Author: kartikayesdelft

(The nuance of) focus is essential for all startups

One of the main challenges for startups is the need to keep several balls in the air at the same time.

From obtaining customer insights and building a product, to hiring people and designing a legal structure. I see lots of entrepreneurs juggling. And consequently spending precious time on the wrong things. That’s why I advise them to focus.

Eh, but Arthur, weren’t you the guy who recently told us that ‘Focus is bad for early stage startups’? I did! And I did not change my mind about that previous blog. I however want to show the nuance of focus. And thereby the nuance and difficulty of every piece of advice that startups get.

During my (former) career as a startup entrepreneur, I often asked three different experts to advise me on the same matter. All three would give different answers and leave me puzzled. Years later and wiser I realized that all of them were both right and wrong in different ways. As a startup you should try to listen to the nuance in every advice. And figure out how to combine all of those nuances.

Focus your activities

So for example, when I advised that focus is bad for early stage startups, the nuance is that the focus should be on your activities. For startups it’s often logical to work on customer validation, technology, raising money, hiring people, fixing legal stuff and determining your market strategy all at once. And then they get an email from a potential investor and drop everything.

BAD decision. If you have decided that validation is your most important activity (or building, or whatever you chose) don’t get distracted. It will ruin your effectivity. In this case focus on your most important activities is exactly what you need.

Then again (early stage) startups should not focus on their market strategies too early, because they will miss out on important market opportunities, as I stated in my previous post. Many startups told me they really liked this statement. One startup shared that they chose the wrong market themselves, and only realized this a year after the launch of their product. They would have loved to make that pivot much earlier and could have done so by losing some of their focus.

‘funding mode’

Should you ignore that email from the VC then? Definitely not! It’s good to build relationships with investors. But don’t make a fuss. Reply that you can meet, but preferably at your office, since you’re in validation (or another) mode. Have a meeting of one hour max, tell them that you will call back when you are in ‘funding mode’. Put them on your list of investors and get back to your focus activity.

Focus is always your main point of attention. It’s not the only point, but the main. It’s 80% of your activities. Sometimes 95%. Sounds easy, but it’s really easy to get distracted, also by all the advice that is given to you by advisors like me.

One experienced entrepreneur told me he liked my previous article, mainly because he’s fed up with all those one-sentence-mantras that are advised to startups. I fully agree. Oneliners sound great, but they mostly miss the nuance of reality.

Arthur Tolsma is a (freelance) startup coach, contact him via arthur@yesdelft.nl

Ans Delft

Innovating, creating and simplifying online learning

Benjamin Wols and Kerim Haccou started their entrepreneurial quest a few years back when they both worked as teaching assistants for programming courses at the TU Delft.

With almost 800 students who had to submit an assignment every week, reviewing all of them was virtually impossible for the one teacher and four teaching assistants involved. Because of that, all submitted assignments received a ‘pass’ by default, with only the final one being reviewed and graded. As a result, the students got no feedback along the way, yet they thought “they were on the right track, because they got a pass every week”, Benjamin explains.

FROM ONE SIMPLE IDEA

Benjamin and Kerim had an idea of how to do this differently: “We have developed a program that automatically takes a look at your codes and gives you some feedback.” The two founders knew they had a good case as more and more teachers started requesting it for their own classes. “That’s when we thought,” Benjamin recalls, “why not start a company and license [our platform] to the university.”

In August 2014, the duo founded Ans Delft, and focused on broadening the functionalities of their platform to become attractive to a wider range of universities and high schools. They came up with the idea to automate the administrative tasks that come with grading exams, because after all, “every school has exams.”

THROUGH YES! DELFT

Since their first pilot project in May 2015, their platform has been used by around 30 teachers from a number of different faculties at the TU Delft, resulting in the digitizing of more than 7,000 exams and the automatic grading of 25,000 coding assignments.

