size. These can be filled with medicinal substances as they’re already available on the market. These nanocapsules become part of the tablet that the patient swallows … and the tablet then makes its way to the stomach where it is digested. So how does a nanoparticle tablet differ from a regular tablet? In the stomach, the tablets are protected with a special coating. Nanoparticles are released from the tablet during the later stages of the digestive process. They subsequently dissolve and gradually release the drug only in the places where the disease is also prevalent. Of course, in order to develop these types of nanoparticles, we need to be very familiar with the disease and understand its specific characteristics.

Why such a solution? Why not keep to the traditional way of administering medicine?

Drugs very often have a lot of side effects. When a patient swallows a regular tablet, only part of the medicine goes to the right place where the disease is. The rest gets spread throughout the body and frequently affects healthy organs. In cases like these, it is often necessary to increase the dose of the drug, e.g. by frequent repetition of the dose. In the end, that means that the total dosage of the drug might be very high. As we can precisely administer drugs that are enclosed in our capsules directly to the area where the disease is, we are able to protect the patient against several negative consequences. We can avoid drug penetration of healthy tissue and reduce the drug dose and its side effects. As well as further improve therapeutic effectiveness by reducing the occurrence of drug resistance. The structure of our nanocapsules consists mainly of bio-compatible molecules which facilitate penetration into cell membranes. Therefore, the effectiveness of the drug is increased via this kind of administration. Moreover, the medication is able to be taken less frequently. The capsule is glued to the medication as if it were “adhesive tape.” This helps the capsule to move very slowly through the affected area and gradually releases the drug as it does so. Thanks to our technology, drugs are already available on the market which can be administered more effectively and avoid any unnecessary side effects.

What is the biggest obstacle for you?

Availability of research equipment. We operate in an extremely narrow field and need very specific equipment. Like, for example, nanostructure analysis devices – microscopes that allow you to see how our nanocapsules are built. Wroclaw, where we have our headquarters, is very well equipped with this kind of apparatus. Yet it is not just in one place, but scattered around various institutions. Therefore, it takes us a long time to carry out research as we are forced to drive all over the place in order to do it.

Are you a fledgling company or can you already talk about some successes?

We have some excellent research results. We have managed to successfully scale up a few prototype ideas. Which is a major challenge when it comes to nanomaterials. I think that if we did our research at a university and published it, we would already have made it into some very good scientific journals by now. The idea itself has stirred up a lot of interest among both doctors and patients in the pharmaceutical industry. The fact that the subject matter is not that easy and yet we have still managed to solve new problems step by step – well that really motivates us. I think that the turning point and a decisive success will be the validation of our critical analytical method and processes for the pharmaceutical industry. Along with any successful initial results from our biological research.

What are your plans for the coming year?

By the end of this year we want to finish the proof-of-concept phase. I’m talking about biological research, which should prove the effectiveness of our technology using biological systems. We would also like to submit a patent application. Only after that will we look for a strategic investor.

Where do you imagine the company in 5 years?

We want Sovigo to become a synonym for modern and groundbreaking oral drug administration systems. In 5 years time, we hope that we will develop 4-6 projects in parallel with each other. Followed up by at least one commercial launch and hopefully several other projects will be in the clinical trial phase. We also want to develop our technologies in the area of nano-pharmacovigilance production lines.

Former Secretary of State of the United States: Quadruple the CO2 price and let the polluter pay

The best way to reduce CO2 emissions is to make the polluting industries pay at least four times as much for the quantity of these emissions as they do now. So says Steven Chu, the former Secretary of State for Energy of the United States, Nobel Prize winner and physicist.

The price for CO2 emissions is currently around 20 euros per ton. Far too low, says Chu. According to him, this should be at least 80 euros. Otherwise, there is no financial incentive for reducing CO2 emissions. It is also not attractive for companies to collect CO2, nor for processing companies to make a product out of it or to store it.

Innovative start-ups

Chu made his views known during The Business Booster, the annual conference of the European investor InnoEnergy that was held in Paris last week. It focuses on innovative start-ups in the energy sector.

Former Secretary of State for Energy of the U.S. Government, Steven Chu, recommends a higher price for CO2 emissions Photo: Lucette Mascini

The former State Secretary for Energy in the Obama administration responded to the question posed by one of the participants in the congress, namely Robert Rosa from Climeworks. This is a company that is currently extracting CO2 from outdoor air and resells it to fruit and vegetable growers for their greenhouses. They also are storing CO2 in the ground in Iceland. In combination with the subsoil of basalt there, it then crystallizes and within a few years it turns into a type of white rock.

Get CO2 out of the air now

Rosa wanted to hear from Chu if it wasn’t better to focus on a technology that is already able to extract CO2 directly from air. As opposed to waiting until there is a technology that can be manufactured without CO2 emissions. After all, as long as this technology does not exist, large-scale industrial CO2 emissions will simply persist. The climate is suffering as a result, while you could help alleviate it right now. That’s a better strategy in his view.

Chu, (who told us himself that he is on the board of Inventys, a company that captures and recycles CO2), says that the current CO2 price is still far too low at the moment to be able to successfully steer in that direction. “As long as the world doesn’t raise the CO2 price, we’re stuck,” Chu says.

As much as 100 euros per ton

As much as 100 euros per ton is needed to be able to transform CO2 from outdoor air into rock in a cost-effective way, according to him.

In order to raise that price, the various trading bodies in the world have to make agreements about the costs of CO2 emissions, Chu says. “My dream is that the EU and China will sit down together at the negotiating table and make agreements about this. The best thing to do is to raise the price of CO2 from 20 to around 80 euros per ton over a period of 10 to 15 years. This will allow industry enough time to prepare for this.”

‘Dream of CO2 agreements between the EU and China’

This means that the industry will have to adapt its manufacturing processes and emit less CO2. Or else anticipate a higher price per product because of the extra tax that is charged for CO2 emissions. Chu’ s idea is to estimate the amount of energy used for the production of goods at the borders where they enter the country. The extra tax based on this estimate must be reinvested into the community.

Polish invention combats UV-radiation

The record heat in Europe has also being enjoyed by scientists from Łódź (Poland). Among their own inventions are materials that protect against UV radiation. We usually remember about UV radiation when the sun is out and shining brightly. Then we smear ourselves in sunscreen and cover our bodies with clothes in the hope that we will be kept safe from the sun. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creams and ordinary clothes protect only to a small extent. 95% of UVA radiation from the sun reaches the Earth regardless of the season or cloud cover. It easily penetrates through clothing (even thick clothing), skin and reaches the deep layers of our skin.

The list of damage it causes there is long. UV radiation causes photosensitization. It accelerates skin aging. It causes changes in DNA as well as cancers, e.g. melanoma. And not just that – says Prof. Jadwiga Sójka-Ledakowicz from the ŁUKASIEWICZ – Textile Institute in Łódź. Ultraviolet radiation is equally as harmful to all kinds of objects. Under its influence, paper deteriorates in museums and archives, paint fades in paintings, parchment crumbles.

Almost 100% protection

What if instead of a cotton shirt, you could wear a T-shirt that absorbs that radiation? How about installing roller blinds in an art gallery which are made of fabric that reflect harmful UV rays? It is possible. These kinds of materials were developed at the Institute of Textiles. Fabrics produced by local scientists protect against UVA, UVB, UVC, and their UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) ratio is greater than 40 as well. This means they block almost 100% of ultraviolet radiation.

