Author: Mina Nacheva

Unpluq team

Unpluq: The startup that makes your smartphone less of a distraction

Technology is all around and so much so, in fact, that most of us are dependent on the internet or our mobile devices to stay connected with the world around us. On the one hand, that’s great – it brings all of us closer together in ways that were previously unthought of. On the other, though, it can also be a source of major distraction. This is what Tim Smits and Jorn Rigter, co-founders of YES!Delft startup Unpluq, realized while at university and they took it upon themselves to create a solution. 

A personal frustration turns into a business 

Tim and Jorn have always thought that it would be cool to start something together. “While studying Industrial Design Engineering at the TU Delft, we noticed that we were easily distracted by all the apps we had on our smartphones. And that’s a problem that a lot of other students have nowadays, too,” Tim says. The two of them, thus, saw this as an opportunity to create a new type of solution that would make smartphones less of a distraction. 

And so, their entrepreneurial journey began. 

“We first took part in a six-month program at the university called Build Your Startup and during that time, we interviewed a lot of people on how they interacted with their smartphones and if they found them to be a distraction.” Needless to say, a lot of them did. 

The true value of the Build Your Startup program was to help Tim and Jorn validate their idea and understand the depth of the problem they were trying to solve. “Of course, there were already existing solutions to minimize distraction, like setting reminders and limitations on the phone itself,” Tim says. Yet, what they wanted to achieve was a more lasting solution; something that would keep the smartphone and its user away from distraction in a more tangible way.

So, what they came up with was a physical key that would remove distracting apps from the user’s smartphone. In other words, plug in this physical key and you have access to your distracting apps. Take it out and your phone is stripped down to just its “normal” functions. 

Important to understand about the concept of Unpluq is that everyone can define for themselves what distracting apps really are. While the team offers a preselection and a list of tips, it is up to each user to decide what these apps are – or should be. That way everyone can judge for themselves what they consider to be taking away from their productive time. 

Validating, pivoting and looking towards new markets

At the end of the program, Tim and Jorn launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising 10,000 euros. They describe it as their “first validation moment”, especially as they reached their target. Most of their customers are millennials and Generation Z users and while most physical keys have been sold within the Netherlands, Unpluq has also had interest from abroad. 

Since then, though, their business model has taken a new turn. “While we started out with a hardware solution, we have since moved mostly to software,” Tim says. “Hardware tends to limit growth, software is more scalable. We willmay introduce a mixed model soonlater on, where the Unpluq app is the basis and the hardware product is an add-on that users can choose to buy.” 

In order for the software solution to work as well as the physical key, Tim and Jorn have identified, what they call, “distraction barriers” as a key feature. Since all apps – distracting or not – would now be one the user’s phone, there need to be barriers to getting into the distracting apps too easily. By introducing distraction barriers, Unpluq would require users to shake their phone until a meter is filled or scan a QR codemove to have their apps unlocked, to name a few.

“Our physical key was what made us unique and now so are our distraction barriers. They are not the same as simply blocking apps,” Tim says.

Less distraction, more life

To date, the team has raised close to 1400,000 euros and are currently raising another round on leapfunder. After that they are aiming for a larger round of investment, which would help them expand to the US – their next big market, as they see it. That would also allow them to hire their first full-time employee and further grow their team. 

Unpluq is also looking to branch out to new customer segments and approach employers with their solutions. “We want to start selling to companies that want to offer our tool as an option to their employees. It is very relevant in the time of remote working when it’s easier to get distracted.”

Tim and Jorn currently have a team of interns who help them in a number of different aspects of the startup’s development. The two co-founders have also benefited from the expert network of YES!Delft and even have fellow entrepreneurs from the community as their advisors. “Having such a strong support network has been very valuable for us starting out,” Tim says. 

And it’s only up from here. Going forward, the team will be working towards the iPhone version of Unpluq and further developing their software, diversifying their customer portfolio in the Netherlands and raising funds to expand internationally. 