They are now part of YES!Delft’s Incubation Program, working hard to further improve their product, expanding their market and finding new clients. “At YES!Delft, they try to push you” Benjamin says “and that is very good.” In addition, the incubator’s events have led them to meet a number of prominent experts, as well as get free working hours with (legal) advisors, and in general “people that you don’t get in touch with very easily.”

Today, Ans Delft is a team of seven: the two co-founders working full time, and five part-time students.

TO A GROWING COMPANY

While there are currently about 30 teachers using their platform, the team makes sure that they increase that number every semester. Perhaps what is even more important is that “we haven’t had any teacher leaving the system, so we have a retention rate of 100%.”

While they started at their very own TU Delft, the team is now talking with multiple universities and high schools in the Netherlands to launch a pilot project. And that is precisely what is ahead of them in the months to come – more negotiations, more interest in their product and more sales. And more satisfied students and teachers.

Milestones:
August 2014 – Founded Ans Delft
May 2016 – Joined YES!Delft’s Incubation Program
October 2016 – Processed 7,000 exams and automatically graded 25,000 programming assignments

E-trailer

The SMART, electrical caravan providing you with real-time information

Whereas 10 years back towing a caravan wasn’t much of a hassle, things are quite different today. Cars are smaller, lighter, and more sustainable than ever before. Great news, without a doubt, except for the fact that many of them are unable to tow a proper caravan.

To solve that problem, the team behind E-Trailer is on a mission: to create an electrical caravan that helps the car in pulling it. On the road to making that a reality, they have found ways to roll out other innovative solutions, too.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA
Founders Boy Trip and Rick Lenssen met over a year ago to find out that they had very similar entrepreneurial ambitions: “We both wanted to start a company, and we both had the same vision,” Boy remembers. While he had been gaining business experience as part of YES!Delft’s students board, among others, Rick was working on his (electrical) engineering skills as a member of the Nuon Solar Team. When they put their heads together, they saw the appeal of assisting cars and their owners by developing an electrically propelled caravan.

A course on the basics of starting up helped them identify a potential target market and develop a business plan. Yet, that was only the beginning. The duo soon found out that developing the technology, and even more so implementing, is nothing short of a challenge. “Developing an electric trailer is very difficult and comes with certain restraints. According to the law, a caravan is a towed, non-propelled vehicle. We need to create a new regulation to get the electrically propelled trailer road legal. This will take a while, so building a full-fledged electric trailer is a goal of the distant future.”

THROUGH YES!DELFT
In the meantime Boy, Rick and their team have channelled their energy towards developing individual components of the potential electric trailer into marketable products.

They already have a working prototype of, what they call, the SMART Trailer – a system that connects the users’ smartphone or tablet to their caravan and provides real-time information about the condition of the caravan, including levelling, tyre pressure and brake temperature. To date, they have pre-sold 550 pieces of the system, and are planning to start delivering them in March 2017.

Coming this far in the little time since founding their company in November 2015, hasn’t been without the help of YES!Delft, they say. “The main reason we joined the incubator is because of its coaching program: you get a coach who is experienced in starting companies and [all things] entrepreneurial”. The knowledge that they can derive from the program is, thus, considered invaluable. In addition, Boy emphasizes the benefit of working alongside other entrepreneurs as they can all learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.

NEXT STEPS
In the months to come, the team of E-Trailer has a lot to look forward to. Their number one priority is to deliver the 550 presold pieces of the SMART Trailer system: “It’s the biggest thing we’re working on.” In addition, they have also finalized a proof of concept for their E-Brake product, which will aim to replace the mechanical braking systems of caravans, bringing advantages such as shorter braking distance and reduced swaying motion, among others. And last but certainly not least, E-Trailer will be seeking new funding opportunities to add to their existing portfolio of subsidies and awards.

From the looks of it, things are only going to speed up for team E-Trailer in the year to come.

