Start-up of the Day: Vialytics quickly registers road conditions

How do self-driving cars handle potholes on the road? As just stay driving ahead or spontaneously around them aren’t an option. You have to take the bull by the horns, that’s what the founders of vialytics were thinking. They designed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map out road conditions. This is how the road authorities can deal with the problems as quickly as possible. Danilo Jovicic, who founded the start-up together with Achim Hoth and Patrick Glaser, explains how the system works.

The founders of vialytics GmbH, (from left to right) Achim Hoth, Patrick Glaser, Danilo Jovicic ©vialytics

How did you come up with the idea of setting up vialytics?

We wanted to do business as an independent company and set up our own start-up. We got to know each other through the Activatr and Pioniergeist start-up programs. It was by coincidence that we then got together in a small group. That’s where the idea of doing something with road management took shape. We came up with a lot of wild ideas for a couple of weeks. We also had a lot of contact with municipalities who told us about problems concerning road management. The overarching issue there was autonomous traffic. We thought carefully about what you need to do in order to be able to drive safely autonomously. That invariably comes down to good roads.

What does your product look like?

Municipalities can continuously monitor their streets with our system. This is done with the help of a modified smartphone mounted on the windscreen of a municipal service vehicle. On a sweeper, for instance. These are at any rate always out and about in the city. The smartphone records the road every 4 meters.

This data is subsequently sent to us. It is then analyzed using an algorithm. Any damage to the road is automatically detected this way. The municipalities get the data back again in the form of a dynamic map. As they are better informed about the condition of the roads, they can react more quickly to any damage. This leads to a more sustainable and efficient way of road management. After all, plenty of municipalities don’t address the maintenance of their streets until it is far too late. Which means that the costs are also much higher. Current systems do not offer a proper solution. Those recordings are actually made with too great a time frame between each other. Nor are they carried out systematically.

Was there a problem you had to resolve first?

It was particularly difficult in the beginning to gain the trust of municipalities. This was mainly due to the fact that municipalities rarely cooperate with start-ups here. We set up 5 pilot projects where our system was tested. Thanks to the positive reactions we received, we have now managed to build up a customer base of 50 municipalities throughout Germany. Currently, we are also in contact with cities in other countries who are interested in our product.

What are you especially proud of?

We are especially proud of our first customers who have dispelled any preconceptions that local councils are a bit stuffy. Some of them were so enthusiastic about our solution that they bought the system before it had even been fully developed. Of course, we are also very proud of our team, which has expanded considerably over the last 6 months. Our employees are busy developing the product on a daily basis.

©vialytics

What does the future of vialytics look like?

Our goal is that of internationalization. We want road authorities all over the world to be able to maintain their road networks in an efficient and sustainable manner. Apart from that, we will continue to work on improving things so that we can keep on responding to the requests of our customers.

What tips do you have for other starters?

Do you have a good idea? Jump into the deep end and dare to make your dreams come true. And for those who have already set up a company: at some stage, take each employee along with you to a client. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.

More articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

Start-up of the Week: The magical veggie garden of tomorrow

.”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

 

Vienna Textile Lab – Colorful microbial microfibres

Giving clothes a bit of color has been done for thousands of years. Dyes from nature has been used for this ever since prehistoric times. Yet these had their limitations and that meant that certain colours were very difficult to come by. Purple is a good example. Have you ever noticed that this colour can’t be found on any country’s national flag? That”s because purple dyes used to be very expensive. Synthetic dyes came on the market in the 19th century and solved that problem.

Vienna Textile Lab is really going to where it originally all started – back to nature. Another discovery was made in the 19th century: the existence of bacteria. These microorganisms can be an organic and sustainable method for dyeing textiles. The disadvantage of synthetic substances is that they are bad for your health and the environment. And the beauty of this Austrian textile dye is that it is based on an entirely organic process.

Energy Floor – Streets made of solar cells

This Rotterdam team came up with a groundbreaking innovation in 2010. A sustainable dance floor that could generate its own energy using the kinetic energy of dancing partygoers. They collaborated with artist Daan Roosengaarde and this resulted in a luminescent interactive floor. This was world news at the time and the floor was actually in place.

The principles behind this dance floor are still very much alive ten years later; it’ s just morphed into a street tile now. The kinetic energy has been replaced by solar energy, so that anywhere where there are streets, small power stations can be installed. Which means charging stations for electric cars might no longer be necessary. The Energy Floor also monitors traffic flow so that everyone can see exactly where there is available parking space. Any other advantages? A lot of street lighting is switched on when nobody is around. Such a waste! Lastly, it just looks really cool.

Revibe – Electricity out of thin air

On railways, construction sites and in heavy industry, colossuses of machines are in constant motion. These movements cause friction and friction equals energy. However, this energy is still being completely wasted at the moment, even though it could also be used to generate electricity. This is the main starting point underlying the Swedish start-up Revibe. They have developed a compact module that serves as a kind of mini-generator for where there is a lot of kinetic energy present.

The advantages are obvious. Equipment that uses this start-up’s technology no longer need a battery or a power cable! And on top of that, it might be the cleanest form of electricity generation ever. The patented battery is very easy to mount on a vibrating surface and then goes ahead and does the job all by itself. And not insignificantly, the electricity can even be stored so that you can use it to do things like make coffee or something similar.

Spaceflow – The e-VVE and landlord

Homeowners’ associations usually have a rather old-fashioned baby-boomer image. Tenants’ contact with their neighbours or with the manager of an apartment complex tends to happen on an inefficient and decentralised basis. This ought to change; that’s what they thought at the Czech start-up Spaceflow. They developed an app specifically for tenants of residential complexes that was designed to take over all communication concerning residential and communal areas. Think of it as a kind of Facebook, but only meant for people who are part of your building complex.

Through the app you can get in touch with neighbours, request repairs, read service announcements and give feedback. There is no need either for separate keys for the communal areas. The app can also be configured for specific situations in a modular way for property managers.

In theory, the app could even replace your house key. So if you lose your phone, you’ll immediately lose your house key as well. Want to make it even more disastrous? In the event you pay for everything via Apple Pay, you would strike out three times in a row then.

Grow X – Vertically grown top quality vegetables

Human beings have been growing crops horizontally for some 7,000 years now. And as this past century has seen us all of a sudden doing just about EVERYTHING differently, we’re also now seeing a trend with vertical gardens and fields. Why vertical? It’s a bit of the same principle behind skyscrapers; they take up less space and are efficient. Vertical gardens have been around for some time already, but now there are also vertical vegetable gardens. Grow X is an example: they grow high-end vegetables for the more luxurious segment of the market.

Fresh vegetables that are grown in their own region are of great importance to the best restaurants. This is what distinguishes them from the hospitality industry where imported or canned vegetables are on the menu. Entrepreneurs can choose from around fifty organically grown mini vegetables offered by Grow X. The advantage of these mini varieties is that their taste is more concentrated than conventional varieties. Grow X is nowadays a regular supplier to the leading Dutch restaurants.

The fact that the Netherlands is internationally known as a major innovator in the horticultural sector has been confirmed once again by this start-up. It is even not commonly known in The Netherlands that our small country is the second largest food producer in the whole world. And this is not per square metre or per capita. No, this is in absolute numbers. Innovation and efficiency are the magic words here and Grow X is an excellent example of this. It is such an excellent example that we have crowned this ambitious start-up from Zeeland Start-up of the Week!

Start-up of The Day: ReVibe Energy generates power out of thin air

Generation of electricity without coal, wind, hydroelectricity, or nuclear power plants, wind turbines or solar cells, etc? – Without any harmful emissions? The Swedish start-up ReVibe Energy is doing just that. A self-charging battery that can be attached to any vibrating surface generates electricity solely via these vibrations. This battery also stores the energy it generates. Apart from its 100% climate-neutrality, this kind of battery also comes in handy when no other power source is available for charging.

ReVibe co-founder and CEO Viktor Börjesson talked to Innovation Origins about his company.

Two of the founders of ReVibe Energy: Erik Godtman Kling (COO) (left), Viktor Börjesson (CEO) (right) © ReVibe Energy

How did you come up with the idea of founding the start-up?

The technology was originally invented by Per Cederwall while he was working at the Saab Group. As the technology was considered to be outside Saab Groups’ core focus areas, Viktor Börjesson and Erik Godtman Kling were asked to start a company that revolved around the technology.

What makes ReVibe or your product special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?

All sensors in industrial IoT systems are in constant need of power and the shortcomings of current power sources (cables and/or batteries) do not guarantee long-lasting energy security. At the same time, there are many environments where vibrations are almost constant, of which rail transport, mining, and construction are the ones we have worked with the most. With our products, we can deliver a long-lasting and sustainable power source for predictive maintenance and condition monitoring systems.

Our products utilize a patented design that ensures a longer lifetime, higher output per volume and a faster ROI compared to our competitors.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Slow sales cycles! We work with large corporations who are fairly slow in their way of operating which means that the process of signing new customers takes quite a long time.

And vice versa: What were you particularly proud of?

Our team! It’s our team that makes all of our accomplishments possible, so they are the ones who deserve all the credit!

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

When you start a company you will always experience setbacks and periods where you feel that there’s no use in continuing but we’ve never been that close to actually shutting down the company. So no, not really 🙂

What can we expect from ReVibe over the coming years?

We’re currently scaling up our manufacturing capabilities to be able to meet the demand from the marketplace, so I’d say that you can expect a ReVibe Energy that will grow as a company and increase its reach across the globe.

What is your vision for ReVibe?

