Author: Mina Nacheva

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. 

VideowindoW: smart technology that transforms windows into screens

The number of buildings and public spaces in cities is increasing, demanding from them to be more sustainable and to create a pleasant environment for the people who use them. Glass buildings and their facades, in particular, pose plenty of opportunities to make our surroundings more appealing. Remco Veenbrink, founder of innovative company VideowindoW – part of the YES!Delft community, saw the potential and made it his mission to turn any glass surface into an amazing video experience. 

‘It all started as an artistic endeavor’ 

The initial idea of VideowindoW was born when Remco passed through Amsterdam Airport Schiphol several years ago. “I walked through the traverse to the parking lot, which has glass-tiled walls. I wondered whether these could work like pixels in a screen, which was the first time I imagined what ultimately became VideowindoW,” he says.

While this may have been just an idea to someone else, for Remco it was all it took to embrace it and turn it into a successful company. As a commercial film director himself and with a background in advertising, he was well equipped to take on this project. And being as determined as he is, he didn’t waste time thinking about it.

Remco started work on a proof of principle, which resulted in 10x10cm liquid crystal mono-cells – or in other words pixels in a transparent screen. He quickly created a render of what he had in mind and went to Schiphol Media to present his idea: a transparent video screen to be used as a branding opportunity and experience for the passengers.

Schiphol Media liked the added experience and branding tool potential, but it needed to make more commercial sense. The resolution basically had to increase to use VideowindoW as a digital signage tool. This first customer validation encouraged Remco to continue developing VideowindoW as a transparent media platform. 

He asked Mark Oudenhoven, a long-time friend with a background in finance, to help further analyze the market potential and develop a business model.

‘Media platform becomes fun, profitable and sustainable glare control’ 

Their business plan soon led to government funding, after which Remco and Mark quit their jobs to officially found VideowindoW.   

They first developed a proof of concept to be able to showcase their solution to potential customers. This led to an innovation partnership with Rotterdam The Hague Airport and in September 2019, they installed a 25m2 VideowindoW in the terminal. The solution contributed to an improved passenger experience and created value for the airport. 

VideowindoW makes a strong case for sustainability, too. “Based on sensors and our algorithm, we constantly adapt the transparency of each individual pixel. Our innovative glare control reduces the need for artificial lighting and results in a more efficient use of climate control. Both help to reduce a building’s carbon footprint up to 30%,” Remco says.

VideowindoW is the first to introduce segmented tintable glass in the industry, and by using pixels it is able to transform an entire glass facade into an integrated media platform.

Besides commercial content, Rotterdam The Hague Airport also leverages VideowindoW by offering it as a platform for cultural and educational content. This generates additional regional support for the airport. For example, museums such as Boijmans van Beuningen and the Kunstmuseum Den Haag show content from their archives to a wider audience. Additionally, Willem de Kooning Academy students create video content for the airport.

Going forward, VideowindoW aims to expand beyond its beachhead market of airports and other public transport hubs, and install its solution in hospitals, offices, libraries and more. The startup wants to increase the sustainability of the build environment with its innovative glare control, while creating memorable video experiences.

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SocialTech: the way forward in solving the health and societal challenges of tomorrow

The past year has posed challenges that many of us had never even thought about. Challenges to our health, to the way we interact with each other, and to the way we go about our day-to-day lives.

Yet, with new challenges come new solutions, and the Dutch innovation ecosystem has not fallen short of that. SocialTech has gained vital importance, with entrepreneurs looking for smart solutions to today’s most pressing societal issues.

To clarify why we need SocialTech, our program manager Noortje van Sambeek and our partners explain more about the rise and potential of this new domain, and look into its role in the future healthcare system.

The rise of SocialTech

Over the past year, two main trends have come to the fore with regards to smart social tech solutions. One is focused on directly tackling the health and societal challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the other is more focused on prevention, ensuring that health and societal challenges do not become an issue in the future.

Both trends have played a significant role, and arguably, the prevention aspect may become even more crucial as we move forward.

For Peter Hulsen, Advisor and Changemaker at the Nederlands Centrum Jeugdgezondheid (NCJ) – the Dutch Center for Youth Health – the prevention of health problems is crucial, and it starts at a very early stage in one’s life.  

“We see a great urgency to tackle health issues in young children as early as possible in their lives. It is crucial to give them a strong foundation to grow up on so there is no need for interventions later on.”

And it is not just about health, he adds. “It is about how our cities and villages are organised and spatially arranged. How much space there is for children and young people to move around.” Fostering a healthy and nurturing environment both in and outside of one’s home is not just a nice-to-have. It is a necessity.