To be more precise, scientists from the Institute in cooperation with researchers from several other Polish scientific institutions, created two types of innovative absorbers, i.e. special chemical substances that absorb and reflect ultraviolet radiation. They then integrated these into the structure of textile materials.

The first type is organic absorbers which are based on triazine. These are in the form of colorless dyes, which, when added to the color bath process of the fabric, are absorbed by the material’s structure and give it UV-absorbing properties. They can be used with cellulose-based materials such as cotton, viscose, flax or blends with cellulose-based fibers. “It’s not just about clothing absorbing UV radiation. A person in this type of clothing must feel comfortable, should not sweat, the fabric must have enough breathability and include the necessary parameters for releasing water vapor as well as for retaining color when exposed to various wet and dry conditions,” says Prof. Jadwiga Sójka-Ledakowicz. The second type of absorbers are inorganic absorbers. These are based on micro- and nanoparticles of metal oxides (titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and copper oxide) and oxide composites with silica. They are introduced onto the surface of the material either by coating it with a special paste or by aqueous dispersion containing micronized particles from a modifier. The fabric protected this way consequently reflects UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. In addition, nanoparticles inhibit the growth of microorganisms. This type of material may be used to produce roller blinds, awnings, umbrellas, garden furniture or other objects that are meant to protect against UV rays.

Banknotes under UV-lamps

Scientists from Łódź developed the materials as part of a larger scientific project called ‘Envirotex.’ At the same time, a clothing line was created for people who spend a lot of time in the sun, e.g. farmers, builders or sports referees, as well as for people working with bactericidal lamps or who check the authenticity of banknotes. For example, protective gloves for people who check banknotes’ authenticity under UV lamps, protective T-shirts for the teams renovating tram tracks in Łódź, and roller blinds which protected the exhibits at the Academy of Fine Arts. The Institute received patent protection for its absorbers and their manufacturing technologies.

IW has already been granted several licenses for the technologies it has invented.  I hope that products made of our materials will soon be appearing on the market. We do laugh about how climate change – global warming – does raise the interest in these type of materials, Prof. Sójka-Ledakowicz says.

 

Start-up of the day: Cleaning products made from acorns

Herbi Clean has already got the local environment on its side. The Polish start-up is located in Bialystok, near the border with Belarus and the Białowieża National Park with one of the few and oldest low-altitude forests in Europe. The perfect spot for a manufacturer of cleaning products which are made from what is out there in the environment.

CEO Przemyslaw Kolak explains that the idea for Herbi Clean arose more than two years ago. It was a cleaning product with an extract from acorns as its main ingredient.

How did you come up with the idea of using acorns for cleaning products?

“”The whole idea behind our company is to make products based on plant matter. The reason for this is that we are convinced that plants contain many valuable ingredients that have not yet been sufficiently utilized.”

When scientist and entrepreneur Miroslaw Angielczyk (owner of the company Dary Natury) told us a few years ago about a new study on oak trees, we decided to take a closer look. It turned out that acorns contain a certain substance that has a strong antibacterial effect similar to that of antibiotics. That was the reason for us to come up with a new line of cleaning products.

What specifically is the secret inside an acorn?

That’s in the 7% tannin contained in an acorn. Many people will be familiar with tannins in wine and tea, for example. It is a collective name for a chemical substance that can vary from one plant to another.

Plants developed tannins during their evolution as a substance to protect themselves against herbivores. Humans can use them to protect themselves against bacteria, viruses and so-called free radicals (atoms with only one neutron). Tannins bind to toxins produced by bacteria. Moreover, the bacteria are no longer able to reproduce.

From left to right sales manager Edyta Banasik, CEO Przemyslaw Kolak and co-founder Dagmara Rut.

How does your company differentiate itself from other companies?

Unlike most other manufacturers of detergents and cosmetics, we focus on plant products based entirely on scientific research. Nature is home to enormous forces. Yet it takes expertise to exploit that potential and to make the most of it. Not all plants and herbs are good for us and not everything that is natural is safe. The priority for us lies with knowledge that originates on the one hand from traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation, and on the other hand that comes from science.

What were the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome?

The biggest problem for any start-up is finding funding. We have made a first step here with a financial injection from Meta Zernike Ventures and the National Capital Fund, but the greatest challenges are still ahead of us because we want to move up on to a global scale and we need more money to do be able to do that.

We are now in discussions with various investors about the next investment round. But unfortunately we’re not from the IT industry, so that’s not such a simple process.

The hardest thing about a start-up is the fact that I have a family with children. I am a scientist and an experienced manager. And yet I get up every morning with the feeling: ” is what I am so committed to all really worth it?” But fortunately that’s just a fleeting moment. Then after that I realize once more just how great it is to develop products that are able to change and improve people’s lives.

What was or were your most rewarding moment(s)?

I hear on a regular basis that our customers recommend our products to others. These are moments that I and the team I work with are really proud of.

How do you see the way forward for Herbi Clean?

At the moment we have 6 products based on an extract of oak. In the coming weeks, we will be bringing more products onto the market, including a toilet refresher and a detergent. So far, these have only been destined for the Polish market, yet we are ready for expansion abroad. The product is universal, so we believe it could just as easily be sold in Europe, Asia and America.

We also started researching and developing products based on other plants with properties that are as unique as acorns are. We want to mix the extracts from these plants in order to obtain even more powerful antibacterial results, but also, for example, as a bleaching agent or to counter unpleasant odours.

During the next phase we also want to develop products for industrial use in addition to products for the home. We see great business potential there, because a lot of chemicals are currently being used there and hardly ever any plant-based products. We are convinced that, with the right financial support, we will be able to become a well-known international company within a few years.

Are you interested in start-ups? An overview of all our articles on this start-ups can be found here.

 

Start-up of the day: Forget Siri and Alexa. Now meet Edward, a portable AI sales assistant.

Edward is the “child” of Tomasz Wesołowski and Bartłomiej Rozkruta. Previously, they both ran their own software development business and produced software on commission. Then they noticed that clients did not want complicated programs and difficult interfaces. Ideally, they should simply be able to talk to a computer. That is why Tomasz and Bartek are working on a solution in their latest company: ” This AI works fast, is pleasant and easy to use, and underneath they have algorithms that automate some of the most common tasks”.

Who is Edward?

Tomasz Wesołowski, CEO and co-founder Edward AI: Edward is a portable smart sales assistant. This is a mobile phone application, which during the day tells the retailer what to do next and also does some of the typical things for them which no salesman likes to do. Such as filling in data, filing reports, making notes, keeping an eye on the contact with the client. For example, after a meeting with a client, Edward will ask for a memo to be dictated to it, then record it in text form and extract key information from it.

What’s the matter with Edward?

People have less and less time to use traditional computers, and retailers are particularly affected. They are constantly on the road, at meetings with clients. Plenty of things are going on around them, so they may easily forget about something. The last thing they want to do at the end of the day is to open up their computer and type in all the things that happened. That’s why we make life easier for them with Edward. Our assistant tells them what to do, some of the things it does for them. Therefore, at the end of the day, the retailer will automatically have more time for their customers and for themselves.

Edward_screeny_en

What are you better at than the competition?

We operate in a narrow market segment. Around the world, we have identified around 10 other smart sales assistants. What distinguishes us is that we are not dependent on one language. At this point, Edward “speaks” Polish and English, but we could easily have it be translated into other languages.

And furthermore, Edward is flexible. This is not a program that works the same way within every organization. Yet we can quickly personalize it depending on the specific requirements of any given company. For example, in some companies there is a requirement that after each conversation with a customer, the retailer should mark the categories of products they have discussed and make a note. Edward does that. In other companies, there may be no requirement to submit reports after each conversation, but salespeople may have to focus on meetings and fill in a special questionnaire during meetings. Then, for example, the questionnaire can be filled in by dictating it to Edward.