To be the obvious choice when it comes to powering Industrial IoT systems in all environments where vibrations exist.

Featured Image: The standard product, the modelD evaluation kit © ReVibe Energy

You are interested in start-ups? Here you find all our articles on start-ups.

EU wants €20 billion extra for the Horizon innovation fund, but will it happen?

The European Union is entering a new phase with the inauguration of the new European Commission, which was approved by the European Parliament yesterday after a long series of personal interviews. The new President, Ursula von der Leyen, has set a clear course for her commissioners. This is primarily aimed at making Europe climate-neutral. The other major pillar of its intended policy is to increase the competitiveness of the European Union.

President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission has set out a strict policy framework.

The key question, of course, is how she and her fellow commissioners want to achieve these objectives. In the main, that means: research into better production methods and innovating the existing ones. Consequently, funding is needed for this.

Dire necessity

Innovation and its investment is a dire necessity, according to the new European governance. In the first place, because the European Union must be completely CO2-neutral by 2050. This means that we will have to live, drive, fly and produce in a CO2 neutral way. So that’s quite a challenge. Secondly, because competing superpowers such as the US (2.8%), South Korea (4.2%) and Japan (3.3%) invest a much higher percentage of their GDP in innovation than the EU does. (2.1% while the target is set at a minimum of 3%). These countries subsequently also score better when it comes to innovating their businesses. Because of this, the EU is lagging behind them, so says Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, She is in charge of the innovation budget for the upcoming period.

As her predecessor Carlos Moedas had already announced last year, Gabriel wants to increase the budget of the research and innovation fund Horizon Europe from almost €100 billion to €120 billion. This amount is to be spread over the 2021 to 2027 budget period. This money should go towards basic research in universities as well as innovation by large companies, start-ups and SMEs.

Not a piece of cake

Which is a noble ambition that no member state should actually be opposed to. You’d think that it was a piece of cake. But it’s not. Life is complicated within the offices of the European institutions. They have to constantly do business with the governments of the 28 – and, if there is a Brexit, 27 – member states. Then those governments have to deal with their constituents in the cities and rural areas of their country. And the constituencies (especially those in the poorer EU regions) may threaten the innovation plans of this new European Commission.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, wants more money for the Horizon Fund

The major battle is being waged via discussions by the heads of state or governments concerning the European Union’s long-term budget. This is something which they will have to hammer out in 2020. Von der Leyen wants more money from the member states to be able to implement her ambitious policy program. But the member states do not want to pay the EU a higher percentage of their GNP, says spokesman Roy Kenkel of The Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (PV) in Brussels. (As an example, the European Commission wants The Netherlands to contribute 1.11% of their GNP).

“The Netherlands is in favor of a larger innovation budget. We think that’s an excellent idea! But we also believe that this money could come from the resources that the European Commission has at its disposal if we were to continue to contribute the same percentage as we do now. Our GNP is on the rise, so our contribution will in any event deliver more money to the EU with the current, unchanged percentage of our GNP.”

Not mentioned in the budget

It makes more sense for the EU to restructure its budget and adapt it to the demands of our time, says Kenkel. That is what Von der Leyen also said in her speech yesterday. In Von der Leyen’s opinion, the MFF (otherwise known as the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework) should not be seen as a simple calculation of expenditure, but rather as a policy instrument that will modernize the European Union’s budget.

That might be the case, except up until now the problem has been that you cannot discern this in the document that the European Commission sent to the member states last May and which the member states are currently negotiating. It does not say, for example, that the Horizon Innovation Fund should be increased by €20 billion. Whereas the new European Commission does want to use this extra money to tie into specific industrial policy. Something that is new for the European Union, as the French EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industry, Thierry Breton, said to the European Parliament during his hearing last month.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton wants to tie industrial policy to innovation paid for with Horizon money.

Other expenditure areas

One way in which the extra €20 billion could still be included in the budget is for the European Commission to submit a separate additional proposal to the member states. That’s what Kenkel from the PV in Brussels says. Nevertheless, he thinks that this isn’t very likely as this is a cumbersome process and the negotiations are already underway. He believes that it would be more logical to discuss the matter during ongoing negotiations.

Then there is also the question of how important the member states regard the growth of the innovation fund compared to that of other expenditure. Such as for the common agricultural policy and the cohesion fund. Funding for the development of poor regions must be paid from this. The European Commission actually wants to cut 5% off both of these expenditure areas. And that is definitely something that the countries that benefit most from these funds do not want to happen.

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

€88 billion on offer

The signs are not very favorable in this respect, says Guillaume Gillet, He is the director of InnoEnergy in Brussels, an investment company that invests money from private investors and the Horizon Fund in promising, innovative start-ups in the energy field. “It is said that the Finnish chairmanship wants to reduce the budget for Horizon to €88 billion. It will only be possible to raise it to €120 billion if the European Parliament fights very hard for that.”

The question is how bad would that be? After all, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has already announced that part of the funds for cohesion and agriculture can be used for innovation in the agricultural sector and for the development of rural areas. The intention is that these funds will thereby contribute to making Europe environmentally sustainable.

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

The difference with financing innovation via these funds, however, is that the funds are distributed by the governments of the member states. Who in turn allocate these to their national constituencies. It now remains to be seen as to what extent this will benefit both European cooperation and European coordination in terms of industrial policy.

Not enough money for scale-ups

According to investor Gillet, the European Commission is also investing directly via Horizon in innovative start-ups who would otherwise be unable to raise money as their profitability is uncertain. That’s going well for now. Although a larger Horizon Fund would make this support more robust, Gillet states. So far, the problem has been that there is not enough money to invest in the further growth of start-ups. This makes it difficult for them to become fully-fledged companies that are able to grow and flourish in Europe. It is precisely these scale-ups that provide employment as well as develop knowledge and bring prosperity. “American and Asian investors are investing money in them. That’s because of their more aggressive culture when it comes to high-risk capital investment. Consequently, Europe is losing a number of successful start-ups.”

Read also: ‘Europe must invest in a hub for collaborative robots in SMEs’

Whereas these are in fact what you would prefer to hold on to. Which is also what Von der Leyen said in her speech yesterday. Whether she will be successful in this respect over the coming period will become clear when the new MFF is mapped out next year.

Start-up of the day: Energy Floors is making smart parking spaces in Rotterdam

Over the coming year, Rotterdam’s Energy Floors wants to sell smart surfaces for public outdoor spaces that generate data, measuring how many cars, pedestrians and cyclists are passing by. These can be used to regulate traffic flows and lighting, for instance. These Smart Energy Floors also generate energy via the solar cells that are integrated in them. At the moment, the Rotterdam municipality is on the lookout for a suitable location for the application of this kind of energy surface in a city parking lot, says Michel Smit, CEO of Energy Floors. A trial of this is planned for 2020 in cooperation with the Engie energy company.

What motivated you to set up Energy Floors and what problem has this resolved?

“Our first idea was to create a Sustainable Dance Floor on which people can dance to generate energy, something that you can actually see because the tiles light up. (By converting the vertical movement of the dancer on the floor into rotational movement through a mechanism underneath the flexible floor tiles so as to generate energy, ed.) That idea originally came from two companies: Enviu and Döll. In 2017, they brought me in as a hands-on expert from the club scene. I had been running a large nightclub in Rotterdam for four years, called Off-Corso. They wanted to bring sustainability to the attention of young people and thought that the Sustainable Dance Floor could help with that.

Unlike today, it was difficult to get young people interested in sustainable energy at that time. It had a bit of a stuffy image. We initially tried out that first version of that dance floor at the Rotterdam pop stage Watt (which went bankrupt in 2010, ed.) – that made it the first sustainable club in the world. We started building our business around that first Sustainable Dance Floor.”

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

“That we had customers for the Sustainable Dance Floor before we had the actual product. At first, we only had a drawing of the floor, an artist’s impression. We worked out the concept and technology with TU Delft and TU/e in Eindhoven. And together with Daan Roosegaarde, we were able to further develop the interaction between the public and the technology. This is where our Sustainable Dance Floor is unique: the interaction between people and sustainably-generated energy. When they dance harder, they generate more energy.

This is what we want to offer people when it comes to our business proposition. That they themselves have an influence on improving the sustainability of energy. We want commitment. This is what we are specifically focusing on. The second obstacle was how we could go about expanding the scale for things that this product can be used for. So that it has a real impact. That’s why we wanted a surface that was suitable for large permanent fixtures in outdoor areas. We had to drop our initial unique selling point – as in ‘human energy’ – for this type of surface. Instead, we came up with our Smart Energy Floor. We use solar energy rather than kinetic energy. Otherwise, the project would be impossible to complete. The system has to be cost-effective, robust and resistant to wear and tear.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That we sold 25 of those Smart Energy Floors to schools last year. Three of them in Germany and the rest in The Netherlands. As a company, we have three business propositions: the Dancer for clubs and discotheques, for example, the Gamer for schoolyards and the Walker for large outdoor facilities. The first Walker in the Netherlands is located near Croeselaan in Utrecht on a crossing opposite Rabobank’s head office. Rabo has partly financed this floor. There is also one in the palace garden of the President of Malta. He found us via Google. It is a public garden with a Gamer and a Walker. A Gamer costs 13,000 euros including the installation. While a Walker is available from 25,000 euros.

The fact that we appeal to people all over the world doesn’t surprise us at all. Our first signed contract was with the producer of Absolute Vodka. He wanted to make a road show around New York with our dance floor in 2009. So, that’s what we did. We get two to three requests a day. Our challenge is to be able to deal with these properly. Because we want to keep on innovating too. As an example, you could also use the Smart Energy Floor on motorways if you developed the software for that.”