The potential of SocialTech

SocialTech has the potential to transform our communities to make us more resilient, and as a result, stronger, too.

For sure, technology and innovation can help bring positive change to society, but it is important to remember that it’s not all about tech itself. It is also about the context, identifying the gaps in our community and finding ways to close them using innovative technology. 

This is also the motivation behind launching the SocialTech Validation Lab, a program developed by YES!Delft in partnership with Erasmus University Rotterdam.

A new program for new challenges, says Noortje. “Our goal with this Validation Lab is to make innovation happen that can help society. We are bringing together people from many different backgrounds to create the best teams and the best solutions.”

The challenges we face today are global, but the solutions are to be found locally.

This is confirmed by Ed Brinksma, President of the Executive Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam. “The province of South Holland, particularly the Rotterdam region, is a rich breeding ground in terms of diversity and entrepreneurship. A multidisciplinary approach is vital for innovation and especially for solving the social issues in this region. In this way, together, we can advance inspiring SocialTech ideas and make a tangible contribution to a resilient and healthy society. “

Organisations such as EUR, NCJ, Social Impact Fonds Rotterdam and Health Holland are among the partners that would support the selected startups in developing the solutions that society needs the most.

There is a great relationship of trust between YES!Delft and its partners.“The past performance of YES!Delft and their recently started SocialTech Validation Lab both provide the essential moral trust and intellectual support for social technology entrepreneurs that strive to create positive impact,” said Nico van Meeteren, Executive Director and Secretary-General at Health Holland.

 

The SocialTech Validation Lab is currently accepting applications until April 7.

APPLY NOW

Towards the healthcare system of tomorrow

A lot has changed concerning how our healthcare systems work. 

We are at the start of the transformation of healthcare, says Noortje. “We see it moving more and more towards people’s homes. Smart technology is making it possible to move towards the social domain and developing solutions that can make it more efficient.”

Today it’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated healthcare’s move in that direction.  

In the past year of having COVID-19 among us, we have learned that people don’t always need to interact directly with a healthcare professional. They are a lot more open to the idea of relying on websites and chatbots for information. This is a positive development given the fact that our healthcare system has been squeezed for resources during the pandemic,” Peter says.

In other words, innovation can help create solutions that take away some of the more repetitive and simple tasks that are still part of the day-to-day of medical professionals and instead help them focus on the cases that they are most needed for.  

There is still a lot that technology can bring to the medical domain.

“This past year we’ve had to leapfrog when it comes to the digital evolution of healthcare,” says Noortje. “There is a lot more potential to be discovered, and we want to create the right environment and ecosystem for that to take place.

The SocialTech Validation Lab is looking for promising startups that want to bring innovation to society. The program will help these entrepreneurs find their product-solution fit and develop the business case around their idea.

Apply before April 7 for a chance to join the program!

APPLY NOW FOR THE VALIDATION LAB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praxa Sense: Leveraging smart technology to better monitor heart disease

What does it take for two product designers to create a medical device that may well be the future of monitoring cardiac arrhythmias? For one, it takes a lot of hard work, especially in times of uncertainty. It also takes commitment to develop a device that can detect possible heart problems with high accuracy.

Meet Leonard Moonen and Liselotte Stolk, the initial co-founders of Delft-based startup Praxa Sense and the two product designers from the paragraph above. With little business experience of their own (at least initially), they have managed to not only develop a product the medical industry needs but also find their fit in just the right market. 

The wearable that detects cardiac arrhythmia

Detecting cardiac arrhythmias can be somewhat of a challenge and new technologies are always welcome in making the process more hassle-free. At the moment, it requires a patient to undergo a thorough monitoring procedure, which may not even yield accurate results as arrhythmias often happen sporadically. 

“Atrial fibrillation is the most common sign of cardiac arrhythmia but detecting it is not always that easy,” says Leonard. “In fact, there are a lot of people out there that don’t even know they have it.” Because it doesn’t occur consistently, atrial fibrillation can sometimes be overlooked – unintentionally of course – by current monitoring methods. People with this condition are also five times more likely to have a cerebral stroke, Leonard adds. 

That is how he first came up with the idea of a wearable that would monitor heart rhythm in a simple and non-intrusive way. 

“We’ve developed Afi, a small, user-friendly device that can detect heart rhythm disorders with high accuracy. It requires little to no manual effort and extends the time frame, in which a patient can be monitored.” If worn continuously, it can essentially monitor a patient 24/7 without interruption.

From a university project to a business venture

For Leonard, it all started during his studies of Integrated Product Design at TU Delft. There, as part of CardioLab – an initiative by the university and de Hartstichting focused on using smart technologies to detect cardiovascular diseases, he designed the first prototype of what would later become Afi. 