Milestones
November 2015 – Company founded
September 2016
– SMART Trailer proof of concept ready
– Admission to YES!Delft’s Incubation Program
October 2016 – E-Brake proof of concept ready
March 2017 – SMART Trailer prototype ready

‘Focus is bad for early stage startups’

‘Focus, focus, focus!’

A quote we often hear in the startup scene. Focus is considered that important, it usually comes in threefold. True, it’s difficult to be successful as an entrepreneur. And conquering one product and market at a time seems just about enough. In my career as entrepreneur and startup coach, I’ve however come to learn that focus can also be bad for business, especially in the early stages. Too early focus is bad, and we should stop advising startups to do so.

During my time as a startup entrepreneur, we for example had too much focus on our target group. We chose a market segment that sounded very interesting on paper, and we stuck to it. When too little users converted to paying customers, we kept focussing on that target group and developed more features for the relevant customer. In the end things didn’t work out and we nearly went bankrupt. Looking back, it would have been better to broaden our perspective and to look at the opportunities of other market segments too.

After my own startup experience I saw the same thing happening to many other startups. I’ve been a (freelance) startup coach and program manager for incubator YES!Delft for six years now. I’ve seen a lot of early stage startups quit, because they couldn’t find the right problem-solution-fit and product-market-fit in time before they ran out of money. This is actually the number one reason startups fail.

Assumptions
Like most startup entrepreneurs, I had a lot of assumptions about my business. And most of them were wrong. A customer is for example not perceiving the problem you’re trying to solve as big as you thought, or your solution is not solving the problem as much as you expected. This however doesn’t necessarily mean that your solution is bad, it might mean you have the wrong focus. Maybe your product solves a different problem than expected. A problem that is urgent in the eyes of a different customer than originally aimed for.

At YES!Delft we’ve figured that great ideas with wrong assumptions can be best prevented with a special program. LaunchLab was designed for early stage startups and innovation teams to validate risky assumptions. In ten weeks time tons of interviews and experiments are conducted. The perfect time to stop focussing for a while, because you might miss a market or customer that is more interesting than the one you had in mind.

Searching
First broaden your perspective and find a problem-solution fit, then focus. But don’t focus too soon. Remember the definition of a startup – or at least the one we use from Steve Blank: a startup is searching for a scalable and repeatable business model. If we exist to search, why should we limit ourselves by focusing? Instead we should test our ideas to the max.

Is that kind of freedom easy? Not per se. We see that innovation teams from large organization especially have difficulties with the removal of blinkers out of their current business models and perspectives. But they have to, if they want to dig up the right opportunities.

Entrepreneurs are often stubborn. They believe their ideas are right. A little bit of stubbornness is good, but don’t overestimate. Luckily most of the teams learn to be open. They learn that they should not decide on the focus themselves, but that the customers validation should guide their decisions. And until that moment: F*** focus!

Xabian

Supporting your next step

EIT Health Bootcamp is an annual LaunchLab created by YES!Delft and EIT Health Partners and is designed to facilitate business-case development. One of the successful startups that came out of EIT Health LaunchLab in 2016 is Xabian.

Ben Hayward and the team at Xabian are committed to making the lives of lower limb amputees as comfortable as possible, and that starts with a perfectly-fitting prosthetic leg. Without question, creating a socket that helps attach a prosthetic to a person’s leg smoothly and seamlessly is no easy task. The team of Xabian, however, have come up with a solution in the shape of a cutting-edge computer formula.

Application deadline for EIT Health Bootcamp LaunchLab 2017 is July 17. For more info click here.

DISCOVERING AN OPPORTUNITY
For the past few years, Ben has been focused on an ambitious goal: leverage technology to help people with disabilities lead a healthy life. As founder of Xabian, he now gets to do this every day.