 What can we expect from Energy Floors over the coming year?

“We want to start selling more Walkers. This is a new market for us that has a lot of potential. Smart city projects that you can use it in are much larger projects than what we have done so far. You could equip bike paths with our technology so that you can turn them into walkways. We are going to do a smart parking trial next year together with Engie and the municipality of Rotterdam. We will be installing  a Walker for that reason. The energy generated by the solar cells in the surface goes to the electricity grid and can subsequently be used to charge cars. Currently, we’re looking around for a suitable location.

We are also planning to enter the German market. This fits in well with our product and company. There is plenty of capital there and focus on sustainability. And the German way of doing business isn’t that different from the Dutch way of doing business.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Ultimately, we want our Smart Energy Floors to be used in all the world’ s major cities and have their data connected to each other. You can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. You could monitor and influence the behaviour of the users of our surfaces on city roads. For example, in order to regulate busy situations at certain locations. You can apply the technology in a smart way. If there are very few people driving or walking on the road, you could turn the lights off in the evening.”

Start-up of the Day: Vienna Textile Lab dyes fabrics with bacteria

Bakterien, Textilfarben, Vienna Textile Lab

“Bacteria are the most intelligent, environmentally friendly and resource-efficient way to produce textile dyes,” says Karin Fleck, founder of Vienna Textile Lab. “Bacteria occur in nature, can be stored as a strain in laboratories and propagated at any time. They synthesize colors in a natural way”.

Karin studied technical chemistry at TU Wien in Austria. For many years she had various managerial positions at several energy companies such as Vattenfall Energy Trading in The Netherlands and in Germany. When she met Cecilia Raspanti (who had founded the company Textile Lab Amsterdam), she became inspired to use bacteria to make textile dyes. Cecilia had already tried this herself, but without much success. “It is not so much about the challenge of using bacteria as a raw material. More than anything, you actually need a lot of know-how and understanding of scientific methods. You then also have to go about it very carefully. There could potentially be germs among them,” Karin explains.

She had already been working with dyes when she was graduating. But the whole sector was new to her in principle. That’s why she sought support via:

  • Fritsch, a textile dye company in Vienna, which specializes in environmentally friendly dyes;
  • Erich Schopf, a bacteriographer from Vienna, who makes paintings using bacteria;
  • the Institute of Applied Synthesis Chemistry at TU Wien.

Microorganisms tend to produce microbial dyes in response to altered growth conditions. They protect cells from external influences such as salt or temperature stress, light or intense competition. These substances often also have an anti-bacterial effect. Bacteria-based textile dyes have the same properties as conventional synthetic dyes when used on a daily basis.

Karin Fleck elaborates further:

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab
Karin Fleck, Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

What solution does this bacterial-based textile dye offer and why is that important?

It is an alternative to synthetic dyes, which to a large degree have a detrimental effect on health and the environment. But also particularly for people in the textile industry who are constantly in contact with these dyes. Furthermore, everyone wears clothes and is therefore exposed to the chemicals that they contain. These dyes are currently under critical examination throughout the world. The EU has guidelines on synthetic dyes too. Dyes are banned on a regular basis or their use is restricted. This creates more room for new, innovative dyes. But especially for new production systems which do not rely on crude oil.

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

Our limited ability to hire people. The Austrian labor market is geared towards permanent jobs and employee security. Yet the world of start-ups is unpredictable. Above all, people are needed on a project basis in order to be able to cope with any peaks. You need to be able to react flexibly to the circumstances when you’re a young company who has growth spurts.

What has been a high point so far? What are you particularly proud of?

There have been many wonderful moments. Such as winning prizes. When we first started out, we already won 3rd place at the Climate Launchpad. This year we won the BOKU Start-up Prize from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. All the invitations we’ve received have also been very encouraging. For example, for the TEDxCanggu in Bali or for a pitch at CLIX , part of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

It’s also great to see how people, customers and organizations from all over the world know how to find us. We talk to people from the US, Indonesia, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany and so on. For instance, I came in contact with Material Connexion in New York. This is a collection of some of the most diverse, innovative materials for industry, local tradespeople, artists and designers. Samples from Vienna Textile Lab have now also been included in their collection.

We derive the most pleasure from everyone who supports us. People who let us know that they appreciate how good our bacteria-based textile dyes are. The experts who really help us out when we can’t figure something out right at that moment. But also local organizations that believe in our success. These include the Vienna Impact Hub or the TCBL, Textile clothing and business labs.

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab,
Bacteria are applied directly onto the fabric, where they multiply and develop a pattern. Karin Fleck, Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

How is everything going at the Vienna branch?

Fine. We can have confidence in the structures and systems. We have had many rewarding and supportive experiences involving funding agencies and universities. There are people here who are promoting us, even when they don’t know us personally. I can’t judge whether things are any better anywhere else. But I know that there is more money available for the biotech sector in Germany and the US.

Where will the start-up be in five years’ time?

By then we will have elevated our manufacturing method to an industrial level. We will have a customer base that will facilitate further growth, and perhaps we’ll be expanding on a global scale.

What distinguishes Vienna Textile Lab from similar companies?

We have opted for solid partners. This in turn makes us stronger and more competent. Aside from that, we want to remain transparent and have discussions with all potential customers or partners. Not only with large corporations, but also with niche companies, artists and designers. That may well make it more complicated, but that makes it all the better as well. We learn a lot through this kind of interaction and are therefore able to position and develop our products much more effectively. Last but not least, we have an extremely wide variety of our most important employees: bacteria.

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab
Bacteria are capable of producing a large proportion of the colors in the color palette. Nevertheless, some colors are problematic and need to be mixed. Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

Read more articles about start-ups here.

 

 

Start-up of the Day: only f**king perfect vegetables are good enough for the best restaurants

Ard van de Kreeke (52) from Middelburg became an organic farmer ten years ago. Prior to that, he had owned all kinds of companies in the sustainable quarter. But since he had bought a farm as a house with plenty of land and was kind of done with traveling all over the world, he thought: “I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to be a farmer.” As of this year, he owns GrowX vertical farming, a company that grows micro vegetables and supplies top restaurants in Amsterdam. He told Innovation Origins about what drives him.

What motivated you to set up GrowX?

I didn’t set it up, that happened back in 2016 thanks to John Apesos, a Dutch American from Amsterdam. However, the company turned out not to be viable, due to the high cost price of the products and the poor market. Apesos had hoped to produce for the general public, but the product is not yet suitable for that.

What is your product?

We grow mini vegetables in racks, using LED light and in cellulose instead of soil. Without any pesticides – just light, seed and water. For example, we grow wasabi mustard leaves, three different colored radishes and five types of basil. Our range now includes 50 varieties for the hospitality industry, chiefly the higher-end restaurants. I already had leading chef Sergio Herman as a customer at my organic farm and that’ s a great way in for other top restaurants. I deliver to Le Ciel Blue in the Okura hotel and La Rive restaurant in the Amstel Hotel. They use our mini vegetables to enrich their dishes.

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

I had to shift the company’s culture from high-tech to regular farming. Technology is the means and not the end.

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

The biggest breakthrough was when the best restaurants started appreciating our produce. When it comes to vegetables grown in greenhouses, it’s a bit like: how can that taste so good? The opposite is true. You get a more concentrated taste. You can even influence taste by changing the color of the light. My customers – and they are really super-critical – absolutely love it. We didn’t do any marketing; word of mouth did the job. A number of chefs, like the Zeeland folk in Amsterdam, told their colleagues: you have to taste this, I have something pretty special. This year’s produce is already sold out.

What can we expect from GrowX over the coming year?

We have demonstrated that the product actually works. The only thing is that the production unit isn’t working as we would like it to be. This is due to personnel and energy costs and investment in technology. I want to robotize a large part of the production, so that a robot can water and weigh the plants from now on. That saves 25 % in costs.”

Where do you want to be with GrowX within five years from now?

In principle, I would like to have 25 of these units in place all over the world. In cities, close to the end user. You chop the vegetables and they reach the customer a few minutes later. I hope that by then we will not only have a product for the high-end user, but also for the mainstream consumer.

What does GrowX’s innovation improve upon compared to other products in your segment of the market?

There is already something like this, but it is so expensive, I’m already now more than 50 % cheaper than that. I can handle that side of things much better, thanks to robots and AI in the main. I’ m never satisfied, but it’s still not quite where I want it to be yet. I currently have 5 switches that I can turn, that should be 20. The major advantage is that I understand how a great chef thinks. Sergio Herman once said to me: everything has to be fucking perfect. We won’t do it for any less than that.

 

Start-up of the week: a Dutch solution for a Dutch problem

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

EP Tender: a powerbank on wheels

It’s a strange sight, but the battery trailer from the French start-up EP Tender is definitely a very serious plan. You can regard the vehicle as a kind of extra battery for electric cars. This increases the range of the electric car by a maximum of 150 kilometers. Useful for holidays abroad where there are less charging stations than in The Netherlands. For the start-up it is to be hoped that battery nanotechnology is not set to overtake this wee trailer in the next decade.

Credimi – Fast financing for start-ups

Often an ambitious innovative business model needs money. Money that those involved don’t always have in their own pockets. Of course, you could go to a bank to finance your project, yet that frequently takes up an incredible amount of time. What makes Italian Credimi different from other lenders is that they are very fast. An applicant knows within 48 hours whether or not they will receive the loan. And this can be very welcome if you need to act quickly in a volatile market.