 

Rolf Rijkmans

Rolf Rijkmans: A great startup needs a great team – and you need to start building one ASAP

Rolf Rijkmans is an Entrepreneur in Residence at YES!Delft and he thoroughly enjoys his role as mentor for a diverse group of founders. With a strong commercial and HR background and having worked with a number of tech companies over the years, Rolf brings a wide range of expertise to early-stage startups. He also works with private equity organizations and advises them on whether their portfolio companies are ready for the future. If not, he is the guy who helps them with it. 

 At YES!Delft, he doesn’t have a focus area per se, which is what makes his job that much more exciting. “I work with startups developing all kinds of technology – anything from drone to medical tech,” he says. 

 Building a strong HR & Organizational foundation

As an Entrepreneur in Residence for about four years now, Rolf channels his knowledge and experience to help founders prepare their companies for future growth. “I advise startups mostly on HR-related topics such as defining their vision and mission statement, core values, as well as their recruitment strategy and processes.”  

He works with startups within the YES!Delft Accelerator program, but he also advises startups on an individual basis and participates in half-yearly check-ins to discuss progress and strategic challenges. In other words, he gets to build strong relationships with the teams he advises. 

 “When introduced to a new startup, I always start by getting to know them better and putting myself in their shoes. I try to get a feeling for what they do and how they do it. They appreciate this approach.”

In the Accelerator program teams are usually made up of between two and 12 people, which Rolf describes as quite small. But that is exactly when they need the most direction. Being the HR expert he is, Rolf believes these early stages are key to shaping up a strong and dedicated team. 

“Think of it this way,” he says. “When you are only two founders and you hire a third person, you are essentially increasing your team by 50%. One person may not seem like a lot, but it is. And if it’s not the right one, it can cost you a lot of energy and frustration.” 

Therefore, growing your team wisely from the start can optimize your resources and speed up your growth, too.

But how do you hire the right people?

Rolf has a good idea of how to answer this question – with an example. 

Not too long ago, he worked together with the CEO of a startup that found himself in a situation where he needed to grow his team fast. “Up to that point, the founders had been recruiting people mostly via their network. And that’s great, it works for a while. But then they got a one-million-euro financing round and needed to scale.” 

 So, they went to Rolf to ask how.

“It all starts with the basics,” he answered. “I asked them what they want to stand for and achieve with their business. I advised them to define their core values, vision and mission.” Once they had that figured out, it would also be easier to define what characteristics they want to see in their future team members. 

“My advice is to start by spending just a few hours around the topics of vision, mission and values. Have a brainstorm and let the outcome sink in. Then pick it up later and build on it as you go.”  

It is a simple exercise that many early-stage companies tend to skip as seemingly more pressing topics arise. At YES!Delft, however – and with the help of experts like Rolf, they are put on the agenda from the beginning so founders have the chance to build the best teams they possibly can. 

“What I love most about working with startups is that I get to learn new things all the time. I learn about new markets and industries, what startups need, and how we can best work together.”

“As Entrepreneurs in Residence, we are here to give founders a mirror – show them what they have and what they still need to reach their goals.” 

Surfing

Aquablu: Eliminating single-use plastics, one water bottle at a time

Almost 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute. In one year, that number goes as high as 480 billion. This is what a report found back in 2019 and those numbers are likely to keep increasing in the future. Finding alternatives to single-use plastics, and in particular water bottles, has thus become a priority embraced by governments as well as businesses.

Aquablu, a Dutch startup from the YES!Delft ecosystem, is one of those companies working towards a more plastic-free future. With their smart water purifying technology, the team have set themselves the ambitious goal to eliminate 1 billion bottles by 2030. 

But how did it all start?

A few years back, co-founder Marnix Stokvis was on a trip to South Africa when he got the idea for what is now known as Aquablu. “I was in Cape Town, surfing, when I encountered the plastic problem South Africa was facing,” he says. “Plastic pollution was very evident there, and especially so in the water. It got me thinking about water accessibility and what could be done to minimize the use of plastic bottles.”  