It all started in mid-2015 when Ben was still studying at Warwick University. One day, as he was waiting for the bus to go home, he saw a blind student trying to get around the campus. “He was struggling quite a lot,” Ben remembers. “It amazed me that we have all this great technology and it doesn’t seem to be used a lot for people with disabilities. I thought surely we could be doing more for blind people than just giving them a white stick.”

Finding a way to use technology for improving the life of people with disabilities became an important drive for Ben. He started brainstorming and soon came to the idea of helping amputees by developing a prosthetic leg. About a year later, he and a team of two fellow colleagues from university already had a first version of the product.

MOVING AWAY FROM THE ORIGINAL IDEA
Yet, they were only scratching the surface. Ben and his team kept working on their concept when they found that a different business case in the same field would be more lucrative.

“We realized that the issue wasn’t so much with the prosthetic legs, it was with attaching those legs to the body. It’s really hard to get that connection point between the skin and the prosthetic. To get that right is often very uncomfortable for the amputee,” Ben explains.

Developing the perfect prosthetic socket is no easy task, which is why the team decided to focus on developing software that could predict how soft and how hard the leg is in different places, thus creating a socket that fits the amputee to the slightest detail. Today, Xabian operates as a cloud-based service that uses generative technology to create the most fitting and comfortable prosthetic socket for every lower limb amputee.

TOWARDS MARKET ENTRY
The change in direction for the startup was largely the result of the market research done during their participation in the EIT Health LaunchLab program in Delft, and the guidance that the team received in that time. “I’m not sure if we would have made it to this point without the LaunchLab,” Ben says. “Because the cohort is so small, you get the attention that you won’t get anywhere else.”

In the short time since the EIT Health LaunchLab, the team of now four have been able to build their software product and patent it. The next step is to start clinical trials with rehabilitation centers in the Netherlands and abroad, and get the necessary certification. “We expect to have the certification towards the end of the year, so we can start our early-access program in December or January,” Ben says.

While they don’t have any signed customers yet, the potential ones are already lining up. “We spoke to close to 30 rehabilitation centers during LaunchLab,” says Ben, which gave them a rather solid feel for their target market.

And they’re not stopping there. The team’s recent admission into YES!Delft’s Incubation Program is about to propel them not only towards that market, but into it, too.

MILESTONES
June 2015 – Idea to create prosthetic ankle
March 2016 – First prototype of ankle
April 2016 – Pivot: Automating socket design and manufacturing by analyzing the shape of the residual limb
July 2016 – Beginning of EIT Health LaunchLab
November 2016 – First software prototype
February 2017 – First product tests with amputees
April 2017 – Technology filed as patent
May 2017 – Clinical trials designed

Q&A with Mazdak Zareei

YES!Delft’s ‘house doctor’

One of the main goals of an incubator is to provide entrepreneurs with an ecosystem that helps them grow. An incubator as YES!Delft wouldn’t be able to exist without the help of partners, among which is one of the biggest banks in the Netherlands: Rabobank. Mazdak Zareei is an Iranian-born, Dutch-raised financial specialist who has made it his top priority to help innovative entrepreneurs run sustainable businesses. As Account Manager at Rabobank and part of the bank’s Innovation Team at YES!Delft, he says his days are never boring: from giving financial advice to connecting founders to potential new customers and partners.

In the following Q&A, Mazdak talks about his role as an Innovation Adviser, the potential – and successes – of YES!Delft entrepreneurs, and the need for people to work together to bring the Dutch startup scene to the next level.

Q: Being a part of Rabobank’s Innovation Team, what is a work day at YES!Delft like for you?
A: Think of me as the house doctor. I’m in YES!Delft at least once a week, and on those days I make two to three appointments with entrepreneurs who want to speak with me. But the truth is, you never know how your day is going to be. You always get to know new people of meet familiar people with new ideas – whether it’s by the coffee machine or as you walk by the offices. There are no boundaries to who you can and will meet.