Skinive – Pocket-sized dermatologist

Almost everyone has discovered something on their skin that they were a little concerned about. A birthmark you didn’t know existed. Or a type of rash, an innocent spot. Or perhaps it would be a good idea to see your family doctor after all? By using the app from the Belarus start-up Skinive, you can find out directly by pointing your phone’s camera at your skin and taking a few pictures. The app then matches the images with data from a database that contains a multitude of nightmares for hypochondriacs.

The project initially began with the aim of discovering the first stages of skin cancer.However, the founders soon figured out that their smart app also worked for many other conditions. And because the app works on any smartphone, skin research is more accessible than ever. Skinive just offers advice on dermatological conditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t help against hypochondria.

Hydrogenious – All hail hydrogen

That hydrogen has the potential to be used as a fuel has been known for some time now. And how nice it would be if this would also be possible to roll it out en masse. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas. It produces about three times more energy than the same amount of petrol and there is more than enough of it on earth. So much for the advantages. Hydrogen is quite flammable at room temperature. Something that is obviously not very practical when you want to travel by car. In addition, the gas has the lowest density of the entire periodic table of elements, which makes it extremely difficult to work with. The gas evaporates just like that.

The German team behind Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies wants to address and overcome these two disadvantages with an innovative bit of chemistry. The ambitious start-up devised a process whereby hydrogen can be stored without any risk of explosion. And that’s not all. They have also discovered a way in which the gas can be transported to the end user with a tanker or a pipeline. How great would it be if we no longer needed to reduce the use of environmentally hazardous fuels, but simply had a clean alternative that we could burn which never runs out?

Fieldfactors – Avoid wet feet with green fields

Climate change is likely to have serious consequences for the Netherlands. Due to the fact that half of the country is actually below sea level, the risk of flooding is constantly looming over our tiny hinterland. And this is not the sole threat. Heavy rainfall will be more frequent as a result of a warmer kind of climate. Excess rainwater has to go somewhere if you don’t want the streets to be flooded. This is especially a problem in built-up areas. It can be very difficult to get rid of water when everything is packed in tight. However, the Dutch wouldn’t be Dutch if they didn’t have an innovative solution for this. One of these is Bluebloqs, a system from the start-up Fieldfactors, whereby 95% of rainwater can be stored underground in a basin.

This storage technology not only keeps our feet dry, it also looks pretty green. The system is visible at street level in the form of a plant bed. This naturally enhances the appeal of the street scenes. A win-win situation. An underground system is currently being installed in Rotterdam and is also dealing with a third sore point. Climate change does not limit itself to heavier rainfall, but also to longer periods of drought. Thanks to the compact storage basin, rainwater can be stored for months and reused at any time.

The biggest job these ex-students from Delft University have done so far was to install a storm water drain near the Kasteel football stadium, the home of Sparta. The football field is being watered in a sustainable manner through this basin. The square in front of the station has become a lot greener. And the local residents are no longer inconvenienced by flooding.

That the Dutch are internationally known as experts in the field of water management has once again been by Fieldfactors. The initiators show that innovation does not necessarily have to involve high-tech gadgets. One can also look towards nature too. In fact, everyone benefits from this system at a time when a well thought-out irrigation policy is more important than ever. This is enough reason for us to reward Fieldfactors this week with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Slush Helsinki is filled with entrepreneurs, researchers and investors, but hardly any politicians

Suzanne de Kok Selstad is the CEO of ‘Skape‘, a Norwegian start-up consulting organisation. She lives in Stavanger and is a first-time visitor of Slush, the annual innovation and Start-up festival in Helsinki. She writes about her experiences at “the World’s LeadingStart-up Event” for Innovation Origins. This is Day 2 of the event. You can read part 1 here.

We are several people from our county Rogaland attending Slush for different reasons. Trond Medhus, Opportunity Manager for Invest In Stavanger (Greater Stavanger Region) stated that “Slush is the place to be for meeting start-ups, investors and entrepreneurs. Since we are in a global market, we need to be out there getting inspired, listen to the entrepreneurial stories from different angles”. There is indeed no doubt that this is a place that allows us to look into the future – and a perfect place for valuable networking as well. We are meeting people with the brightest ideas, talents, students, investors and on-the-go we get insights on the future technological trends. Next year, we want to bring more start-ups from the Stavanger region over to Slush and use this conference as a place to inspire young entrepreneurs and give them valuable insights and network.

“Money is flowing in the start-up venues”

Cato Meling, head of conference at ONS, the second-largest energy conference in the world, mentions that “it has been an inspiring day at Slush with engaging speakers and interesting themes”. The State of European Tech 2019, which was presented today, essentially states that money is flowing in the start-up venues and there is a need for more women in tech. This positive vibe throughout the event is contagious and incredibly inspiring, and I will for sure be back next year.

“We need more women in tech”

Day two was also exciting, with different insightful themes. Again, we had to make a choice! Like yesterday, we heard people discussing the challenges about talents. But also, about the different demands of talents themselves. Do future talents want to live in big, expensive cities? Can climate changes create new business opportunities? What can we learn from history? Several interesting questions were raised, allowing us to think for ourselves and dwell on the complexity of the future.

Since we got the opportunity to cruise around Helsinki on an e-scooter yesterday, we had to listen to Fredrik Hjelm, Co-founder & CEO of Voi Technology and Lawrence Leuschner, CEO & Co-founder of TIER Mobility. They shared insights about how their companies work together with cities to change regulations. They challenge cities to rethink their transport system. Most cities today are dominated by cars. They, however, raise the question: do we really need two lanes for cars? Berlin is, for example, moving away from extra car lanes and Paris is implementing safety actions for bikers.

Skapes Rudolf Hansen and Suzanne de Kok Selstad on their e-scooters in Helsinki

Cities can also think about changing the rules. More tenders for e-scooters in one in town? A maximum number of providers? Limit a licence for maybe two or three years? Madrid has a tender of 15-17 companies for different parts of town. And how about safety? Most accidents are between cars and scooters, we need to rethink the way they interact. It is, however, rarely the case between scooters or scooter and pedestrians.

Build a culture

Personally, I enjoyed the session about people, we know that it is all about people, especially in the startup world. How important it is to build teams, onboard new members, integrate them, build a culture. Always think of diversity: it breathes better decision-making, offers different angles. Start the process of building a company culture early and include people around you in the process. And if you lead a team yourself, dare to be vulnerable. Dare to say I don’t know and ask somebody who does.

At the end of Day 2, we saw the finals for research pitching. When I heard about these researchers, It immediately felt really good. So many bright ideas for future challenges… 95 ideas, 8 final pitches, one winner! The winner of the grand prize, the 100,000 Euro Skolar Award grant, is Thomas Hausmaninger from the National Metrology Institute of Finland.

“This positive vibe throughout the event is contagious and incredibly inspiring”

I felt privileged being at Slush where there were so many people who have this positive energy of being part of creating something. We need entrepreneurs, we need researchers, we need investors. The group maybe lacking were the politicians.

Slush 2019 is finished. Now, on my way back to Norway, I feel inspired, filled with new knowledge and blessed with a whole new network. I’ll be back!

Start-up of the Day: Skinive develops AI-powered app for skin self-examination

Skinive is an AI-technology for Skin Health Self-Examination. Users upload photos of skin areas with suspicious spots, moles or rash into the app, Skinive algorithms examine the image and make an instant diagnosis. Skinive can detect signs of numerous skin diseases such as pre-cancerous moles and skin cancer, papillomavirus, rosacea and others.

Start-up Skinive began life as AI Skin Health Self-Examination service in 2018 in Belarus. Since then Skinive AI has been continuously learning from medical doctors’ input and countless images and descriptions of skin diseases. Recently the company from Belarus has become a finalist of Rockstart AI Accelerator program in the Netherlands.

Innovation Origins has spoken with Kirill Atstarov, the founder of Skinive, about highlights and challenges that the start-up has experienced and about its business journey from Belarus to the international market.

What motivated you to start Skinive? How did it happen?

Our motivation was to create our own health self-examination product. At first, we wanted to create AI technology for diagnostics of some common diseases and prediction modelling. However, this would involve the use of X-rays or ultrasound images. For that reason, the applications of our technology required pilot projects with medical institutions, which was difficult to arrange in Belarus. That is why we restricted our scope to a skin health examination. In this way, we could bring our technology directly to the end-user – thanks to the fact that nowadays almost everyone has a smartphone. We started with the diagnostics of skin cancer. But soon we realized that the market already had enough of AI skin examination apps serving the same purpose, so we broadened the range of skin diseases that could be detected by our algorithms.

What kind of problems do you solve?

Our main motivation is to create a product that would allow many people to be healthy. Now people can have a quick skin examination with our app, get a result and if a (potentially) dangerous skin condition is found, users need to visit a doctor. However, we plan that in the future it would be possible to confirm the diagnosis with a doctor in the app – in the form of a telemedicine service. Two opinions – from the AI and a dermatologist – are especially useful to have if people are dealing with skin allergy.

What is the biggest obstacle that you needed/will need to overcome?

Our main problem was that medical doctors in Belarus were initially sceptical about our technology. In the beginning, we faced a lot of criticism. Some medical specialists did not understand how AI-based diagnostics worked, some people even called our technology health fraud.

When I came to the Netherlands for the Rockstart program, I visited Nijmegen and met medical doctors who are specialized in diagnostics with the usage of neural networks and AI. That was a pleasant surprise!

What is the difference between Skinive and other skin self-examination apps? 