Marnix reached out to his friend and soon to be fellow co-founder Marc van Zuylen and the two turned his initial idea into a business concept. They founded Aquablu at the end of 2016 and started developing their first water purification system. Yet, their ambition went way beyond a single product. 

“We came together around one core mission and that was to enable a plastic-free world,” Marc says. 

In working towards that mission, Marc and Marnix knew that their solution would also be an ambitious one. They set off to develop a smart purification system that would not only provide clean drinking water, but also feed its users a wide range of data about the quality of the water and the technical status of the system, among others. In the spirit of personalization, it also makes it possible for users to quantify their positive impact on the environment by knowing just how much water they have purified with their Aquablu system. 

The smart technology behind the solution plays another important role, too. The fact that their technology can monitor how much water is being purified with their systems enables them to make very specific promises. 

“Together with the Made Blue Foundation, an entrepreneurial charity in the Netherlands, we offer the Liter for Liter promise. That means for every liter of water that is purified with our systems, a liter of clean drinking water is donated to places where it is a scarcity,” Marnix says. 

Purifying water – at home and abroad

And while Aquablu has a global mission, the team has made the conscious choice to start at home before they expand far and wide. “Our  initial idea was to sell internationally – and we did that. We delivered our system to 13 different countries,” Marc says. But with time, he and Marnix kept talking to people around them and realized that even in the Netherlands, where there is access to clean drinking tap water, many still buy single-use plastic bottles. “We decided to tackle the issue at home first.”

Since then, they have tweaked their business approach and are mostly focusing on the local B2B market with their Aquablu Refill solution, which transforms “ordinary tap water into purified mineral water.” Large offices and commercial buildings have been among their key customers. As of recently, they are also running a pilot project with supermarket chain Jumbo. 

“We currently have our system at a Jumbo supermarket in Amsterdam, where customers can either refill their own bottle or buy an Aquablu bottle with purified water,” Marnix says. The goal for the future is to expand their offering to more supermarkets and become a feasible alternative to bottled water. 

While already having its own revenue flow, the startup is still dependent on external funding – so far made available by family and an investor – in order to scale its R&D and production. Once they are well established in the Netherlands, the team will look to expand to the rest of Benelux, Germany and then further into Europe. 

“In up to three years, we are aiming at total domination in Europe,” Marc and Marnix laugh but they sure mean it. “After Europe, we will expand towards either the US or Asia. It depends where the need is greater and where we find reliable partners first.” 

The plan ahead of the two co-founders and their team is big but after all, their goal is to eliminate 1 billion bottles by 2030. Ambitious as they are, “we think we can even exceed it.”

Are you inspired by this story and would you like to boost your business and become part of the YES!Delft ecosystem as well? Sign up for our accelerator program!

If you would like to work for a startup like Aquablu check out our vacancies and become visible to more than 300 startups in the YES!Delft ecosystem.

 

Gyromotics prosthetic foot

Gyromotics: The go-to prosthesis for active people

For people who use prosthetic feet, a comfortable fit and a wide range of functionality are key. From walking and going about everyday life, to running and doing sports, a prosthesis would ideally accommodate various activities requiring various intensity. And as this is not the norm in the market just yet, Gyromotics – a startup from the YES!Delft ecosystem – has made it their mission to change that.  

A personal story leads to a business

The beginnings of Gyromotics come from a personal story. Guido Hendriks, one of the two co-founders, has first-hand experience with finding just the right prosthetic feet. His son, Olivier, now 18 years old, was born with a congenital limb deficiency and has been using prostheses ever since he was a child. 

“It wasn’t until Olivier was about 6 years old that we got him on small blades instead of his everyday prostheses,” Guido remembers. “That’s when we understood how restricted he had been by his prostheses at the time. Adults tend to underestimate that.” 