What are the biggest obstacles you are facing?

Educating the marketplace remains the biggest obstacle. Creating an innovative solution must also create a market for it. Therefore, our work with customers often consists of having to explain to the customer what artificial intelligence in sales means, what are its possibilities, what value it will bring for them, why they should be interested in it at all. It’s like working at the core of a client’s needs. For us, this is the biggest barrier, because before it gets to the point of sale, we have to work very hard on educating people.

When did you feel proud of your achievements?

The feedback that we receive from our customers tells us that what we do makes sense. From time to time, Edward asks its users how they like working with it. That is why we know that more and more customers see value in this product. We’re very happy about that.

What are your plans for this year?

First of all, we want to increase the number of customers. For the time being, we focus mainly on the Polish and Indian markets. Maybe we’ll go into Britain. We are talking to a prospective representative right at this moment.

There is a lot of interest in Edward, especially among large clients such as banks and insurance companies. We are here to serve them.

What is your goal in the next five years?

We want our platform to become the standard when it comes to retailer’s work. We want to have a strong presence in Poland, because it is our main market, and to be present in markets such as Australia, Great Britain and the United States.

 

 

How can Poland increase the number of women in science?

How can we increase the number of women in science? Don’t just create programs for women. These conclusions have been drawn from the experiences of the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP).

The FNP is one of the most important and prestigious organizations who finance scientific research in Poland. Its motto is “support the best so that they can become even better”.

When a researcher in Poland becomes an FNP laureate, they may hear the words “wow!” from their admiring colleagues. The FNP runs programs for researchers during various stages of their careers and has been supporting women scientists for nearly ten years. Justyna Motrenko, who was responsible for providing support for pregnant women scientists in previous years and is now the head of the panel for awards and scholarships, tells us how the approach to women’s issues has been evolving.

Professor in physical chemistry Robert Holyst

Why does the Foundation for Polish Science support women scientists?

Justyna Motrenko, FNP: Because women are dropping out of science. In Poland we have a comparable number of doctoral students – both women and men. Typically, however, men continue on with their scientific careers after they have defended their doctorate. Whereas women more often tend to abandon theirs. Or their professional development slows down in contrast to their male peers. This happens typically at around the age of 30, i.e. when people decide to start a family and children start arriving. This affects the careers of women more than it affects men. As a foundation, we strive to make sure that science in Poland is the best that it can be. Consequently, we take steps to ensure that when people leave science, that this is not due to non-substantive reasons and that women, who are great scientists, do not have to quit their science jobs.

Since when has the foundation had these schemes for women?

We started 10 years ago, when the ‘Pomoście’( Bridge) scheme was launched. Although I would like to point out that from the very beginning these are not exclusively schemes for women.

There were two factors to the ‘Bridge scheme’. The first one consisted of programs for women – for scientists who were pregnant and whose scientific work involved hazardous conditions. Women were offered ways to hire stand-ins for dangerous technical work, and they were free to continue their analytical or conceptual work. It seemed to us that by doing so, they would not be held back in their scientific work.

The second factor was the so-called ‘return schemes’ for parents, women and men who want to rejoin the workforce and return to their scientific work after a break due to pregnancy or child raising.

Magdalena Niemira, researcher Medical University of Bialystok Białystok

Did it pan out that way? Was there any interest in such support? The “Bridge” is no longer being implemented.

Actually, interest was huge. We had over 700 return scheme applications during 8 recruitment drives conducted over 4 years. Over 100 women and 1 man benefited from these. 63 women received support during their pregnancies. As it turned out, the schemes for pregnant women did not fully translate into scientific work, because maternity and parental leave then followed.

On the other hand, as far as the return scheme was concerned, the format turned out to be too restrictive. That is why we have extended the conditions and now we are running the ‘return’ scheme for young doctors who want to get back to research work after a break which was perhaps related to parenthood or to employment outside of school.

It is more the case that our programs are evolving. We have seen that situations in the different fields of science are wide-ranging. Personal situations of scientists are diverse, and the reason for the break is not particularly important. The important thing is that the scientist wants to return to their scientific work after their break.

That said, science is very meritocratic. What matters are measurable achievements. There is a danger that the special scheme for young mothers will be considered less competitive than the other general grant programs. Therefore, we are moving towards taking into account the needs of women and young parents in our other programs. We would like this to be a universal principle. For example, in the ‘Start’ scholarship program for young scientists, we have announced an increase in the age limit up to the age of 30 for those candidates who have taken maternity or parental leave.

Schemes that allow people to return to work after maternity leave are just one aspect. The second is the creation of tools that support women’s careers in science. Including assistance for those who govern universities and who strive for equal representation of women and men in managerial positions yet who have problems finding candidates with suitable competencies.

Dr Katarzyna Matczyszyn, Associate Professor, Advanced Materials Engineering and Modelling Group, Faculty of Chemistry, Wroclaw University of Science and Technology,

Where should we look for them?

On Academia-net.org, for instance. This is a database only for women scientists. It distinguishes itself by the fact that it is impossible to subscribe to it by yourself. You have to be nominated by one of the grant institutions operating across Europe.

We are a partner of the portal. We nominate women, including the successful applicants of our programs, and we use the portal to look for assessors and experts, among others.

What are the Foundation’s conclusions after 10 years of supporting female scientists?

I see two important factors. Firstly, that we need help for young parents – scientists – and support for childcare. Secondly, it is important that the work climate should be favorable to those who return to scientific work. That breaks should not be considered odd, and that the scientist should be able to return and have time for a recap and a run-through. I know that it is difficult to influence something such as the work climate, but the more people talk about this, the better. People who have experience outside of science are valuable because they bring new perspectives and ideas. Perhaps then gender equality in science will finally be discernable at the next career stage in the statistics.

Wireless digital stethoscopes for parents of flu-stricken babies on the market this year

This year, the Polish start-up StethoMe is launching a wireless, digital stethoscope that consumers can use at home in order to listen to their lungs and heart. The company has been sponsored with 1.5 million euros from European innovation funding.

The major advantage that this wireless home stethoscope has, is that it digitally registers a patient’s heart or lung sounds – and that this produces a much more accurate result than one that a physician is able to physically perceive themselves. Until now, doctors have had to use the classic stethoscope in their own ears in order to assess whether there it is pneumonia, for example, or just a bit of harmless sniveling.

Incorrect diagnoses

Things can go wrong sometimes. According to the Polish inventors, doctors’ diagnoses vary based on the old, tried and trusted method. It also appears that a large proportion of these diagnoses are not accurate. Research has shown that doctors make a lot of mistakes, especially when diagnosing small children. This drove the founders of StethoMe, (who are not doctors themselves but parents of young children who were confronted with this problem just like other parents are), to come up with a more accurate diagnostic tool. As soon as the wireless, digital stethoscope is launched on the market, they will have succeeded in doing so.

No need to waste anymore time at the First Aid Clinic

Another big advantage of the StethoMe is that consumers themselves are able to use the digital stethoscope at home, which means that they do not have to go to the hospital. This will likely be a huge relief, especially to parents of babies and toddlers who often suffer from major and minor colds that can sometimes lead to respiratory problems or pneumonia. That means that they no longer have to go to the first aid clinic with their offspring every once in a while, but will be able to take a first reading at home and send it on to a doctor. For hospitals, the introduction of the home stethoscope means fewer nonessential patient visits and therefore fewer unnecessarily crowded waiting rooms. To give an indication: according to information from StethoMe, about 70 percent of parents in the US go to hospital with a child who has a cold, when afterwards it turned out that these visits were not warranted.