Q: In what ways do you support the entrepreneurs in the YES!Delft community?
A: The first thing we do is help identify the entrepreneurs with the most potential. We are part of the selection committee [for YES!Delft’s programs] and it’s our job to see if a team has what it takes. We are able to do that due to our experience with innovative companies, like Ampelmann, Bird Control Group, Eternal Sun and Senz umbrella’s.

Of course, we also offer all the services that you can expect from a bank – from opening an account to insurance and pension schemes. But that’s not all.

One other thing that get’s more and more important is to open our network for the startups and scale-ups in this community. In practice that means we advise our clients in both the local context and international context. So if we know, for example, that a foreign market player is looking for a specific solution and a YES!Delft company is working on something similar, we try to get them in touch.

Our services are all customized. It’s not possible to do the same for everyone, because things are changing every day. It’s very exciting and that’s why Rabobank is here.

Q: What do you like most about the community at YES!Delft?
A: What I like most is the positive energy. You get addicted to what’s going on here. People are trying to change the world; they’re looking for new ways of solving problems. It’s a very stimulating environment.

There’s a common goal in here – to make it a success. And you can only do so if you work together with other people. The world is small, everybody knows each other, and you have to collaborate to do things well.

Q: How has the startup scene in the Netherlands developed over the past years?
A: One thing I’ve noticed is that YES!Delft has grown, and the companies in the programs are becoming bigger and more professional as well. They all understand that if you want to keep up with the competition internationally, you have to have your standards up high.That’s a very positive development.

Another great trend is that more and more entrepreneurs come from different places. We have French founders, English, American, Indian, among many others. The environment is becoming more international and that’s important for all of us to act globally. Of course, it’s good to have Dutch connections and clients, but the Netherlands is small and you have to think big. You have to go out and see things from different perspectives.

The most successful companies here are the ones made up of different cultures.

Kitepower

The masters of airborne wind energy

Wind is all around us and leveraging it as a clean energy source has become increasingly wide-spread in recent years. Especially in a country like the Netherlands, wind turbines are a major part of the landscape. Yet, what if there was another – both innovative and cost-effective – means of generating wind power? Actually, there is. German-born Johannes Peschel, co-founder of Kitepower, and his team have developed a system that uses high-performance kites to leverage the energy of the wind and generate electricity.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA
For Johannes, laying the foundation of Kitepower was a logical step in both his personal and professional life. “I love kites,” he says. “I love them so much that I decided to make them my profession.”

As a passionate kite surfer himself, Johannes has always been interested in the power of the wind. After he found out that an idea he had – using a kite to generate electricity – was already being researched at TU Delft’s faculty of aerospace engineering, he didn’t waste time moving to the Netherlands.

While the concept of kite power was first researched by Wubbo Ockels, best known as the first Dutch astronaut in space, it is now being carried out by academics at the university as well as Johannes and his team. The Kitepower system came about largely as a result of this research.

As for the system itself, it is certainly an invention of a kind. Johannes points out that it’s compact in size and easy to install and maintain. “We have a generator on the ground, a kite in the air and a kite control unit that controls the kite. The airborne part has a line connected to the generator on the ground,” he explains. “The kite flies in a pattern of eight and pulls out the line, which, in turn, rotates the drum in the ground station and generates electricity.”

THROUGH YES!DELFT
Among the advantages of Kitepower’s system is the fact that it uses a lot less material while being twice as efficient as existing technology, Johannes says. What’s more, it is able to leverage high-altitude winds, which are often much stronger and more persistent than the winds closer to the ground.

And these advantages have not gone unnoticed. Today, the team is part of YES!Delft’s Incubation Program, after successfully rounding up the LaunchLab and winning its audience vote.

“The programs at YES!Delft have given us access to a wide network of contacts and to a wide variety of knowledge and expertise from the master classes,” Johannes says. In fact, in the one year (and a few months) since the official company launch, the current core team of five has been able to secure two launching customers and a rather sizable grant of 3.7 million euros.