All Olivier wanted as a child was to be able to play on the playground and run with the other kids. As soon as he got on running blades, he was able to move a lot more – and faster – and started playing football. 

“He played football until he was around 12, at which point he was scouted for the Dutch running team,” Guido says. “It was obvious that he was moving quite fast. My wife and I always wanted him to be able to run – and that’s exactly what he is doing now.”

As one of his latest achievements, Olivier won a silver medal at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo in the 400m sprint

Silver medal Paralympics     

Striving to create the most functional prosthesis out there

Over the years, Guido has done extensive research on what prostheses are available on the market. His conclusion: there are no prosthetic feet yet, which people can use both for day-to-day activities and sports. That is what he and his co-founder Jaap Roggeveen set out to change. 

Guido and Jaap founders of Gyromotics“To be able to have only one type of prosthesis for multiple activities and different shoes at the same time, it would need to adjust at the ankle. Our users are in control and decide what shoes they wear during the day and how they use them. Gyromotics’ users change from work to sports with the heel just off the floor to high heels at a party – all with the same foot,” Guido explains. “Our solution is the only prosthesis on the market that allows you to stand on the toes of your shoes and so combines a daily foot and a running blade in one product.” 

Gyromotics prosthetic footWhat makes Gyromotics’s prosthesis smart is exactly the fact that it provides the user flexibility to be able to perform different activities with the same foot, such as walking and running. Also, the bottom is made up of two halves that are separated to offer more stability in case the person steps sideways.

 “Since we started, we have proven the concept and in the last year, we have been working on improving the design and the looks based on customer feedback. In the near future, we will start working with two big companies that make sockets for prosthetic feet and we’ll become part of their standardized assortment.” 

At the moment, Gyromotics is only offering feet for adults. Yet, since it all started with the goal to make it easier for young children to move around, they are soon going to expand their offering.

“We recently won a project with SportInnovator, the programme for sport innovation and research by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport,” Guido says. “As part of it, and together with the TU Delft and Team Para Atletiek, we will develop a prosthesis for kids. That way we can finally come a full circle.”

Along the way, they have been getting help from the experts and community of YES!Delft and that is something Guido considers very valuable. It has not only increased their credibility with potential investors and partners, but it has taught them how to run a company as a small team. This is knowledge that will surely propel Gyromotics on their way to success. 

 

Are you inspired by this story and would you like to boost your business and become part of the YES!Delft ecosystem as well? Sign up for our accelerator program!

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PATS Drones: The innovative technology that helps monitor and control flying pests in greenhouses

Flying pests in greenhouses are surely one of the main challenges that growers face in their day-to-day work. Moths, in particular, pose a few difficulties: They are active at night, they can lay hundreds of caterpillars in a short period of time, and they rarely fall for conventional traps. Having the right tools to control such pests is, therefore, crucial. With their innovative technology, PATS Drones, a startup from the YES!Delft ecosystem, can not only monitor insects in crops, but also help eradicate them.

 

Automating the pest monitoring process

Interestingly enough, the idea for PATS did not originate from horticulture. It all started with a personal annoyance – mosquitos buzzing around the heads of Sjoerd Tijmons and Kevin van Hecke, two of the founders, in the middle of the night. That got them thinking of ways to control – if not eradicate – flying pests. With their backgrounds in autonomous flying vehicles, they figured they could turn to drone technology to help intersect flying insects.

It was this simple idea that later laid the foundation of PATS. While the mosquitos were eventually left alone, it did get Sjoerd and his brother Bram to think about the potential of small drones in controlling flying insects. Together with Kevin, they turned to horticulture as a market with large potential for such technology. 

“Pests can be fierce,” says Bram, “and the use of insecticides in greenhouses are becoming stricter and stricter regulated. With our smart drone solutions, we help growers monitor and control the pest population in their greenhouses while limiting the use of chemicals.” 

The startup is currently focusing on moths, an insect that can create quite some damage to crops. Because moths can reproduce quickly, it is crucial that growers have the tools to detect them as soon as possible. The PATS-C system that the team has developed is essentially a “real-time scouting solution for pests”. It enables early detection and tracking of harmful populations, without the need for growers to do any manual work. 