Graphic: StethoMe

StethoMe’s home stethoscope looks like a curved disc that you can place on your child’s chest or back. It then records the sounds of the heart and lungs. The device uses software to transfer the data generated by the recorded sounds to an app which can be installed on a mobile phone and which guides the home stethoscope user through the recording process.

Algorithm analyzes lung and heart sounds

Doctors who are planning to use the application will be able to receive the data readings immediately and, using an algorithm, will be able to see on their computer whether a patient is at risk or whether they are responding well to a medicine that they have prescribed.

StethoMe StethoMe has already won several awards for this innovation, which has recently been granted European certification and for which a patent has been applied for.

Also of interest: Start-up of the Day: device checks the health of a fetus anytime, anywhere.

Start-up of the day: Freezeye finds eye diseases

In Toruń (Poland), scientists hope to provide doctors with a tool for fast diagnosis of human diseases. That is why they are building a device to “freeze” the image of eyes.

– The eye is a unique organ. It is the only place in the whole human body where there is direct and non-invasive access to blood vessels through the retina. Therefore, the eye can be a good place for early and non-invasive diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis and hypertension -explains Dr Anna Szkulmowska, She is CEO and co-founder of AM2M company (http://am2m.com.pl), a spin-off from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Not only that, there is also scientific evidence that we can see the beginnings of neurodegenerative diseases by observing the movements of the eye, she adds.

However, in order for this diagnosis to become an everyday reality in hospitals, doctors must have access to high quality images of this organ. Then, just as an orthopedist assesses a broken leg with an X-Ray, a cardiologist could assess whether patient A would soon have a heart attack, and a neurologist would see if patient B was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Anna Szkulmowska wants to provide a tool for creating these images. Together with her staff and physicists from the Nicolaus Copernicus University, she is working on FreezEye Tracker, an ultra-fast biomedical imaging stabilization system.

Frozen retina

Eye trackers have been in use for nearly a century. Most often it is a type of camera or other sensor which observes the position of the pupil or cornea, i.e. the most external parts of the eye. They are used by specialists in many fields, from marketing specialists, to assess whether the audience liked the new advertisement, to neurologists, in order to communicate with patients with severely paralyzed patients.

FreezEye Tracker’s got another job to do. First, it will observe the retina, which is the deepest part of the eyeball. Secondly, the device is supposed to be a solution to the main problem faced by all those who deal with visual imaging. This concerns the poor quality of images caused by natural eye movements. These subtle movements, which the eye makes all the time and which we are not even aware of, cause images made by optical devices to be ragged with errors. Which makes it difficult to make a diagnosis.

– “During our last project, we wondered what would happen if we were to “freeze” the eye for a while, so that the physiological movements would not interfere with the registration of the photo. Hence the idea for FreezEye, because the device ‘freezes’ the image,” says Dr. Szkulmowska.

The scientists from Toruń achieved the effect of “freezing” by combining two methods of imaging. First, FreezEye determines the trajectory of the eye movement. To do this, it captures 1200 retinal images in one second. For comparison, similar devices available on the market for eye examination produce 20-30 images per second. FreezEye Tracker alsoproduces a lot of images but they are also very small. They’re just fragments.

– “The biggest challenge was determining how much smaller and poorer quality these images could be, so that they would still be suitable for further calculations of the movements” – adds Dr. Szkulmowska.

Then the movement data generated from the small images are factored into the algorithm for the development of a large image. The final result is a “frozen” retinal image, i.e. a large, high quality image that is suitable for diagnostics, which takes the eye movements into account.

Diseases seen in the eyes

Image stabilization is so high that even single blood vessels can be seen. Therefore, the scientists hope that is just another step forward in the ability to detect diseases at a very early stage, when they are just beginning to develop.

“-When doctors are able to examine one specific vessel in the retina and return to the same spot after some time, it will be possible to observe very small changes, e.g. changes in elasticity, changes in wall thickness. This could be a clue that something is wrong with the patient,” explains the scientist.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease can also be detected from the very outset. According to some hypotheses, the eye is a kind of brain drain. When the myelin sheaths in the brain start to deteriorate, the eye may start to move differently. The physicists from Toruń hope that FreezEye Tracker will help to observe these characteristics of eye movements. – Then it will be possible to classify that if the trajectory of motion is such and such, the patient is healthy. If the trajectory changes, it means that there is a neurodegenerative disease starting in the patient,” says Dr. Szkulmowska.

Next year, real time

FreezEye Tracker is still under development, but the scientists have succeeded in the most important thing for them. – We showed that our idea was the right one: the device works, we already take photographs with it,” says the physicist.

For the time being, you have to wait a little while for the retinal images, because the device does not work in real time yet. Toruń’s scientists must first do more reseaarch, and the finished image is developed in post-production. There is also some other technological work to do, but that’s all set to end next year.

– We assume that by the end of 2020, the device will work in real time. On the basis of preliminary analyses of data from patients, even if only from healthy people, we will know or at least suspect what properties of the blood vessel we intend to observe – says Dr. Szkulmowska.

And then?

– “I imagine that we ought to manufacture a number of these devices and place them in several good clinics in order to collect as much data as possible. What parameters of the image should be combined with the medical conditions, and determine in practical terms which application will be the most useful,” – says Dr. Szkulmowska.

But that’s a job for the doctors.

 

 Need more inspiration? Check all our start-ups of the day!

Start-up of the day: intelligent lighting for greenhouses

Greenhouse owners get double the benefit if they use our lighting systems. Firstly, they pay less for electricity. Secondly, they get higher yields. This is according to the founders of the Plantalux start-up.

Plantalux is a family start-up. Originally, father (Jacek Lachowski) and two sons (Jakub and Rafał) had been working with LED lamps. By chance, they found out about a competition for crop lighting that was set up by one of the agricultural institutes. They built a lamp in their grandfather’s garage and sent it to the institute. After six months, they heard the news: they had won first place. Under their lamps, the plants grew the most, and energy consumption was the lowest as well. The family followed up on that win and founded Plantalux. Today, this Polish start-up lights up greenhouses across hundreds of hectares in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Macedonia, Israel and Canada.

Jakub Lachowski, CEO and co-founder of Plantalux

What is your product?

Jakub Lachowski, CEO and co-founder: Plantalux is an intelligent lighting control system for greenhouses which uses LED lamps from our production line. These lamps emit the exact amount of lighting required for each crop. The thing is, each plant has its own particular characteristics. If we provide it with light just from within the spectrum it needs, we can maximize its growth with minimal energy consumption. Take tomatoes and herbs, for example. Tomatoes are plants that climb upwards. For this type of plant, we use infrared lamps with a very low ratio of blue to red. We also simulate sunrises and sunsets. We get the plants to grow at a lower height and get more tomatoes and less green matter this way. In turn, when growing herbs, we provide a brighter light with a greater proportion of blue. Then we achieve faster growth and more green matter, because this is what breeders want.

What kind of problem do you solve?

We make more money for our clients. High pressure sodium lamps (HPS) are typically used in greenhouses. Their main disadvantage is that they consume a lot of energy. On average, 1000 watts are installed per hectare of greenhouse, and the annual cost of lighting such a 1-hectare greenhouse is about 2.5 million PLN (about 600 000 euros). We are cutting costs by up to three times with our LED lamps! There is also the advantage that with LED lighting, we are able to accelerate photosynthesis and production. Not only do we reduce the bill, but we also increase the yield.