He saw the business potential of the solution, but he knew that a good idea and a nice design were not going to be enough to run a company. “I knew I had to learn more about startup life,” Leonard says. “I also knew that I would need a co-founder and I had just the right person in mind.” 

It didn’t take much convincing to bring Liselotte on board. And so, the two of them were ready to experience what having a startup would be like. 

Almost immediately, they signed up for the EIT Health Validation Lab in Dublin and went through eight weeks of market validation and meeting potential clients across Europe. “It was an intense program but it really helped us understand what it’s like to run a company and match its offering to the needs of customers.” 

One of the stops was YES!Delft and Leonard remembers how nice it felt to be so close to home. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Liselotte and himself later became a part of YES!Delft’s Accelerator Program. That was also the time when they were joined by Pourya Omidi, who became the third co-founder of Praxa Sense.

Positioning Afi where it’s most needed – in hospitals

One of the key lessons that the co-founders have learned along the way is that being a part of a strong network is invaluable. 

“The community that we have around us at YES! is a great asset,” Leonard says. “If I have an industry-related question, I can go downstairs and just have a cup of coffee with the founders of Momo Medical, another MedTech startup. Or if I need advice on strategy or funding, I could walk up to the team of YES!Funded. It’s really that easy.”

Today, Praxa Sense is a team of eight and they are about to launch their first clinical trial in the Netherlands. This is a big next step, as their solution will make its way to Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis hospital in Delft and be used to monitor patients. 

As the year progresses, the team will continue to iterate their product, especially as they receive feedback from the trial, and will work to set up more pilot projects. Hospitals are on top of their list as potential clients, followed closely by e-health companies. 

So far, Praxa Sense has grown steadily, including during the past year with COVID-19 around. With their first clinical trial coming up, they are about to gain more insight into the potential and application of their product. It is only a matter of time for them to implement it and further improve it.

Milestones
  • October 2017: Leonard Moonen graduated from Delft Cardiolab with first prototype of Afi
  • October 2017: Leonard showcased Afi at Dutch Design Week 2017
  • April 2018: Praxa Sense B.V. was founded
  • June 2018: EIT Health Validation Lab in Dublin, Liselotte joined as co-founder
  • November 2018: YES!Delft Accelerator Program, Pourya joined as co-founder
  • May 2020: Received Innovation Loan from Rabobank and funding from ZonMw
  • October 2020: Funding from Innovation Quarter for R&D of Afi
  • September 2020: Expanded team from three to eight
  • January 2020: A larger new corner office at YES!Delft

Smart-Ship: Control levers that help you make informed decisions in real-time

Ships experience a lot of forces sailing through head waves on the open sea. Information systems onboard monitor those forces and notify the crew about changes in their surroundings, yet there seems to be a problem. “The information from the automation systems is transferred in such a way that the human operator doesn’t understand what to act upon,” says Brent Kok, co-founder of Delft-based startup Smart-Ship. To ensure that vessels operate as best as possible, the company is developing a smart solution that can feed the captain real-time data on the performance and state of the ship so they can make informed decisions in the moment. 

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

It was a couple of years back when Brent’s brother Roy came up with the idea for Smart-Ship and decided to turn it into a business. He had just graduated from his studies in Biomechanical Engineering and Maritime Technology at the TU Delft and had built a throttle lever for small fast ships that could warn the captain if he was sailing too fast through head waves. 

Roy saw potential in the product and was looking to join YES!Delft and take his first step to becoming an entrepreneur. “Roy called me one day and said that he wanted to start a company, but YES!Delft had advised him to find a co-founder,” Brent remembers. “He wanted to know if I could recommend someone in my network, which would be mostly fellow finance professionals. I had a person in mind straight away. Me.” 

And so their journey began. 

It all started with the two of them trying to make it easier for captains to keep track of what’s going on with their ship at all times and respond quickly to any unexpected developments. 

“Currently, a lot of information from the ship is being transmitted to the captain through audio and visuals, which can become overwhelming next to everything else he is doing,” Brent says. “Vessels have a lot of systems that provide useful information, but if the captain cannot process it at the right time, it doesn’t really work.” 

To tackle this challenge, Smart-Ship has so far developed several haptic levers that send valuable real-time data to the captain and warn him in case he needs to change course or adjust speed. The levers have both a hardware and a software element to them, so they can analyze the performance of the ship and send the captain a physical signal – in the form of a vibration, for example – if he needs to take action. They can also be used to make sure that the vessel is sailing as environmentally-friendly as possible.