All that is needed is for the system to be mounted on the greenhouse leg, from where its camera can capture images of the moth population. As moths are active at night, that’s when the detection takes place and, in the morning, growers get a dashboard overview of the presence of the insects. This makes it possible to identify the moths early on, so growers can take action in time.

“With our technology, we can detect moth presence weeks before conventional tools, and early detection is crucial for effective pest management,” Bram says. “By automating this process, we help growers save both time and costs. PATS-C also helps them understand the trends in their greenhouse, and predict – with a high level of precision – the lifecycle the moths are in.”

New partnerships and next steps

Acknowledging the potential of the startup’s solution are the tens of growers that are currently using the early detection and pest population tracking system. In September, PATS also signed an agreement with Royal Brinkman, one of the largest suppliers for horticulture in the Netherlands, to provide them with their PATS-C system. 

 “Royal Brinkman are a great partner to have and learn from,” Bram says. “They sell PATS-C as part of their crop protection portfolio. Together, we help growers in tracking pests early and accurately, so that Royal Brinkman can advise them proactively on taking countermeasures.”

As of more recently, the startup has also been positioning its PATS-X solution on the market. It enables fully automated and effective insect control with the help of very small drones , and without the use of insecticides. “We now have our autonomous system ready, and we will be rolling it out in early 2022.”

Going forward, the team of now 8 will be looking to grow with specialists in the fields of sales, marketing and development, among others. In addition to launching their drone systems, they also want to further scale their monitoring solution in the market. 

“We are going to focus on this geographic area for now to show that we are ready to go global,” Bram says. “To do so, we will gradually be adding more insects to our solutions to gain market relevance. One insect type is good, two is much better and with three we would already be very relevant to most growers.”  

Bram and his team surely have their plan ready. From now on, it’s a matter of more hard work, making the right connections and scaling. 

Would you like to read more about PATS and their technology? Read this article from TU Delft Campus and watch this video!

Are you inspired by this story and would you like to boost your business and become part of the YES!Delft ecosystem as well? Sign up for our accelerator program!

If you would like to work for a startup like PATS check out our vacancies and become visible to more than 300 startups in the YES!Delft ecosystem.

 

Momo Medical’s smart bed sensor helps nurses provide the tailored care their residents need

Being at the right place at the right time is something that care staff in nursing homes know all about. Attending to each and every resident when they most need them is what defines their work. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s easy work to do. On the contrary, keeping an overview of an entire floor of residents is bound to become overwhelming at some point. That’s where Momo Medical comes in. 

The startup, part of the YES!Delft ecosystem, has developed a technology that gives nurses a tool to know who needs their help at which time. Designed specifically for care staff working the night shift, Momo Medical has been able to save them precious time and make their work more effective. 

Pivoting to address the right market needs

Founded in 2017, the startup has gone through a journey of defining and redefining its proposition to best suit the needs of nursing home staff. In its earlier days, Momo Medical’s technology was there to provide healthcare professionals with relevant and accurate data about resident mobility in order to help reduce the occurrence of pressure ulcers. 

“The initial idea was to indeed focus on the prevention of pressure ulcers,” says Jorien de Jonge, Marketing & Implementation Lead at Momo Medical. “It is a major issue, but the solution we had at the time was to give night shift nurses a reminder to reposition a resident. We soon found out that that was not what they needed.” 

The fact is that nurses are well aware of the need to reposition residents, but doing so at scheduled times during the day and night was not always feasible. “There are times when they are either very busy or the resident is sleeping and repositioning them would only disturb their rest,” Jorien says. “So, we asked ourselves: What does the night shift nurse really need?”

To find the answer to that question, the team tagged along with night shift nurses on quite a few occasions to find out what would make their work easier and more pleasant. The struggle was evident: Nurses wanted (and needed) to have an overview of the entire floor or unit, and know who is safe in their bed without having to open the door. 