How does your product differ from the competition?

Most manufacturers work with Osram or Philips LEDs. We have our own diodes, and our lamps have a longer life. We have also introduced a consultation service, i.e. we talk about how to grow plants with our lamps. A plant is a living organism and even a positive change can turn out to be either good or bad. In addition to the new light source, you also need to know what temperature amplitude to set, how much CO2 to release, how to fertilize, what humidity should be used, how to ventilate.
The cherry on the cake is our latest lamp. It can be used independently for different crops, because its structure has different spectrums, which can be controlled in real time by the app.

What were the most difficult moments?

The beginning. We made the first lamp. We had confirmation from the university that it was working. We approached our first client with it, and she said: “I don’t believe in university. Which colleague of mine uses your product?”
We told her that it’s not on the market yet. “Oh, yeah. Well, come by if anyone I know uses it.” It’s the same with the other clients. And so, we bounded from door to door and everyone asked us the same thing: “Which friend of mine uses it?” Nobody wanted to be the first to buy it. It took us about six months, I guess. Finally, we showed up at the expo and we managed to win our first client; only then did we start making sales.

Which achievement are you particularly proud of?

Some time ago we came up with the idea of moving towards developing a lighting control software application. We launched this type of lamp with an app on the market. We traveled with it around the world for half a year. Then it turned out that one of the world’s leading companies also introduced a control system. I was really proud that a small company from Poland invented this product, and that top manufacturers are also going in this direction.

What are your plans for the coming year?

In July we are opening a company in the USA and expanding our presence in Canada – we have signed two contracts with distributors. We also want to have a stronger position within the Dutch market, and we are considering more countries in Europe.

This year we are also building our own experimental greenhouse. Now we’re going to go in three directions: not only are we going to produce equipment and make our own apps, but we’re also going to test them. Due to the fact that we are small, we can pivot relatively quickly and improve hardware, something which is very difficult for large corporations to do.

What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?

In 5 years, we want to be highly visible on the Canadian and American markets, because these markets are rapidly developing in terms of new technologies in agriculture. In Europe, on the other hand, we want to be seen as experts in the field of lighting.

Founders: Jakub Lachowski, Rafał Lachowski
● year founded: July 2016
● financial info: The start-up was set up with the support of EU grants. Two investment funds have invested in the company. Additionally, external investors have invested in the company.

How many employees? And are they hiring?
15 permanent employees. About 30 people work in the production season. They are looking for people for R&D and sales.
Ultimate goal in a few words:
To be a strong presence in the lighting market in Europe and North America.

Need some inspiration? All our Start-ups of the Day can be found here

Start-up of the Day: device checks the health of a fetus anytime, anywhere

“Taking care of a child is considered by everyone to be a basic necessity. We serve this need.” Says Patrycja Wizińska-Socha, the CEO and founder of the medical start-up Nestmedic. Patrycja Wizińska-Socha graduated in biotechnology from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology and completed her doctorate at the Wrocław Medical University. She wanted to work in telemedicine. When her friend lost her baby just before the due date, Patricia decided to create “Pregnabit” – a service which allows pregnant women to check the health of their fetus, anywhere, anytime.

What exactly is Pregnabit?

Patrycja Wizińska-Socha: This is a telemedical system for testing the welfare of babies. It is made up of a device, i.e. a portable cardiotocograph (CTG), a platform on which data from patients is transferred, and a telemonitoring centre where midwives and physicians continually analyze all test recordings. The patient carries out the CTG test on their own, at any time and place, and within a few minutes she receives feedback on the results.

Patrycja Wizińska-Socha, CEO of Nestmedic

In what way is your product better than rival devices?

Our solution provides professional medical equipment combined with medical service. We have gained all of the necessary certificates and we examine the same parameters as other good quality non-portable CTG equipment does; i.e. the heart rate and movements of the child, uterine muscle spasms as well as the mother’s heartbeat.

We distinguish ourselves by the fact that we do not just leave the patient with the results. These are immediately analyzed by the medical staff at the telemonitoring center. If everything is all right, the patient quickly receives a text message from us with that information. If there is an abnormality or if something is not clear, the telemonitoring center’s medical staff will immediately call them for a medical consultation and recommend appropriate steps. Sometimes we call an ambulance for a patient who is using the Pregnabit system, if they are in need of urgent medical support.

What motivates you to do this work?

We want to make people’s lives better. I am a realist and I know that every child cannot be saved. I also know that thanks to modern technologies, it is possible to help many of them. And that is very important. All those sleepless nights, broken weekends, no vacations -all this to save as many children as possible. After 5 years of work and the transition from an idea to commercial applicability, we are convinced that all these efforts have made sense – we really do save children’s lives.

What are the biggest obstacles for the company?

Funding. The launch was very difficult. For almost two years I had been looking for funding, grants and investors. I was a doctoral student at the time and the trust in me as a young person -without an academic title, without a permanent team -was limited. Even from institutions that grant grants to scientists. Eventually, we managed to find the first investor and the company was launched. However, raising funds for the rapid development of the company and for foreign expansion, still plays a very important role.
The expectations of financial investors in Poland are very demanding when it comes to innovative start-ups. In a sense, we still are a start-up. We already have an established product, nevertheless it needs to be constantly adapted to the needs of specific foreign markets. Not everyone understands that. That is why we are now talking mainly to foreign investors, because they have a more open approach to innovation.

What are the greatest milestones for your company?

When we first found out that our involvement had made the birth of a healthy child possible! There was a problem during that particular pregnancy, as the baby was wrapped in the umbilical cord. If we had not notified the mother of what was happening, her pregnancy could have ended in tragedy. What a wonderful feeling of great joy that was for the whole team and an incredible impetus for developing our work further.

And the moment when MIT Technology Review awarded us the title of Innovator of the Year was also very important to us. That gave us wings too!

What are your plans for the coming year?

We are focusing on three areas. First of all, foreign expansion and sales. Now we are entering the Finnish market and starting to collaborate with the University Hospital in Helsinki, the largest in Finland. We’ve already made our first sales to Nigeria. We have defined additional foreign markets and have prepared strategies for entering them.

Secondly, product development. We are constantly introducing new features. In addition, we are already thinking about other products that will help care for women before, during and after pregnancy. We have a strong technological team; we see a lot of needs around us and we strive to do our best to handle these appropriately.

The third thing is funding. We are currently finishing negotiations with a German investment fund. This will enable us to further our development.

Where do you want to be with the company in five years’ time?

We want to break even and start generating revenues so as to facilitate the dynamic development of Nestmedic. We plan to be a global company with a wide range of telemedicine products, including an IT platform with algorithms which enable remote monitoring and analysis of reports. We want to develop appropriate business models for our products and set new standards for healthcare. We have the ambition to enter the main stock exchange market abroad rather than in Poland.

Information about the company:

– Founders: Patrycja Wizińska-Socha and Anna Skotny
– Year founded: 2014
– Financial info: the company is financed through several sources. There have been sales revenues for the past two years. In addition, several private investors have invested in the start-up, received grants for R & D products and is listed on the stock exchange (new connection).
– How many employees? And are they hiring? There are 10 permanent employees at Nestmedic along with several subcontractors and employees of affiliated companies. The affiliated company is the Medical Telemonitoring Service, where midwives and physicians are also employed.
– Ultimate goal in a few words: To be a global telemedicine company with a wide range of products.