Most of the existing skin examination apps focus on diagnostics of skin cancer. With our AI algorithms and we can detect and identify not only skin cancer but about thirty other skin conditions. Skin cancer is undoubtedly a dangerous disease, but it is not the most common skin problem. Most frequently people suffer from acne or viral infections, and we want to help those people.

Skinive at work © Skinive

Do you receive support from the government of Belarus?

The activity of Skinive and similar start-ups has attracted the attention of the Belarusian government. So, at the beginning of October there was a round table in Minks with the Minister of Health and the administration of Belarussian main technology hub – Hi-tech Park. They were discussing the new ways of cooperation between medical specialists and software companies like Skinive. As a result, they came up with a program that makes IT and healthcare cooperation more convenient both sides. It is an important step for the industry. Previously medical doctors could only work with IT-companies as private individuals in their free time – not as employees of a hospital.

Are there accomplishments that made you proud of your work?

The accomplishment we are most proud of is the first life that we have saved with our app! That happened during an international IT-conference EMERGE in Minsk. We were demonstrating what we do as a start-up to the visitors. We were letting them try out our application and examine moles, spots and rash they were concerned about. One of the visitors took the test and received a “potential threat” result for a mole on his face. We helped this person to arrange a visit to a dermatologist and oncologist in Minsk. They confirmed the diagnosis – the early stage of skin cancer – and directed him to the surgical removal of this life-threatening mole. After that case we received lots of attention in media, many people started using our service and the Belarusian Ministry of health offered us support. So that was a breakthrough for Skinive.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

We are going to become residents of the High-Tech Park in Minsk – the “Silicon Valley” of Belarus. Skinive has finished the Rockstart AI-track and with their help, we are setting up Skinive in the Netherlands. The company is going to start working in the European market. However, we are planning to leave RnD centre in Belarus.

s long as the software development concerned, we are planning to create an educational smartphone app for medical doctors and all the people who want to learn more about their skin.

What is the ultimate goal of Skinive?

We want to create a technology that enables people to diagnose different skin conditions in their early stages – a personal tool for skin health monitoring.

First day of Slush offers a mixed bag of innovative inspiration

Suzanne de Kok Selstad is the CEO of a Norwegian start-up consulting organisation. She lives in Stavanger and is a first-time visitor of Slush, the annual innovation and Start-up festival in Helsinki. She writes about her experiences at “the World’s LeadingStart-up Event” for Innovation Origins.

Finally my first live Slush in Helsinki! I streamed it for four years but hadn’t been able to actually visit the festival. My daily job, being the CEO of a partnership called ‘Skape‘, where we offer free consultancy and education for start-ups in the Rogaland county in Norway. This is on behalf of our owners, the 26 communities, and our Rogaland fylkekommune.

Today, I met a lot of people who are considering to start a company or people who already have started one, everything from ‘basic’ to matured entrepreneurs, innovative ones as well as the ones that still have to do their research while establishing their company. I met investors, public funders and politicians who have to decide about creating public funding possibilities to help start-ups. Politicians are in the position to change the purchasing system, so start-ups can have some assistance to reach their markets.

Slush! We, me and my colleague need inspiration and learn from others, so it is great to be here, together with

  • 25,000 participants
  • 3,500 startups
  • 2,000 investors
  • 350 researchers
  • 2,400 volunteers

There Are speakers on four stages, several mini-stages, so we have to choose our topics.

What did we learn today and what will give more reflection in time?

During the grand opening, it was said that new companies can create opportunities for future challenges. There is a challenge, it’s going really fast these days! And everything should have a social and environmental impact. And yes, of course, it is all about people, your team, culture and talents.

Finding talents is a challenge for some disciplines, but the talent is universal.

One needs diversity between the different environments. One should also take responsibility for one’s own education through different channels, institutional and through self-study.

So we were challenged to be “fucking fearless” when it comes to marketing, challenge the systems, maybe even do it without a marketing team?

Be a changemaker, is what we hear. You have a choice, so make a change in your footprint. Create value and create it for the long term!

Slush 2019 day one, to me: a lot of lights, dark venue, good food, good logistics, lots of service-minded volunteers, a lot to see, good communication app. A great day!

Read the second episode here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignazio Rocco, Founder & CEO. ®Credimi

Do you only operate in Italy? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is the Credimi customer?

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

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

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

®Credimi

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

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

What can we expect in the future from Credimi?

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

How has been the response been to Credimi? 

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

What is your ultimate goal?

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

Start-up of the Day: Hydrogen as the ‘crude oil’ of the future

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Hydrogenious is the product of a university research team that already had faith in hydrogen when it still wasn’t really relevant in Germany. They have managed to find a way to store and transport the hard-to-handle hydrogen in a practical way. After a successful financing round, they now want to establish their LOHC technology worldwide and “make hydrogen the ‘crude oil’ of the regenerative era”, says co-founder Daniel Teichmann.

In terms of mass, hydrogen has three times the energy content of gasoline. This is an impressive feature for an energy source. However, hydrogen also has the lowest density of all gases and is therefore difficult to handle. It evaporates easily, is flammable and must be stored under high pressure or at low temperatures.

Evaporation and flammability

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies took up the challenge and solved both evaporation and flammability issues. The start-up company developed a process whereby hydrogen can be stored and transported together with oil (dibenzyltoluene) without risk. The result? The existing infrastructure can be used. Not only the fuel tanks at service stations, but also the pipelines for transportation. This could pave the way for emission-free mobility and industry.

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is a spin-off from the Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Managing director and co-founder Daniel Teichmann has been working in the field of LOHC (liquid organic hydrogen carriers) since the start of his PhD in 2009. The company was founded in 2013 as a result of a critical technological breakthrough, which was also co-developed by professors Peter Wasserscheid, Wolfgang Arlt and Eberhard Schlücker.

Dewatering system

What was already working under laboratory conditions could be implemented on a technical scale for the first time in 2016. The first LOHC dewatering system was commissioned at the Fraunhofer ILO in Stuttgart. Electrolysis and hydrogenation take place at the main site in Erlagen. The process works as follows:

  • The hydrogen is produced with the aid of solar energy using PEM electrolysis,
  • Hydrogen is hydrogenated through the chemical bonding of hydrogen molecules to the liquid carrier via catalytic reactions,
  • During the dehydrogenation process, catalytic reactions are again used to release the hydrogen molecules from the liquid carrier medium,
  • The carrier material is not wasted and can be reused again and again.

Target groups are the chemical industry as well as service stations and the chemical industry. Hydrogenious sells two types of equipment. These are storage facilities for use in hydrogen-producing wind farms for hydrogenation, and the so-called Release Box at service stations and industrial installations for dehydrogenation.

 

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious
LOHC recycling system with storage installation and a Release Box (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Innovation Origins spoke with Daniel Teichmann:

What is your motivation and what problem does the company resolve?

We believe in hydrogen as a renewable energy source. This motivated us to start the company in 2013. At that time, we could have developed the technology together with industrial partners, but we wanted to be in business.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome? Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

Giving up never occurred to us and fortunately there was never a reason to give up. However, setting up and developing a business is a huge challenge. At the start, it’s usually a matter of finding funding. In Germany, there is not really an explicit culture when it comes to venture capital. Things are different in the Anglo-Saxon world and in China. Six years ago, hydrogen was not yet playing an important role in Europe. This has changed over the past year. As a university spin-off, we started out with a technology that works at the laboratory level. We first had to bring it up to an industrial level and make it commercially relevant.

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
Construction of the LOHC hydrogen infrastructure in the USA (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

What have been the highlights so far?

The successful funding round in July 2019, where we found four partners who not only act as capital providers, but also make a strategic contribution. This was an important milestone in the history of hydrogen-based LOHC technologies.

What are the advantages of your location?

Erlangen is an ideal location for us because of its proximity to the university, whom we also work closely with. In addition, the availability of specialists here is very good. We are also very lucky with our landlords, they’ve provided us with an excellent office and workshop space.

Where will your company be in five years’ time?

We want to progress from our current demonstration level to the realization of large industrial projects. We want to establish a successful global positioning of the LOHC technology. With our technology, hydrogen can then be easily and efficiently transported over long distances. For example, from Africa to Europe. That is how we can make an emission-free industry happen.

What distinguishes your innovation from similar products in the hydrogen energy sector?

Hydrogen has been produced and stored as an industrial gas for one hundred years. Our technology means that using hydrogen in a liquid form is feasible which thereby means it can make use of the existing infrastructure. In this way, we are turning hydrogen into the emission-free fuel of the future. Similar technologies exist in Japan, although they are not exactly the same. We are the technological leaders with our LOHC. As such, we hope to make an important contribution towards combating climate change.

Are you interested in start-ups? Read all articles from our series here.

Also interesting:

TU Eindhoven is bringing hydrogen as a source of energy for households one step closer.

Mobility of the future – battery or hydrogen?

Start-up of the day: Field Factors recycles rainwater in a compact modular system

De waterzuivering bij Sparta in Rotterdam

Field Factors enables purification and storage of rainwater with the use of their Bluebloqs circular system. It can be applied in an urban environment like that of the Sparta football club in Rotterdam. The system offers the advantage that it takes up very little space. The water can be recycled during dry periods several months later.

Commercial director Wilrik Kok (36) talks about the innovative character of Field Factors.

How did the idea for Field Factors come about?