The team took that with themselves and ended up creating the BedSense – a smart bed sensor that provides nurses with the information they need to be at the right place at the right time.

Finding and nurturing the right partnerships

The startup is currently focused on providing their solution to memory care and psychogeriatric nursing homes. “The BedSense is now available at a care unit for people with dementia,” Jorien says. “Residents with dementia have a hard time expressing what they need and our tool helps nurses understand their mobility and movement patterns. For example, if a person is turning a lot in bed, that may mean that they need more comfort.” 

A recent milestone, and perhaps one of the team’s most important ones to date, has been their partnership with the tanteLouise nursing home in the Netherlands. It has not only proven the importance of their solution but has also meant working together with one of the leading nursing homes in the country. 

“tanteLouise is a pioneer of innovation,” Jorien says. “For us, it’s great to be working with them, also because a lot of other nursing homes follow their lead when it comes to adopting new technologies.” 

They have been working together for almost a year now and the nursing staff has been very enthusiastic about how well it supports the night shift. Momo Medical will be providing its BedSense to all residents with dementia in the nursing home. 

Each BedSense is assembled in-house, Jorien says. “We have a production room at YES!Delft, which is very convenient. At the moment, we have more than 1,000 pieces of the BedSense in the field and all of them have been made at YES!Delft.”

For the team, this means a lot of hard work and if that weren’t enough, they are also expanding to the US. CEO Menno Gravemaker has been doing field research and tagging along with night shift nurses in San Francisco to understand what their needs are and how they differ from those of nursing staff in the Netherlands. The company already has its first local contract and is working with a nursing home as of August. Further defining their proposition for the US market is a key next step on their agenda.

Expanding to the US happens to coincide with Momo Medical’s participation in the Y Combinator accelerator program, which – next to investing in the startup – is also helping it scale its technology. “Y Combinator helps you set very extreme targets and get you to prove that there is a market for your solution,” Jorien says. Demo Day is scheduled for the last week of August and it will allow Momo Medical to present to a large audience of investors and media, and make the right connections. 

Going forward, the team is looking to expand its presence in the US and further meet the needs of local nursing staff. Various markets in Europe are also on their list to expand to, Jorien says. With the current shortage of nursing home staff globally, the BedSense is a very much needed solution. At the end of the day, Momo Medical wants to provide as much value as possible to nursing home staff – and that is what drives them day in and day out.

BBBLS: The company that uses soap bubbles to make horticulture more sustainable

“The Dutch horticulture industry emits five million tons of CO2 every year and we’d be able to cut out about four million tons of that. That’s the impact we can make.” 

As co-founder and managing director of BBBLS, Anton Paardekooper knows what it takes to be a small company with a big mission. He and his team have developed an innovative technology, based on soap bubbles, that provides extra insulation for buildings. Their current focus is on greenhouses, helping their owners decrease energy emissions. 

“The world’s population is growing, and we need to start eating food that is healthy and has an ever-smaller CO2 footprint. We need to start growing climate-neutral fruits and vegetables.” 

Using soap bubbles for better insulation

The concept that BBBLS is built on is not necessarily a new one, but until less than 10 years ago, it was not used even on a semi-industrial scale, Anton says.

“If, between two surfaces, you have air that doesn’t move, you can use it as insulation. The same goes for soap bubbles,” he explains. “In any building with a double wall you can put bubbles. They serve as insulation and help decrease energy loss.” 

Yet, soap bubbles can also have another function. While in the winter, they help keep the warmth in, in the summer when there is a lot of sunlight, they help control how much of it goes through a glass surface. This is particularly useful in greenhouses where climate control and the right amount of light are key. 

Anton and his team have chosen horticulture companies and greenhouses as their main market for a reason: they can help them become more sustainable. About 30% of the expenses of a greenhouse are for energy, he says, and better insulation can really make a difference. 