TO A GROWING COMPANY
As a result, the future looks bright for Kitepower. The grant they received was part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 initiative and is going to keep them warm until the end of 2019. The team was last year’s winner of the Dutch Defense Competition 2016, adding another 200,000 euros to their finances.

With these resources, they are developing their system for the commercial market and expect to have it ready for pre-sales in early 2018, and for delivery – at the end of the same year. They now work with the Dutch military to finish the technical details of the product, as well as more locally with projects like the ICOON Afsluitdijk.

“The system is for use in remote locations, where diesel is currently in place,” Johannes says. “We sell this as an add-on to reduce the diesel consumption.”

At the end of the day, their vision is quite ambitious: “We want to make renewable energy affordable for everyone, and when it comes to wind, I believe this is only possible with kite power and airborne wind,” Johannes says passionately. From the looks of it, he and his team know exactly how to get to those heights.

MILESTONES
December 2015 – Secured grant of 3.7 million euros
March 2016 – Company founded
September 2016 – Validated business model with two major Diesel generator rental companies: Agrekko and Bredenoord.
November 2016 – Winners of the Dutch Defense Competition 2016
End of 2016 – Sucessfully finished Phase 1 of the Icoon Afsluitdijk project together with Studio Roosegaarde and Rijkswaterstaat
February 2017 – Admission into YES!Delft’s Incubation Program

Somnox

Why you will be sleeping with a robot soon

EIT Health Bootcamp is an annual LaunchLab created by YES!Delft and EIT Health Partners and is designed to facilitate business-case development. One of the successful startups that came out of EIT Health LaunchLab in 2016 is Somnox.

Imagine a robot that can help you sleep better and wake up more energized. Now, imagine this was a reality. As a matter of fact, it soon will be. Julian Jagtenberg, founder of Somnox, and his team of fellow engineers-turned-entrepreneurs have developed a soft robotic that makes sure users end each day with a good night’s sleep.

Application deadline for EIT Health Bootcamp LaunchLab 2017 is July 17. For more info click here.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA
It all started in September 2015 when Julian and his co-founders, Job Engel, Stijn Antonisse and Wouter Kooyman van Guldener, got together to work on a class project with the goal to develop a robot: “We wanted to create a soft robotic – not the archetype robot that you would expect but one that would be cute and caring… We knew we wanted to build a robot that actually matters.”

The team started out by identifying the problem they could tackle, and after talking to people around them, including relatives, they came to realize that insomnia was the issue to focus on. “We’re all engineers, we’re kind of geeky, and since there was no proper solution out there, we decided to create a robot that can help people fall asleep and solve their insomnia problems,” Julian explains.

After considering their own experiences and reading up on pages and pages of academic literature, the team came to the conclusion that a slow and steady breathing rhythm is the key to people feeling peaceful at night. The main feature of their robot, thus, became its ability to register users’ breathing patterns and help them regulate those for a good night’s sleep.

THROUGH EIT HEALTH’S LAUNCHLAB
For Julian and his teammates, developing the robot was initially just course work within the Robotics Institute of the TU Delft. They were unaware of their idea’s business potential until, after presenting their prototype at an open university event, they were featured in a local newspaper as one of the highlights of the day. “After that newspaper, a lot of other newspapers, even radio and TV, started talking about us.”

The coverage resulted in tens of emails from potential users who wanted to test the Somnox robot. It was this “surprising validation”, as Julian calls it, that encouraged the team of four to take some time off after finishing their Bachelors studies in the summer of 2016, and focus full time on starting a business.

They joined EIT Health’s LaunchLab, a program created by YES!Delft and EIT Health, where they spent several months developing their product and exploring the European market. “The EIT Health LaunchLab helped us transition from being engineers to being engineers and entrepreneurs at the same time,” Julian recalls.