We all have a background in spatial planning, including at TU Delft, e.g. landscape design, architecture and industrial design. We saw that rainwater was often just being drained off while there was a demand for water for irrigation and cooling later on. This awareness existed even before the very dry periods of recent summers. As an example, that you could take advantage of this opportunity when a sewage system gets replaced. Field Factors wants to manage water differently and in a natural way.

What kind of things does it do?

The application of Bluebloqs is key. It is a compact, green system that collects and purifies 95% of the rainwater through biofiltration in conjunction with underground storage technology. This allows parks to remain green and sports fields can be kept in optimal condition every season. The water is good enough for industrial use too.

For example, at the Sparta stadium in Rotterdam the rainwater drainage system has been disconnected and is being prepared for recycling which happens in four steps. Rainwater will be collected in the stadium and at the nearby square. Together these cover an area of six football pitches in total. This water will be collected in a reservoir underneath one of the Cruyff Courts (mini football fields made of artificial grass in public spaces, ed.) This polluted water is then decontaminated using plants and sand. The purified water is stored in an underground water reservoir. W hen it’s hot This water can be used by children who are playing to cool them down. As well as for watering the Sparta sports field. Flooding is prevented during heavy showers. The square is greener and the football club has a sustainable water supply.

Location, location, location

It is a comprehensive approach, from the beginning to the end and where maintenance is concerned. We base our work on the location and use it to make a quick scan. What is the ground underneath like, and is decoupling possible? We then make a draft sketch to offer an idea of what is feasible and what it will cost. If the interested party agrees, we work on it up until the specifications phase when a contractor can take over and get to work. After it is completed, we remain involved in monitoring and maintaining it.

Het team van Field Factors, plus een onderzoeker en twee afstudeerders
The Field Factors team, including a researcher and two graduates. With founders Wilrik Kok (left) and Karina Peña (right).

What makes your company stand out?

What’s special is that Field Factors is busy with the design of the water system at a very early stage, but also remains involved afterwards. That usually doesn’t happen. Construction of water drainage systems and their management are usually carried out separately from each other. Aside from that, the actual physical integration is unique to Bluebloqs.

How have the reactions been so far?

When we first started out, the problems surrounding dry weather were not yet apparent and it was really a matter of first seeing, then believing. In retrospect we did choose the right momentum as it is very topical nowadays. Up until now, we had primarily been working on unique locations and pilot projects which can also serve as an example for regular application of our system in the vicinity.

What has been the biggest obstacle?

Initially the local community – even people out and about on the streets -was reluctant and they found it difficult to accept the way it works and is built. Or even that a water purification system can actually be used in a public space. Usually these are hidden underground, but we have deliberately opted for visibility. And by that I specifically mean the location. That in the first instance, you pick a particular place where many people flock to, and use that for the Bluebloqs Biofilter.

What have been the highlights?

That was last year at Sparta in Rotterdam. Then you’ve built something and it’s exciting to see if it works properly. A lot of water is being processed at that location. So, if things go wrong you’re bound to get a lot of unwelcome attention. And in October we won €100,000 as finalists of the Green Challenge. This is an annual, international sustainability competition held by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

What can be expected in the coming year?

We are racing to build five systems. One of these is definitely going to succeed, but all lights are green for the other four projects as well. Besides that, we are expecting an answer from our patent application. And we are launching a new product, an extension of the Bluebloqs product line. A rain garden, so to speak.

Where will Field Factors be in five years’ time?

We will have grown and have a team of fifteen people. By that time we will have fifty systems operational in The Netherlands. We will also have shifted our operations to Spain. Our director Karina Peña is in fact a Spanish speaker. Spain is likely to suffer more and more from increasing drought as time goes by.

Read moreStart-up of the day: Field Factors recycles rainwater in a compact modular system

Start-up of the day: Carefree electric travel with EP Tender battery trailer

The EP Tender looks like a camper’s tiny pod caravan that’s towed behind an ordinary car – but it isn’t! It is actually a mobile battery that will someday make it possible to travel hundreds of kilometers with an electric car. At present, most EVs usually don’t go further than 150 kilometers, so says the founder of EP Tender, Jean-Baptiste Segard. The battery is then empty and needs to be recharged. Segard hopes that the masses will switch to buying an electric car as soon as EP Tender’s battery trailer comes onto the market.

What motivated you to set up EP Tender and what problem did it resolve?

“I first came up with the idea of a trailer with extra capacity for the electric car like our current EP Tender when I wanted to buy an electric car myself. That was back in 2012. I couldn’t find a suitable electric car at that time. The range was not great enough for the few times a year when I wanted to travel much further. I thought it was a pity that there wasn’t a modular system around that would supplement the electric car’s battery so that I could occasionally travel longer distances with it.

At first I thought of a trailer with an internal combustion engine which might run on petrol. But in 2018, we switched to a trailer with an auxiliary battery, because then we would be better able to meet the needs of the electric car manufacturers. We will have to halve our CO2 emissions by 2030. And that is something that car manufacturers must also work towards.

150 kms of extra range

The rationale behind the battery is that you only hire it when you need extra range. Generally speaking, I think this would only be about six times a year for me. You can lengthen the range of your electric car from about 150 kilometers to 250 to 300 kilometers. You could also place a larger battery permanently in your car so that you can keep on driving. But that is far too expensive for most people. This remains an obstacle for them as far as switching to electric-powered transport is concerned.

Installing a larger battery is generally not an efficient solution for increasing the car’s range either, as most people drive just a few times a year further than an average car battery can handle. Otherwise you would be driving around with that heavy battery for no reason. You can compare the weight with that of a cow or a donkey. You’ll have these on your back seat during every short trip. Why would you want to do that if you don’t need to?”

The EP Tender team: Frederic Joint, Jean-Baptiste Segard (second from left), Hugo Basset, Fabrice Viot, Dingjie Ma, Hancheng Yang

What is the main obstacle you will need to overcome?

“It is very difficult to be taken on board in the development plans of car manufacturers. The automotive industry has been around for 120 years. And the planning cycle is lengthy when it comes to developing a new car. That said, we are in talks with a number of car manufacturers. However, a contract with any of them is yet to materialize. It is important that this happens. After all, the car manufacturers must apply for approval from the statutory regulators for use of the EP Tender system with their electric cars. They will only do that once they have our technology fitted to their cars. We cannot do that for them. As long as they haven’t got that done, there won’t be a market for us.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“In 2018, when we switched to a battery in the EP Tender instead of a combustion engine. That way you can rely even more on sustainable energy.”

The EP Tender mobile battery Photo: EP Tender

What can we expect from EP Tender in the coming year?

“Our business model must be in place by then. We are now completing a survey using data from 350,000 consumers which should show what most people would be willing to pay when hiring the EP Tender. As well as how often, where and when they could use the EP Tender. We are now putting the finishing touches to the robotics of the trailer so that it can connect itself to the car. The idea is that every 50 kilometers along the road there will be a service station where there will always be twenty EP Tenders ready to be connected. We are currently discussing the location of these service stations with energy companies. But also with private motorway operators in various European countries who have a state concession for these. They have an interest in electric cars being able to add energy in time so that they don’t end up stuck on the roadside.”

Where would you like to be with EP Tender in five years’ time?

“Then we would like to be profitable. Or at least break even. The outlook is that 40% of cars will be electric by 2030. So the demand for the EP Tender should have increased by then. By 2025, we want our trailer to be available for hire in the major European countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. But also in Austria, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Denmark. And we want to have a foothold in the US, China and India.”

What does EP Tender’s innovation improve upon compared to products in your segment of the market?

“That drivers of electric cars can drive a long distance without having to constantly worry about their battery’s energy reserves.”

Start-up of the Week: Farewell to filthy seafarers?

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

CityStep – E-scooters set to soar in The Netherlands

The four students from Breda at CityStep have proven that holidays can sometimes also be a time to reflect and be inspired. Sometimes you don’t even have to come up with something completely new for a good business plan. Instead, you can simply shift an existing idea from one place to another. The Brabanders were so enthusiastic about their e-scooter tour during a city trip to Valencia that they immediately thought: ‘We have to got to bring this to The Netherlands too’. But that was easier said than done, as ever since the Stint tragedy in 2018, electric bikes in the Netherlands have suffered from a bad image.

The National Transport Authority (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer) has significantly tightened up the rules due to safety reasons, but this did not prevent CityStep from going ahead with their plans. During a networking get-together on a rooftop in Tilburg, they came into contact with a scooter manufacturer that meets these strict regulations. The first rental scooters in Tilburg are now available for hire. The transformation towards an e-scooter empire which encompasses the Netherlands should take place over the coming years.

Wabenwerk – Done with non-recyclable plastic

The invention of plastic in the twentieth century meant a real revolution in the packaging sector and in food preservation. Yet plastic is both a curse and a blessing. Mountains of disposable plastic pollute the oceans and the stuff is so tough that it takes nature hundreds of years to break it down. How wonderful would it be if you could have the versatility and advantages without the drawbacks? More and more governments are working on reducing dnon-recyclable plastic. There is even a complete ban in Costa Rica. However, an alternative is needed. The founders of Wabenwerk in Germany were inspired by Mother Nature herself.

Bees in their natural environment are also constantly working on sealing their larvae, pollen and honey in their hives. They do this with honeycombs that they make out of beeswax. Wabenwerk developed a cling foil made of this organic material so that plastic foil is no longer necessary. Bees play a very important role in the pollination of crops in nature. They fly from flower to flower and gather more pollen on their feet. Whenever things go bad for these insects, you can also see this reflected in the environment. Do the diligent six-legged honey makers still play an essential role when it comes to the livability of our planet? That may very well be the case!