Links:
the company
the device
Patrycja’s profile at Linkedin 

 

More about start-ups of the day here

Innogy Doubles Number of Electric Cars in Poland

Granted: Poland is not exactly known as a green EU country. But thanks to the German energy giant Innogy this could soon change. The RWE subsidiary is launching a project with 500 BMW i3 in Warsaw in April. At the same time, Innogy is doubling the number of charging stations in the Polish capital from 30 to 60. In addition, the company promises to add several hundred more in the next two years, in cooperation with a Polish bank and the Warsaw City Council.

“As a pioneer in electromobility, Innogy is also driving this topic forward internationally”, said board member Martin Herrmann in a press release, adding: “…With this trend-setting project, we are making environmentally friendly electromobility a tangible experience for all.” According to an Innogy spokesperson, the project will initially only be implemented in Warsaw: “In other Central European countries we have no plans of this magnitude for the time being. But what we are doing – for example, to companies in the Czech Republic – is offering concepts for electric cars.”

Norway at the Top

For Poland, the Innogy project represents an enormous advance in electric mobility. At the end of 2018, the country was lagging far behind the European environment with only 625 licensed electric cars. Although the 500 BMW i3s will almost double this figure in one fell swoop, Poland is still at the bottom end of the scale when it comes to electric mobility in Europe. In 2018, for example, there were more than 36,000 electric cars in circulation in Germany, 24,000 in the Netherlands and more than 46,000 in Norway.

10 Percent of Car Sharing Cars in Germany are Electrically Powered

The example of Germany shows that e-mobility can be boosted by car sharing. After all, around 10 percent of the more than 20,000 German community cars are powered by electric motors as hybrids or completely electrically. The German Carsharing Associationexplains this high percentage with the fact that the 2.46 million carsharing customers are more eager to experiment than the typical car owner in Germany.

In the Netherlands, the share of electric cars in car sharing is somewhat lower. According to the latest figures from the organization CROW-KpVV, there were 41,000 community cars at the beginning of 2018, of which 6.4 percent were half powered as plug-ins or all-electric.

Charging station at Aldi with Innogy technology © Innogy

Innogy at the Forefront of Infrastructure

Innogy is only a small player in Germany when it comes to e-vehicles. With a total of 20 cars, the Essen-based group is far away from the market leaders Daimler and BMW – which operate 20,000 vehicles worldwide with their merger combination Car2Go and Drive Now. But Innogy is the market leader in the German infrastructure with 7500 charging stations, of which about 3500 are private and about 4000 public.

The limited number of public charging stations in Germany is often seen as an obstacle to the breakthrough of the electric car. At the end of last year, the entire country had a total of 16,100 charging stations. It is expected that this number will increase rapidly in the coming years due to various new initiatives.

For example, the supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi are setting up their own charging infrastructure in Germany. In addition, people are eagerly awaiting what Volkswagen will do with its specially founded subsidiary Elli. There are also major plans from global companies such as Shell – with its subsidiary New Motion – and Charge Point. The latter is a start-up supported by large German companies such as Siemens, Daimler and BMW.

According to the National Platform for Electric Mobility (NPE), these initiatives are urgently needed. The consultancy assumes that by 2022, Germany will exceed the one million mark for electric cars. Since one charging station is needed for every ten cars, this means that there should be about 100,000 charging stations in three years.

Helping Organizations Evolve with People Analytics Innovation

A company founded by two Polish scientists from Wrocław is disrupting the way organisations work. The story of Network Perspective shows how individual researchers can lead management innovations, successfully competing with large companies, and how at times innovation needs time to get market traction. Network Perspective required almost ten years to turn academic research on networks to a practical solution for companies to become leaner, stimulate cooperation, and find hidden talents.

Reinventing organisational chart

“Our goal was to reinvent the organisational chart. Everyone knows it – the tree chart that represents the corporate structure, the hierarchy, dependencies as well as workflow. For me, it’s incredible how such a limited tool could still be so useful. That was our starting point – if we found a way to present actual data about how people and teams collaborate within an organisation, it could transform management”, says Anita Zbieg, CEO of Network Perspective (aka Mapaorganizacji.pl) and a PhD graduate from Wrocław University of Economics.

Brokers are one of the most important people in an organization. They connect different groups dismantling corporate siloses. ©Network Perspective

More than ten years ago Anita was researching her thesis on organisational network analysis (ONA) as a method of evolution for organisational structures. Together with software engineer Blazej Zak and a PhD graduate from Wrocław University of Science and Technology, they started to work on the software that would be able to visualise interactions among organisation members with network graphs.

The early solution they came up with was straightforward but already very useful for the first Polish corporation that was open enough to test it – a copper mining giant KGHM. “Using our software we mapped cooperation flow. Just by doing this we helped the partner company to identify key people and barriers of cooperation within the complex organisation with mines in three different continents. It was an eye-opening moment for us,” says Anita Zbieg.

Helping become or stay lean

Since then Network Perspective has evolved to a universal tool that can be used by both corporations and startups. The first need it in their effort to become agile. The latter on the other hand have to face a different challenge – how not to lose the agility when scaling up and at the same time not to fall into complete chaos.

Network Perspective has been one of the first ONA software-as-a-service. However, the scientists decided to develop their project organically – bootstrapping forever. “For us, the research and commercial projects are not only about business and career but also about lifestyle. We believe we can stay innovative, competitive and scale up globally maximising our productivity, which is a separate challenge on its own,” says Anita Zbieg. “Our strategy focuses on close and long-lasting cooperation with the clients such as mBank, Burda Media or Samsung.”

Visualizing the real cooperation

An example of an organizational network chart. ©Network Perspective

The Network Perspective platform has evolved from being just an auxiliary tool for management consultants to stand-alone SaaS that gathers real-time behavioural interaction data about emails and meetings through MS Office 365 and G-Suite integrations and shows the real organisational structure. “We are very concerned about the user privacy. Our integrations don’t read the e-mails analyses the metadata – when and to whom the message was sent,” underlines Anita Zbieg.

Visualising this data in a network graph helps anyone immediately spot the crucial organisational roles – central connectors (who coordinate the work of teams), brokers who (bridge the groups) and peripherals (lone specialists that are at high risk of leaving the organisation).

“This is just a beginning, and we use the data for further studies on wasting collaboration potential, models for suggesting the best connections in networks or predicting the future flaws in the structure – such as a key specialist leaving the organisation”.

Network Perspective has already accessed big corporate clients from different industries and although being developed by a small team competes with well-funded companies – Humanyze, TrustSphere, Workylitics or Syndio.

Sharp rise in patent applications from Central Europe

Last year companies and innovators from Central Europe filled more patent applications at the European Patent Office than in the previous years. Poland became a regional leader. The country posts its strongest growth in patent applications in four years.

Last year the European Patent Office (EPO), received 946 patent applications from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, according to the EPO Annual Report 2018. This is a growth by 20% compared with previous year and well above the average growth rate of the 38 EPO member states (+3.8%).

Also read: innovation is moving East

Also read: Siemens passes Huawei as most innovative

More applications from Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia

Patent applications filed by Czech inventors grew by 17,5 %. In 2017 the EPO received 242 applications from Czech Republic. A year earlier it was 206 applications. Overall, transport and organic fine chemistry are the technical fields in which the most patent applications are filed at the EPO, followed by pharmaceuticals and civil engineering. Among central European countries Czech Republic has the highest ratio of applications to population (22,6 applications per 1 million inhabitants)

Companies, scientists and innovators from Hungary submitted 120 patent applications. Top three fields were: medical technology, organic fine chemistry and biotechnology. In 2017 the EPO received 95 applications from Hungary, what gives growth of 26,3%. Number of patent applications from Slovakia increased by 22 %. The Slovaks filled 50 patent applications in 2018 and 41 applications year before.