They also got to meet relevant stakeholders from around Europe and see that there really was a market for their offering. “We got to speak to sleep disorder experts, [among others], and were able to define our customer base, value proposition and business model,” Julian says.

TO A GROWING COMPANY
Since the LaunchLab, a lot has changed for Somnox. To start with, they are now a team of 12, including interns, graduates, part-timers and, of course, the original four co-founders. And the increase in manpower is certainly showing results.

Today, they have an official partnership with Dutch company Auping, which produces circular mattresses and beds of the highest quality, and in doing so, sells comfort and a good night’s sleep to its customers. Without a doubt, a perfect match for Somnox.

In addition, a 50.000-euro financing round from Rabobank’s Innovation Fund has supported the team in making iterations to their original prototypes and produce more for potential customers. In the past months, they have conducted tests with over 25 people, and especially for those with a stressful day-to-day, the Somnox robot has helped decrease their anxiety levels at night.

As a result, Julian and his team are planning a Kickstarter campaign for the end of the year, by which time they expect to have their manufacturing and distribution processes all set up. The goal for the first half of 2018 is 2,000 Somnox robots sold, which is both ambitious and sure to keep them busy.

As long as they get a good night’s sleep, though, staying busy should not really be a problem.

MILESTONES
February 2016 – First working prototype ready
June 2016 – Team decides to commit full-time to developing Somnox
July 2016 – Admission to EIT Health LaunchLab and YES!Delft
October 2016 – Admission to Incubation Program of YES!Delft
February 2017 – Launched partnership with mattress producer Auping

IMSystems

Revolutionizing the robotics industry

Machines and in particular robots are increasingly aiding – if not even substituting – people with their work. Yet, those machines often lack the strength and precision necessary to create real impact. Or at least that was the case until IMSystems came around.

Led by scientist Jack Schorsch, a team of four – including Matthew Corvers, Thibaud Verschoor and Rory Deen – are working on the Archimedes drive: an invention in mechanical power transmission that can make any electrical engine simultaneously stronger, more precise and more efficient than anything currently on the market.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA
The idea behind the Archimedes drive had been evolving in Jack’s mind for years, during which he did research in the fields of prosthetics and exoskeleton design. In his work, he often faced the challenge of making those wearables small, lightweight and easy to use.

The Archimedes drive is a compact gearbox that uses friction instead of gear teeth, allowing it to make electrical engines – and the machines they power – lighter, stronger and faster than ever before. Yet, it wasn’t until Matthew and a team of fellow TU Delft students took part in a Master’s course, that Jack’s invention came on the radar as a business case.

“We took part in a course aimed at turning technology into a business,” Matthew recalls, where they were given a patent by a TU Delft researcher, without knowing the exact application of the invention. “We had to brainstorm it ourselves, because inventions can often be used for much more than their original application.”

A few brief months later, Jack’s Archimedes drive had proven to have a market fit, and so the team set out to launch IMSystems.

THROUGH YES!DELFT
IMSystems’ product is the first drive to use friction instead of gear teeth as a means of powering electrical engines – and it seems to come with a list of advantages. “We can get to about half the size and a quarter of the weight of our competitors’ drives,” Matthew explains. “What’s more, we are not limited by the gear ratios and how strong we can make an electrical engine.”

With multiple subsidies and a loan already secured, IMSystems has been able to develop their first metal prototype with a gear ratio of 500:1, which is about three times more than what most drives on the market can currently achieve.

The team’s progress, they say, hasn’t been without the help of YES!Delft and the Incubation Program, which Matthew describes as fantastic. “You’re here with about 80 other companies; there are always people who have been at the point where you are, so you can just walk up to their office and discuss how they did things. Having this network is very useful.”

NEXT STEPS
From this point on, IMSystems is looking forward to growing. They have already signed their first two clients, and are working towards adding more to their portfolio. Expanding the team is, thus, certainly among their next steps to be able to deliver timely and quality results.

One thing is for certain: We will sure be hearing more from IMSystems in the future.