Learning to build energy-saving greenhouses

Anton joined the company in 2014 and is one of four co-founders. For a few years, they used grants, their own financial resources and first revenues to keep the company running. Their first project was with ReKlima in Norway, who is one of the early adopters of the BBBLS technology. 

“Norway is a bit more advanced in terms of sustainable innovations,” Anton says, “but we are happy to be seeing more of that in other places, including in the Netherlands, now as well.” 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that their prototype greenhouse is in Norway, and it is operating for a third season in a row. “At the moment, we are able to build small greenhouses up to one hectare and it takes us about eight months to have one of those up and running.” In June, the team closed a deal with one of the early adopters in Dutch horticulture to build a large demonstration greenhouse and will be sharing more details in the near future.

For all the projects, BBBLS works with a number of long-term partners responsible for different scopes of the work, including its construction or the climate control it requires. The automation of the BBBLS technology is something the team does almost entirely on their own. 

To date, the company has enjoyed the support of a number of organizations, too, of which YES!Delft has played an important role. “The main benefit of joining YES!Delft has been the access to talent,” Anton says. “We have been able to hire new employees and trainees that have come through their network. When it comes to fundraising, we have also learned a lot, especially in our sparring sessions with Jan Geert van Hall, their Investment Director. Just recently we were awarded a donation from the Rabobank Innovation Fund, solid proof of Rabobank’s “growing a better world together.” 

Over the past years, BBBLS has raised 1.3 million euros and is looking towards a Series A round of 1.0 million euros in the near future. “We are looking for funding both in the Netherlands and abroad, but our experience so far is that it is good to be close to your investors. We are looking for smart money so a good match and proximity to each other would be crucial.”

A successful next round of investment would also mean growing the team and scaling their production processes and technology. There are certainly big plans ahead of the team and they seem to be ready for that next step.

Check out the open vacancy from the YES!Delft startups, and be the next talent to join their team!

Check out the YES!Talents jobs page

Prognoix: The tech company behind better analysis and care management for sexual dysfunctions

There is a wide range of medical conditions that patients simply don’t feel comfortable talking about – neither to their family or friends, nor to their doctor. Founded in 2018, Prognoix is a company that sees the need to provide a safe environment – next to a great tech solution, of course – to tackle a group of such stigmatized disorders: sexual dysfunctions. 

The startup’s mission is to bridge the gap between the healthcare system and its patients, and create an inclusive and open environment that allows diagnosis and treatment of these conditions in the comfort of people’s homes. Prognoix’s first product is an innovative tool that diagnoses the cause and severity of impotence (erectile dysfunction or ED) in order to prescribe the right care required for alleviating it.

Creating the solution that patients need

Founder Abhinav Jain knows that being proactive and addressing health concerns in time is crucial for staying in good health in the long run. Yet, to achieve that, patients need to feel comfortable to address those concerns in the first place. 

What’s more, certain sexual dysfunctions, such as ED, may even indicate early onset of diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. At the moment, there are no simple and objective tools available to diagnose ED, and because of that, the precious window of opportunity to reverse the problem is often lost. This serves as a motivator for the Prognoix team to utilize their medical device development and clinical expertise to create solutions that help both the patients and the clinicians serving them.

“I love the journey of designing a product,” Abhinav says. “It’s always unique, customer-centric, and meant to serve a purpose.” His passion and the relationship of trust he shares with his business partner – Timo Tscharnkte, have allowed the two men to develop innovative products by adopting an ambitious, yet pragmatic approach.

Prognoix takes into account that ED can be caused by various reasons – physiological and quite often, psychological too. To develop a solution that fits the needs of the specific target audience, “we have gathered feedback from more than 250 patients and medical professionals. Sadly, we have also learned that more than half of all ED patients experience depression or anxiety because of the condition,” Abhinav says.

It is essential to clearly identify the cause of the problem first before starting a treatment. The solution that Prognoix has developed will be initially used as a prescription tool under the strict supervision of clinicians. The startup is currently working with a Dutch academic hospital to conduct clinical studies to ensure their product matches customers’ and regulatory expectations. 