Poland: regional leader in number of patent applications

2018 was a very good year for Poland. Patent applications filed by Polish inventors, companies and research institutions grew by 19.7% in 2018, one of the highest growth rates among European countries. It is the second consecutive year of strong and above-average growth, following a decline of 30.6% in 2016.

“In terms of patents, 2018 was another very positive year for Poland. With strong growth for two years in a row, we now see a positive upward trend that is based on double-digit growth in a dozen different key technology fields. This is a very good message, as industries with high use of intellectual property rights, including patents, strongly contribute to the economy in terms of employment, growth and trade. The contribution of academic institutions to Poland’s patenting activities is a particular strong point.” said EPO President António Campinos.

Polish key technologies: thermal processes and transport

The fields of ‘thermal processes’ and transport (where many patents in the automotive sector are filed) were the technology sectors in which the most European patent applications were filed from Poland (39 each), and each accounted for 7% of all Polish applications at the EPO in 2018. Strong growth was recorded in computer technology, ‘materials, metallurgy’, mechanical elements, civil engineering, and pharmaceuticals. Of the 15 most important technology fields in Poland, twelve showed double-digit growth.

High demand for patent protection across Europe

Demand for patent protection continues to grow. The number of patent applications filed with the EPO grew by 4.6% last year, reaching a new high of 174 317. 47% of all patent applications at the EPO originating from the 38 EPO member states. Asian companies also held their ground, with the combined share of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea rising moderately to 22.6%. The US remained the top country of origin, accounting for 25% of total filings, followed by Germany, Japan, France and China.

European countries exhibited an overall positive trend. With the exception of France and Finland, all of the EPO’s top 20 countries of origin posted growth in 2018.

source: EPO

The text was first published at www.innovatecee.com

Zylia: the recording studio in a microphone

Professional music recording is like a relationship status on Facebook: it’s complicated. A Polish start-up has invented Zylia, a device, that reduces this multistage process to just two clicks.

For amateurs, Zylia looks like a tiny soccer ball with a bright stripe. “Another funny gadget”- one might think. However, for the individuals connected to the music industry, such as musicians, sound engineers or even recording studios, Zylia is a game changer. This incredible ball is the world’s first portable recording studio and it can transform the professional way of recording music.

“Musicians always have problem when recording music. It’s not a matter of finance or apparatus, but of time and knowledge. There are always problems occurring on how to set up multiple microphones and how to mix sounds “- explains Tomasz Żernicki, Zylia co-founder and chief technology officer.

Żernicki is an audio expert: he received his PhD in digital audio processing, contributed to audio compression standards and – like almost all his colleagues – he is amateur musician.

“Musicians prefer not to focus on recording music too much. We want to dedicate ourselves to creating music. We thought it would be an amazing idea to have one simple device that records music, mixes music it and does all the technical stuff” – he states.

Just two clicks 

It seems that Zylia has turned out to be the device the founders longed to have. Let’s say there is a piano quartet: piano, violin, viola and cello. The musicians just simply place themselves around Zylia. Every instrument should briefly be recorded separately so the device knows where they are positioned. Then, the whole quartet can participate. One click, the device starts recording. Second click and Zylia stops.

After, the device automatically prepares the final recording and the user receives a complete stereo track. “The recordings sound amazing, as it also takes into account the positioning of the people in the room, so someone being positioned closer/further from the microphone is not an issue”- adds Żernicki.

But if the ensemble prefers to mix tracks manually, this is also an option. The musicians can decide what they want to be heard on the final recording: all instruments or only viola part? Perhaps they would like to quieten the piano slightly and move a cello to the back to hear the violin more prominently. Perhaps they believe it’s a good idea to mix together cello and piano? Or instruments aside, want to catch a little more reverberation of the room? The users might even delete selected instruments from the recording. This could be a useful opportunity when a cello e.g. plays out of tune or if the pianist wants to make “an instrumental karaoke”.

How it operates

Zylia is a microphone and software in one. To be precise, it is a set of 19 microphones in spherical enclosure that records 360-degree sound, whereas the software part (Zylia studio) is accountable for the sound processing.

“We represent sound in a unique way, since the sphere surrounding Zylia can be divided into tiny segments. Therefore, as a user, you have the option to decide what it is what you would like to hear, the whole sphere or fragments of it” – explains Żernicki.

After recording, users receive several tracks. When recording musical instruments, they will receive recordings of each individual instrument.

“Then, the system equalises the volume based upon the tracks’ sound level. For this process, sound engineering and mixing techniques are being used. Zylia’s CTO explains there are many possibilities: “For example the option to have the vocal recording in the middle and the guitars all on one side.”

“No, you can’t”

Zylia started out as a research project. Six years ago, the founders received a grant to develop a system for virtual sound stage reconstruction using wireless sensor networks. Eventually, the developed system turned out to be too complicated to commercialise, but this is how they came up with the idea to combine all the technology into one device. Back then, this was a dream. The Zylia founders have repeatedly heard it could not be done.

Fortunately for the company, there were a few people who believed in the project. These were mentors from German and Danish acceleration programmes (EuropeanPioneer run by Etventure and Next Step Challenge run by Nupark Denmark) who helped transform their scientific project into a commercial business model. It took them almost three years before the final product was released. The company produced 10 functional prototypes and tested them with more than one hundred music professionals, all over the world. At the end of 2018 Zylia emerged on the market.

There are three significant groups purchasing Zylia. Firstly, musicians of various styles, but many of them performing folk music and bluegrass. Secondly, people who prepare audio records for movies, games, videos etc. The third group consists out of people who work with the ambisonics method. Ambisonics is a full-sphere surround sound format invented in the 1970s, and has made a comeback in Virtual Reality and 360° movies.

Audience closer to artists

Zylia was created to keep the musicians’ energy alive. Now, its founders want to go a step further and bring artists and audiences closer together.

“Imagine that while being seated in your room, you have the ability to experience a concert of your choosing. That you can even choose to be positioned among the crowd or on stage, hearing the musicians’ interaction. Now our aim is to create this technology, that will record live concerts from several positions, so it can be enjoyed by the audiences” – says Żernicki.

Sounds impossible? Well, they said Zylia could not be done, and look at it now.

 

Sea Data helps preventing coal dust

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdynia (photo with box and view at the harbour)

When a ship loaded with coal enters a harbour, soon the entire area might be covered with coal dust. A start-up from Gdynia, Poland, has an idea how to prevent that.

Last year’s summer was rather hard for citizens of Gdynia, a port city in Northern Poland. For many days, clouds of black dust hung over the city centre; dust was covering streets, settling on cars, rushing into flats through tilted open windows. This black dust came from coal stored in a harbor nearby. Townspeople were furious, local media covered the issue broadly, Gdynia authorities set controls on the port and the port authorities had to justify themselves profusely that they did all they could to restrict the amount of dust given off.

Air pollution in harbors

The problem with dust that Gdynia had this summer is not unique. It happens in harbors with bulk terminals where dry commodities such as coal, coke, ore but also grains, feedstuff or biomass are kept. The problematic part isn’t even storage but the moment of reloading. When items are poured from a ship into a wharf their particles rise up to the open air and under unfavorable weather conditions, they are carried across the entire area.

To solve the problem, Gdynia’s port authorities turn to the start-up Sea Data. This new Gdynia-based company has developed a system to analyse and predict air pollution in harbors.