Milestones:
January 2015 – The team came together for the Master’s course (turning technology into a business)
February 2016 – Admission to YES!Delft’s Incubation Program
June 2016 – Founded company
August 2016 – First client signed

Circularise

Enabling the circular economy

Recycling is the most critical step in achieving a sustainable, circular economy. Simply put: bringing products back to their building blocks is the way to prevent wasting valuable materials. Yet, while recycling has been gaining popularity over the years, there is still a lot of knowledge that is simply missing.

For Mesbah Sabur and Jordi de Vos, founders of Circularise, the problem is obvious – there is a communications barrier between product manufacturers, end users and recyclers – that prevents materials from being disposed of as efficiently as possible. The two have, thus, created a software platform that aims to break down that barrier and give people a space to collaborate.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

Mesbah and Jordi first got to know the potential of the circular economy during their Master’s studies at the TU Delft. What caught their attention was the concept of ‘Critical Raw Materials’, which the European Commission describes as the raw materials that are crucial to Europe’s development and quality of life.

So how does Europe, as a large economy, make sure that it always has those raw materials at hand? – they asked themselves. One answer stood out: “By recycling the materials that we already have in our products,” Mesbah says.

While recycling has become a priority for state authorities across Europe, Mesbah and Jordi quickly managed to identify one major problem that persists throughout the entire value chain: the lack of communication. The organizations mining the materials don’t communicate with those manufacturing the products, who, in turn, don’t communicate with the ones responsible for recycling.

“Our goal is to solve these communication barriers in the value chain and enable a circular economy,” both Mesbah and Jordi explain.

 

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THROUGH GETTING STAKEHOLDERS ONBOARD

To reach this goal, the two entrepreneurs decided to develop a platform where relevant stakeholders would come together and have direct access to any information on raw materials they might need. While the initial idea was to establish a link between product manufacturers and recyclers, Mesbah and Jordi soon found out that was no easy task.

Talking to a variety of companies, they realized that brands are not necessarily interested in having a direct communication line with recyclers, mainly due to their reluctance to share IP-sensitive information.

With the help of YES!Delft’s LaunchLab program and the expertise of its mentors, Mesbah and Jordi kept on validating until they discovered how to provide a value-add to all stakeholders involved. While manufacturers may not be likely to communicate directly with recyclers, they are interested in getting information about their products – where and to whom they get sold, and how they’re being used. By purchasing the Circularise label that they can put on their products, brands are sure to get the data they are most interested in.

Users, in turn, get a unified customer experience across different brands and a digital passport for all their products – everything from interactive user manuals to warranty tracking.

Most importantly, though, manufacturers have access to a platform where they can log in details about the materials they use in their products, and lock that data in time, without sharing it with third parties. “We are building the system with blockchain technology combined with zero knowledge, so […] everyone in the value chain can communicate about products without having to share sensitive information.”

TO A GROWING COMPANY

With a current team of thirteen, Circularise is looking to hit several ambitious milestones over the next months: from finishing their MVP to establishing an industry standard.

They’re already doing pilots with several producers and recyclers, and they’re hoping those projects will be a stepping stone to ever-larger opportunities.

For the time being, the team is focusing on consumer electronics as one of their main markets, because “this is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe,” Jordi says. “It’s also the most complicated one, with devices becoming smaller and more complex,” Mesbah adds. The founders are certainly not shying away from challenge, yet a grand vision needs grand ambition, too.

 

Milestones:

June 2016
– Concluded ‘Ready to start up’ course
– Founded company
– Received EIT Raw Materials grant
– Joined YES!Delft’s LaunchLab program

2017
– Started first pilot project with a recycler in Italy
– Joined YES!Delft’s Incubation program and signed first two customers
– Launched beta version of consumer app
– Received H2020 grant

2018
– Expanded team and advisory board
– Signed more partnerships and customers

 

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