SARA – More mechanical hands on hand in homes for the elderly?

The workload within the elderly care sector is set to increase at an unprecedented rate over the coming years. In about ten years’ time, a relatively large group of elderly baby boomers will need a great deal of care. At the same time, there will be significant shortages in this sector. Nevertheless, there is a trend that more or less coincides with that of baby boomers who are in need of care. Namely, the rise of service robots. The Eindhoven-based company Bright Cape has designed SARA, which is a Social & Autonomous Robotic Health Assistant, SARA already carries out work in two Dutch senior citizens’ centers on the work floor. Ironically, this robot offers a modicum of humanity in times when every minute of care is supposed to be spent efficiently.

SARA is able to chat with chronically ill clients, play a number of interactive games with them and even has a program with made-to-measure physical exercises. This allows her human colleagues to spend more time on healthcare tasks. However, it is a bit odd that a robot like SARA is supposed to make sure that the human element comes back to the care for our senior citizens. Wouldn’t it be more logical to employ a robot nurse for the medical tasks and thereby give people more time for a cup of coffee or a chat about the weather? All the same, SARA is more than welcome! Clients and care staff are happy with this innovative nurse on wheels. She is a keeper for them in any event.

Heat Power – Flexible turbines for peak demand

The first two decades of the 21st century were characterized by flexibility. And if it’s up to Henk Ouwerkerk, this should also be the case for consumers of large quantities of energy. This Dutch start-up designed a system that they have called Rankine Compression Gas Turbine. A steam turbine that can be switched on when there is a need for more power. Why is this so convenient? Large consumers often buy electricity in bulk. So when they unexpectedly need more than that, they tend to buy extra. However, this costs them a lot of money and puts an extra burden on the electricity grid.

By using the RCG system from Heat Power during times of peak demand, you can avoid that this ‘peak demand’ becomes the new standard. You can’t use this superfluous amount of electricity for any other purpose, so it’s a real shame that it’s generated for no reason. The steam turbines can be activated in the event of a power outage but remain inactive for the rest of the time. Ideal for manufacturing companies that have to deal with fluctuating and unpredictable demand.

We4Sea – Farewell to filthy seafarers?

The fact that flying and driving contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases is now well known. We all have to live more sustainably on a massive scale and every polluter has to be involved in this. One sector which is somewhat less commonly recognized as far as this is concerned, is the shipping industry. Container ships are essential for the transport of goods around the world, but they have a very nasty disadvantage. They use heavy crude oil and this is about the most environmentally damaging fuel out there. In fact, one container ship produces as much carbon dioxide emissions as no fewer than 50 million cars. So there is a lot of ground that can be gained here, as they pointed out by the We4Sea start-up based in TU Delft.

What does this international team do? They use data models to advise the maritime sector on how to reduce their emissions by a substantial percentage. Measurement equipment usually has to be installed for comparable initiatives, which is easier said than done for large ships. We4Sea uses a unique technology that utilizes satellite data, ship position data, weather data and technical data from the ship for creating a computer simulation. Real-time advice is generated on the basis of this data. This enables the crew to drastically reduce their emissions. These energy-saving measures are not only sustainable, but also make a considerable difference in terms of costs for companies. Because, of course, no one wants to emit more than is strictly necessary just for the sake of it.

Much still has to be done despite the fact that in recent decades considerable steps within the shipping industry have already been taken towards a more sustainable future. The sector has set itself strict targets. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50%. While such targets are naturally a welcome first step, they still have to be met. This is also easier said than done. For example, the Dutch government has not met its 2020 targets. Nor do  they expect to meet those of 2030 either. Perhaps the shipping industry will succeed in 2050 with We4Sea’s help! Their single-minded, innovative approach to a sector that is not known for its flexibility and sustainability has in any case convinced us to honor We4Sea with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Start-up of the day: the greening of the fuel-guzzling shipping industry

Efficiënter brandstofverbruik met behulp van We4sea kan enorm schelen in de scheepvaart

We4Sea helps ship charterers and ship owners to reduce the fuel consumption and emissions of their ships. And they do this without needing to install sensors on board. This energy-intensive sector can reap substantial profits with the help of big data. Especially now that fuel costs are soaring.

CEO Dan Veen elaborates on their services.

What motivated you to set up the company?

Co-founder Michiel Katgert and I have a passion for shipping. The downside of this wonderful and global industry is its relatively large impact on the environment. Shipping has a major impact on the environment due to the large amounts of industrial oil that is used daily. We aim to use our expertise to help improve ships by greatly improving their fuel efficiency. Research at TNO (where we used to work) has led to an idea for helping shipping companies and charterers to cut down on emissions from their ships.

What are you doing?

90% of all goods around the world are transported by ship. The maritime sector consumes enormous amounts of crude oil -up to 100,000 liters per day per ship. As a result of new regulations aimed at reducing emissions, fuel costs will rise to 50% as of January 1st next year. Shipowners are therefore looking for existing or new techniques geared towards monitoring fuel consumption and conservation. However, the purchase and installation of sensors is expensive, and the uncertainties surrounding this is considerable. To date, the use of data analysis in the maritime sector has been very limited when it concerns predicting consumption in combination with new technical measures or technologies.

We4Sea helps ship owners to monitor and lower their fuel consumption. We4Sea can provide accurate and real-time insight into fuel consumption and ways to improve it. This requires using big data and simulation models. The data provides insights into where profits could be made. There are two areas where measures can be taken: operational and technical.

In operational terms, we can advise on economical speeds. This means that a recommendation is made on the speed that leads to the lowest fuel consumption based on the ship type and the weather forecast. This can save up to 10% in fuel consumption.

Another common factor is that the ship is used for a purpose that differs from their design. Almost all the ships that we monitor do not sail the way they were originally designed to. For instance, a ship doesn’t reach the high speeds for which it was built. If that is permanent, you can adapt the propeller, engine or hull to the new situation. This can often reduce consumption by between 5 to 10 percent.

How is your company different from comparable companies, how do you try to distinguish yourselves?

We4Sea has a unique technology which means that we don’t have to install any sensors to be able to give an accurate picture of the performance of ships. Installing sensors on ships is often complicated. This is because the ship has to be in a port and cannot be used for a few days or several weeks. Moreover, maintenance and calibration are required, and in the event of a breakdown, the data supply is immediately cut off.

We4Sea’s technology uses a sophisticated combination of various data sources, such as satellite data, vessel position data, weather data and the ship’s technical data. These are all in aid of enabling the Digital Twin simulation mode to calculate what the ship’s energy consumption should be at that particular moment in time. This creates an accurate overview in real-time of the ship’s usage. This estimate is regularly validated using the ship’s fuel consumption and speed data, usually once a day. Discrepancies between theoretical and reported usage often signify inefficiencies that can be addressed. This monitoring method means that a ship could be monitored with a minimum of investment. After analysis of the data, concrete cost-cutting measures can be proposed.

The founders of We4sea are Michiel Katgert (CTO, left) and Dan Veen (CEO, right).

How has the response been?

The response has been very positive. The high level of accuracy for the data analyses and fuel consumption projections were particularly well received.

What obstacles have you come up against?

The main problem is the speed at which this technology is being accepted by the industry. Many shipping companies have limited expertise in data analysis, which means that the implementation and acceptance of this technology is progressing slowly. Thanks to internationalization, decisions about the application of the technology are often divided between various companies, each with its own role: ship owner, technical manager, charterer, end customer. In most cases the shipowner is not the one who pays for the fuel, while the charterer, who foots the fuel bill, doesn’t have long-term contracts with the ship owner either.

What has been the main highlight for We4Sea so far?

There have been a number of highlights. Like the first version (MVP) of our online platform back in November 2016. The signing of our first commercial contracts with clients and, of course, the favorable reactions of some of our clients.

What will happen in the coming year?

In January 2020, new regulations will come into force which will increase the charterers’ fuel costs by 25 – 50%. We are anticipating a much greater level of interest in fuel monitoring and fuel efficiency. By the end of November 2019, we will be launching a new module that will provide charterers with immediate insight into this. We have high expectations for this.

Where will We4Sea be in five years’ time?

We will have reduced CO2 emissions by one million tons in the shipping industry. This is comparable to the annual emissions of 300,000 cars.

Read moreStart-up of the day: the greening of the fuel-guzzling shipping industry

Skis and other means of snow mobility – four new technologies

Skier, Wintersportgeräte

The first snow has long since fallen in the Alps. And the Christmas holidays aren’t that far away either. It’s high time to explore the latest options for snow mobility. Obviously, skiing is the most important branch of winter sports. Yet by no means the only one. All over the world, start-ups are tinkering with new technologies and bold combinations for winter sports options. The result is not always crystal clear.

At 4500 years old, skis are the most advanced winter sports equipment. However, further optimization is possible thanks to digitization.

1. Made-to-measure x mass production

The Austrian company Original+ has designed a self-learning online ski configurator. This system configures the right skis on the basis of answers to 21 personal questions with the help of artificial intelligence. The program has been developed in collaboration with the start-up Fact.AI. Basically the idea was to make individually adapted skis possible for a wide public. The Original+ models are available from €660.

Commercialization of custom-made skis was made possible by:

  • Automation of customer conversations;
  • A modular ski structure that allows for 600 ski designs;
  • Combining flexible ski production with precise series production;

Each ski model is made up of 32 parts that are adapted to the individual skier. The central element is the wooden core, which can be made of poplar wood, ash wood, or a combination of the two. The construction, processing and strength have an effect on the ski properties and are adjusted accordingly.