“On the current market, there are mainly separate monitor and analytical measurement systems. We wanted to create a complete solution that can do both. Our platform can not only monitor air status but it also analyses the situation and Artificial Intelligence algorithms based on the weather forecast can predict air pollution at a selected day and time”,  explains Piotr Siedlecki, co-founder of the start-up.

Measure, analyse, predict

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.
YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.

The system consists of two parts: a custom made sensor box (yetibox) and software in the form of an analytical platform (yetiSense). A set of sensors installed in the port and a nearby area can register the level of suspended particles PM10 and PM2.5. Data from the sensors are sent to the analytical platform every 10 minutes 7 days a week. This gives a picture of the current air quality. Data is presented on maps and interactive diagrams. If permitted levels of pollution are exceeded, the system detects the source of pollution and sends alerts to the port authorities. But the invention can do more than that. The platform also collects other data such as current weather conditions, weather forecast and data from sensors belonging to other institutions, for example to environmental agencies. The algorithm based on machine learning analyses all information and estimates the risk of polluting air at a selected time.

Briefly speaking, Sea Data’s invention gives harbors insight into the worst and the best time to reload dry commodities.

“Let’s say that a dispatcher in the harbor knows what day the ship arrives and wants to plan reloading on a particular day. But if our algorithm shows that on that selected time the risk of air polluting will be high, the dispatcher knows he needs to reschedule reloading. This way he can avoid the situation of dust being carried to the city “, explains Piotr Siedlecki.

What to measure

At the beginning, the start-up wanted to develop both the hardware, the sensor box, and the software part. However, recently they stopped working on hardware and concentrated only on the analytical platform. Why? The reason is simple: money. To develop hardware to a stage that it can be sold on the market requires lots of money, much more than a new start-up has. The Polish law doesn’t oblige industrial companies to monitor air quality, therefore investors in Poland are not interested in supporting work on sensors.
The start-up founders emphasize the fact that they wish to get back to the hardware part in the future and now an advantage of their solution is a fact, it’s not restricted to one type of sensors and one type of pollution. “We are able to integrate our platform with a whole range of measuring instruments available on the market and then we can measure any substance, for example Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen dioxide or toxic gases. It only depends on what clients want to measure”,  says Piotr Siedlecki.
The Sea Data’s solution is currently installed in Gdynia and Gdańsk, two out of the three largest harbors in Poland and the company is in conversation with other harbors, including foreign ones.

Jan Mengelers and the Engineer in Society 4.0

Jan Mengelers at EIT Graduation Day Nov 2018

(This article was published before on EITdigital.eu)

The engineer of the future is more than just a very good beta person. He or she should know how to combine technology with societal needs. That is the belief of ir. Jan Mengelers, president of the Eindhoven University of Technology, who was one of the keynotes at the recent EIT Digital Master School Graduation Day. “These new graduates should be role models.”

The Graduation Day is the official send-off for 246 EIT Digital Master School graduates who have completed a two-year master programme at two top technical universities in Europe. This includes training in innovation and entrepreneurship to help guarantee Europe’s leading role in the global digital economy.

Role Model

Mengelers addressed the new graduates about being proud of their formal education and being given the chance to study in two different countries. During the Masters, EIT Digital students are tasked with working together during pressure-cooker events like the Kick-Off and Summer School, where they have to crack a business case with students from different disciplines, backgrounds, religions, cultures and perspectives. “This gives them the advantage over others of international experience,” says Mengelers. “Their education offers the basics to start a career in European society. If they start to work in international companies, they can apply their experiences of working together with international people. It is their job to be the role model for integration. The first step for the new graduates is to start working on what they have learned – prove yourself in the major of your curriculum, make yourself valuable.”

“Engineers of the future need to approach technology development not only from the perspective of technology but also that of users and systems”

Engineers of the future

To Mengelers it is important for the engineers to realise that technology does not stand alone. “Technology and its role in society will become increasingly complex. Engineers of the future need to approach technology development not only from the perspective of technology but also that of users and systems. Our students will need to be equipped with both in-depth knowledge and skills to operate in a diverse and rapidly changing world. They need to be able to work in multidisciplinary teams, take a systems perspective and be solution and innovation-driven. They need to consider technological, societal and ethical contexts as well, including regulations, policies and markets. Engineers of the future need a broad, open and cooperative mindset to meet the United Nations sustainable development goals, contribute to the technological revolution and create impact for society in a responsible and sustainable way. This implies reflection, analysis and participation in academic and public debates about technology and its impact.”

Skills in social science

Therefore, the profession of engineering is changing, emphasises the university president. The engineer of tomorrow will not be the same as the engineer who has been educated for today’s business. “It does not mean that one is better than the other. The future engineers are more system integrators. That isn’t easy. You should be good in multiple sectors. Based on technology, the engineers should see how technology connects within the society. This means that engineers should have skills also in social sciences and humanities. They do not have to be sociologists or psychologists, but they should understand the context of social sciences. Otherwise, you cannot operate as an engineer in the future.”

Entrepreneurial engineers

Besides the social context, the engineers of tomorrow need to be entrepreneurial. That is what Mengelers hears from the industry. The Eindhoven University of Technology, concocted more than sixty years ago at the kitchen table of the CEO’s of the large multinationals around Eindhoven, has a history of close industry collaboration. “There is a need in the market for engineers who can move in an entrepreneurial environment, just like the EIT Digital Master School graduates. Business is more complex nowadays. Therefore the industry wants a multidisciplinary approach to their business – they need people with in-depth technical knowledge and an entrepreneurial layer on top of that. They need system integrators who can oversee the big picture and the impacts in multiple areas.”

Paradox

Yet, this need is also creating a paradox. The need for deep tech engineers 4.0 is growing, but the capacity at universities to deliver these people is limited. Recently, Mengelers stated that the TU Eindhoven – and also the TU Delft – had problems managing the growing student demand for computer and technical science bachelor programmes. The increase in applications for these programmes have four causes, explains Mengelers. “One is that additional programmes are now all in English, another is the relatively low tuition fees in the Netherlands for the strong reputation of high-quality scientific education in Europe and the Netherlands and the fourth reason is the job guarantee in the greater region of Eindhoven. This is attractive to international students. Globally about ten million people are looking for a scientific education at high ranking universities.”

The number of students applying for master’s programme is also increasing, says the university president. Although the amount of students is lower than graduate programmes, master’s students require more space, infrastructure and coaching. “That determines how you have to deal with the available space. Master’s students need more guidance in research skills and more laboratory facilities to experiment.”

European academic collaboration

The paradox is not easy to solve. Mengelers says that if the Dutch government does not supply more means, the university will be forced to limit the inflow. “We do not want to cut down on the quality. Our stakeholders – the industry – support us in this. They do not want us to put quantity over quality.”

Could a collaboration with other European universities ease this pressure? “In theory yes. But it is a long road. You need to harmonise with universities on working methods and levels. There is currently no aligned policy on solving capacity issues in one university within a European collaboration. The French president Emmanuelle Macron wants universities to work together in a network of universities by 2020. We now work in Eurotech Universities, a network of six leading European universities of technology and science, who are equipped to do so. That is a start. EIT Digital Academy is also a good example of where universities collaborate. This framework is simpler than having a full collaboration on multiple levels. Yet, it is a very useful collaboration to define ourselves as an international university. I think it is good that foreign universities are connected to us. I can only encourage having more international students.”

Jan Mengelers EIT Day
Jan Mengelers at EIT Day