The long-term ambition is to have this solution available as an over-the-counter product, thus reaching out also to the patients who are uncomfortable to even talk about this topic with their doctor. 

Finding just the right product-market fit

For a long time, the startup has been bootstrapped by the founders and has also secured funding and commercialization support from JUMPstart, a MedTech-focused accelerator in Singapore.  

The team also received a boost when Dr. Christoph Pies, a renowned German urologist who has been regularly seeing ED patients for the past 24 years and authored three books on men’s health, made an investment in Prognoix and joined as their medical officer. This is especially important as it validates the market needs and enables the startup to develop a product based on them.

Prognoix is looking to raise up to €800,000 over the course of the next year. 

Starting with Europe as its beachhead market, Prognoix aims to expand to its main target market in the US. While the company started and is currently registered in Singapore, Asia does not seem to be their key focus at the moment, Abhinav says. “Unfortunately, sexual dysfunction is still seen as a wellness problem in several Asian countries with little to no push from their healthcare systems.”

Prognoix has also taken part in YES!Delft’s Accelerator program, which has helped them secure several partnerships with product developers and manufacturers, as well as clinical studies. In the short time that they have been around, they have checked off quite a few milestones – and have many more lined up.

Tarnoc: The heat pump technology that will help make homes more sustainable

Heat pump technology is a sustainable solution that has a lot of potential on the global market and – in due time – can help replace standard gas cooling and heating systems. Tarnoc – an innovator and designer of heat pump technology, and a member of the YES!Delft community – has made it its business mission to provide affordable heating solutions for Dutch households.

A heating system that is future-proof

The idea for Tarnoc came about as a result of its founders’ shared interest in heat pump technology. Tijmen de Jong and Vincent Wijdeveld both agree that heating systems have plenty of potential to become more sustainable and heat pumps are one way to achieve that. 

“At the moment, heating is largely done by using natural gas and we believe heat pumps are a replacement of that,” Tijmen says. “The problem with most heat pump solutions currently on the market, though, is that they are quite expensive. We see huge potential in solving this and believe that we can achieve that with our technology.” 

Tarnoc focuses on the electrification of Dutch households and understands the eco-friendly advantages heat pumps can bring. A lot of houses in the country are poorly – and at times not at all – insulated, which makes them very difficult to warm up. Heat pumps have the capacity to do away with that challenge. 

What’s more, “the Dutch have a resistance to the outside component,”, says Tijmen, pointing out that you don’t see many air conditioning systems in The Netherlands. Tarnoc’s solution seems to be just the right fit. “Because of their high capacity, our heat pumps can work entirely indoors and successfully transfer heat throughout the whole household.”

Vincent adds to the discussion by acknowledging that Tarnoc wants to end up replacing gas boilers instead of being just another solution next to them. This secures the company an advantageous position over its competitors.

Adopting a ‘learning by doing’ approach

In 2021, the team achieved one of its biggest milestones to date, as it successfully installed its first heat pump with a launching customer. Tarnoc’s launching customers are housing corporations, some of which have already shown interest in collaborating with the business in the future.

The startup has expanded its horizons by joining the YES!Delft Validation Lab in 2019, followed by their participation in the Accelerator Program a year later. The YES!Delft community has helped the team learn what it takes to run a company and secure their first customer. 

It has also brought them another key lesson – “to look for funding even if we don’t need it at the moment”, says Vincent. After all, there is no better time than the present to build a strong investor network. Funding for the company so far includes grants, subsidies and revenues gained from putting their first system on the market. 

In the coming months, the company will start testing eight new systems, along with expanding by adding an engineer to their team. They are looking forward to the initial results of their first project to be able to integrate the learnings in future iterations of their heat pump technology. Tarnoc has adopted a ‘learning by doing’ approach, which is bound to keep them moving forward and continuously improving their products. 

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