2. Snow shoes x skis

The desire to combine skiing with endurance sports has led to a wonderful ski touring movement. The combination of mountaineering and the subsequent downhill skiing called for a technological leap forward. The equipment had to be lighter and more flexible. This made it easier to climb as well as provide more grip during the descent. While this was still relatively simple as far as skiing was concerned, it was more difficult when it came to snowboarding. The ascent in particular was sometimes only possible with a splitboard. But not all snowboarders are satisfied with that. Drift, a brand from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, designed an alternative and combined three elements:

  • the simplicity of snowshoes;
  • the speed of the skis;
  • the grip of touring skis;

Seasoned snowboarders only use driftboards for climbing. Once they’re at the top, they exchange them for a snowboard. The light and handy boards are easy to attach to a rucksack. They are lightweight thanks to the carbon material. The wooden core is not heavy either according to the makers. It gives the boards the stability that they need for the descent. Driftboards also function as stand-alone sports equipment. Shape and construction offer versatility and add a playful component to the descent. Its aluminium binding offers the extra advantage that it works with all boots.

 

3. Skis x downhill mountain bike

Three short skis and a saddle-free bike frame provide the basis for the Sno-go Bike. This fusion is not entirely clear. It does offer a totally new experience on snow. The American start up says that the bar should be set low initially. The three skis are able to move independently of each other. They provide control and stability together with the steering grips. Coordinated movements are made possible by synchronized coupling technology. Advanced skiers are also able to perform tricks such as turns and jumps on the Sno-go Bike.

Binding

The feet fit into a kind of binding. These aren’t really fastened, so you can easily move your feet in and out. For instance, you could use a foot to help push the bike off to a start. The inventors have also thought about how to transport the Sno-Go bike. A hook makes it possible to attach it to a chairlift. After use, the bike and skis can be disassembled so that they easily fit into the boot of the car.

 

4. Skis x skates

Would you want to glide across snow in shoes that have a slippery surface? It’s like skating on snow. You could also call them ‘snow-skates’, so say the inventors of Snowfeet, a Czech start-up. The idea of getting through snow with no more equipment than a binding on your shoe with a kind of ski tip is very tempting.

This winter sports gear is light, small, fits in any pocket and is easy to transport. The binding is adjustable in width and can be adapted to all shoes. It looks a lot like a binding for soft snowboard boots. You can use snowboard boots, but you don’t have to. Waterproof winter boots are also suitable as long as they provide ankle support. The gear is made of reinforced fiberglass and has metal edges for fast braking as well as heel brakes to slow down the ride. They can be used on and off the slopes as well as in snow parks. People with acrobatic ambitions can do somersaults with them as well …

Also interesting:

Ski technologies for effortless rides down the slopes

Start-up of the day: Solar panels for DIY-ers – plug it in and you’re good to go!

The Supersola plug-in solar panel may be a nightmare for the installation industry. But this new gadget on the market is not that at all for the consumer who prefers to do as many chores around the home as possible by themselves. It will be up for sale next year. “Then anyone who can connect a plug to a wall socket can install a solar panel on their own,” says Julius Smith, founder of Supersola in Delft.

What was it that motivated you to set up Supersola and what problem did it resolve?

“About 10 years ago I first started working and began in the renewable energy sector. In other words, sustainable energy. Then I found out that the sales of solar panels were slower than we had expected at the company which I was working for back then. The question was why. That’s what I then looked into. It turned out that the majority of the Dutch population really wanted to generate their own solar energy. However, lots of people decided against buying panels in the end. It was often the case that when people did buy solar panels, they only did so a year after having decided that they wanted them.

The reason for this long period of reflection turned out to be that consumers aren’t able to easily find all the information they need in order to find a suitable installer. They also often don’t know which solar panels to buy, and what other products they need to connect them to. Not all components of all brands are compatible, and not all systems are the same. That makes the choice difficult. I then realized that I wanted to design a ready-made panel that consumers could buy with all the necessary parts already on it. So that you get a panel where you only have to plug the attached cord into a socket.”

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

“When I told the suppliers of all those various parts that I wanted to make and sell a plug-in solar panel with everything on it, they would always say: ‘it can’t be done’. The entire solar panel supply chain is geared towards the installation sector. Whereas I want to bring this product to the consumer electronics market ready-to-use. That sometimes made it difficult when it came to getting cooperation.”

 

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That was at the beginning of 2018 when we sold a hundred ready-to-use plug-in solar panels as part of a pilot project. They cost €700 each. Some of them were sold via our own website following a campaign on Facebook. While others were sold via Sungevity, a supplier of solar panels. Only one of those hundred had problems. The power cord was damaged when a windstorm blew through the village of that particular customer. We then sent them a new cable. That fixed the problem.”

What can we expect from Supersola in the coming year?

“That’s when we start selling the first commercial version of the plug-in solar panel. Initially through our own web shop. And we are also working on contracting other parties who are willing to sell our product. That’s not quite finalized as yet. Next year we want to focus on the Dutch market. After that, we plan to go abroad.”

Where do you want Supersola to be in the next five years? What is your ultimate goal?

“We want to be available in Europe and the United States by then.”

What does Supersola’s innovation do better when compared to other products on this segment of the market?

“If all consumers could buy our product, then there’s no longer a hitch when it comes to buying solar panels. You can start with one panel. You don’t have to spend more than €600 or €700. At the moment, installing solar panels costs so much more because you have to bring in an installer. Plus, you have to have more than one panel installed in order to recoup those costs. You’ll end up paying €5000. This would not be the case with our system. You can do it all yourself.”

Start-up of the Day: environmentally friendly cling foil made from beeswax

Problems with plastic waste reach the media almost every day. We are continually being confronted with it even in our own environment. Governments all over the world are trying to tackle this problem with regulatory bans, such as those on plastic bags and straws. Sandra Palazzolo and Kristina Immerz, two young women from the German region of Allgäu, have been working on a solution to the plastic problem since 2017. They are producing beeswax wrappers and cling foil at their start-up Wabenwerk (honeycomb). The products are not just for sale in the region Allgäu itself, but also in Austria and Switzerland and online via their own website. Now Wabenwerk has expanded its product line. The two founders are even playing with the idea of opening a shop in Kaufbeuren where they only sell unpackaged goods.

Innovation Origins spoke with co-founder Sandra Palazzolo about Wabenwerk and its plans for their launch on the market.

Both the founders of Wabenwerk: Kristina Immerz (left) and Sandra Palazzolo © Wabenwerk

How did you come up with the idea for the start-up?

Kristina and I are sisters-in-law. Even before Wabenwerk was set up, we had always made natural foils and we were busy being creative. One day Kristina read an article about beeswax in an organic magazine. We immediately became enthusiastic. ‘What a worthwhile and sustainable product!’ we thought, as well as easy for us to make ourselves.

The first beeswax foils were meant as a Christmas present. We worked so hard on the product and on the waxing technique and composition of the beeswax mixture, that they eventually became Mother’s Day gifts.

Sold out

Of course our friends also got beeswax foils, which proved to be very popular. A friend insisted on designing packaging for us. Another friend invited us to her craft market as exhibitors. We sold out at this market after just a few hours. We also received invitations to other markets and retailers were interested. That was the birth of ‘Wabenwerk Natural Foils.’

What makes Wabenwerk or your products so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?

Beeswax manufacturers don’t see each other so much as direct competitors. At least that’s what experience has taught us over the years. We are all driven by issues ranging from pollution to microplastics to bee mortality. We are able to tackle all these problems through our work. This quickly creates a sense of community and an exchange of ideas. At first we could hardly believe it when we saw in black and white how much aluminium and cling foil you could actually avoid with every sheet you sold!

What has been biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

Our biggest obstacle was the EU legislation concerning the Food and Consumer Product Safety Act. We received a phone call from the city council who alerted us to the compulsory guidelines. According to this, we have to remind consumers to pack food directly in our foil. Aside from the financial burden, it was not easy finding a laboratory where the requisite tests could be carried out on natural products such as beeswax. For the time being, we have decided not to advertise the foils for food packaging. This brought us a few sleepless nights. We questioned whether it was really worth doing all the work. In hindsight, it was just a minor setback. But this obstacle seemed insurmountable to us at the time.

And vice versa: what are you particularly proud of?

We’re very proud when we’re at a market and meet customers from last year who enthusiastically tell us how often they use our beeswax foil and how much plastic they’ve managed to avoid this way. We’re also seeing more and more children and teenagers at these markets who pack their snacks in beeswax foil and proudly tell us that. Which always feels very special to us.

© Wabenwerk

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

There are many reasons to do that. The enthusiasm of our customers and retailers. The varied work that goes into production. The fact that we can realize our ideas and of course the continued success of our company. However, the main motivation is our team and the atmosphere in our workshop. Our work is a lot of fun for all of us and we make a sound and sensible product. What more could you ask for?

 What can we expect from Wabenwerk in the coming years?

We are planning a pure organic line, a vegan line and a do-it-yourself set for the new year. Above all, we want to offer companies, hotels and organizations the opportunity to have personalized beeswax foils designed for them. With their own logo, as promotional gifts or business gifts or Christmas presents. We have already started on that this year. We look forward to being able to do even more along these lines in the future.

What is your vision for Wabenwerk? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years’ time?

Our vision is to keep working on Wabenwerk with the same commitment, to build a worthwhile and sustainable company and to be proud of it. We are constantly trying to evolve and to do something good for our customers and our environment.

Are ypu interested in start-ups? Read all of the articles in our series here.
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