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Starting their company with the YES!Delft community around them has been of great value for Roy and Brent. “We first entered the Validation Lab and looking back, it has been the most useful program so far. It forced us to go out there. We learned that it’s not just about having nice technology but that you need to find the people willing to pay for it.” 

In just over two years, the two brothers have brought a third co-founder onboard, Jelle Tiemensma, and have built a small team around them. They also took part in the YES!Delft Accelerator program, which is when Brent says “things really kicked off.” 

With their technology validated, it was only a matter of time for them to find the right clients. 

TO A GROWING COMPANY 

When they first started out, Roy and Brent were focused on getting the attention of the small fast ship market. They knew there was potential there, but they also knew it wasn’t big enough to build an entire company on it. 

“The small fast ship market is very specific so, soon enough, we had to start exploring the needs of other stakeholders in the industry,” Brent remembers. They got interest from tug boat and dredging companies, and today they have pilot projects with clients such as the Royal Netherlands Navy, DEME Group and VSTEP Simulation.

Alongside the four levers that the team has developed, they are also working on a haptic joystick to be used by crane operators. The key to Smart-Ship’s products is that they can be used to control a ship, crane or other asset, while at the same as a medium to transfer information. “The maritime sector is quite conservative so we are offering a product that looks traditional, but the tech underneath it is revolutionary,” Brent says. 

With several pilots already on the way and a first investment round from early-stage innovation fund UNIIQ, Smart-Ship is looking forward to its next milestones. 

“Our goal for 2021 is to get on the water,” Brent says. “All of our projects so far have been in simulation and we feel it’s time to test our technology on an actual vessel.” And with that, they are getting ready to take the next step of their entrepreneurial journey. 

Milestones:
  • Installing Smart-Ship tech on several vessels (tug boat, small fast ship, inland ship and dredger) – Q4 2021
  • Setting up partnerships with renowned maritime integrators and shipyards – Q2 2021
  • Successful implementation of new haptic joystick – Q3 2021
  • Successful implementation of most recent product, maritime dashboard logging all user data providing useful insights for operators, fleet managers and insurance companies – Q3 4 2021

 

Bi/ond: Taking the step towards personalized medicine

“Our mission is to create a world where personalized medicine will be made available to everyone. We want to achieve this by merging microelectronics with biology.”

Nikolas Gaio is the CTO of MedTech startup Bi/ond and together with his co-founders Cinzia Silvestri and William F. G. Solano, he is looking to bring innovation to the medical field.

“Microelectronics is being used in a lot of markets but in biology, it has still not been utilized to its full potential,” Nikolas says. “We want to take advantage of that and make a difference.”  

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

The idea behind Bi/ond evolved as a result of years-long Ph.D. research at the TU Delft. The three co-founders were fascinated by the possibilities that personalized medicine had to offer but were struggling with the little progress that was being made in that field. So they took things in their hands.

“At the moment, medicines and pharmaceutical products are developed based on middle-aged white men, so people from other ethnicities and women are rarely taken into consideration during these development processes,” Nikolas says. “The number of genetic differences plays an important role in how medicines affect different ethnicities, age, and sex.”

The reason why there is not enough progress in the field, he believes, is because current technology is not accurate enough to handle the complexity of the differences between people. Bi/ond hopes to change that.

What the startup is working on is a technology for more accurate drug testing and simulations of any tissue type. “We’ve developed a computer chip with a small blood vessel that can nourish, stimulate and monitor cells. For example, it can stimulate cells in the heart to keep it beating or in the lungs to help them keep expanding,” Nikolas says.

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Supporting the team along the way has been YES!Delft and their community of mentors and experts. One of the biggest challenges for Nikolas and his co-founders has been turning Bi/ond from a research project into a business.  

“We were and still are engineers, so YES!Delft have helped us a lot in improving our technology while also teaching us how to build a company. They took us out of our engineering bubble and showed us what it’s like to run a business,” Nikolas says.

They learned the importance of validating their technology with potential customers and talked to tens of medical professionals to gain insights into their needs and challenges. Currently, Bi/ond is supplying its product to three academic hospitals across Europe and is mostly focusing on its cardiac application.

“Together with our customers, we are now mostly looking into cardiac toxicity,” Nikolas says, “which essentially means that we are trying to find out if a medication is affecting the heart in the wrong way.”

TO A GROWING COMPANY

While the startup does have competitors on the market, Nikolas believes that Bi/ond has a unique advantage. It is the only company currently that combines microelectronics with biology, making it possible to stimulate cells and “bring what is inside the body outside of it,” he adds.  

The hospitals that they are currently working with are different in their approach of using Bi/ond’s technology. Some of them are interested in only buying the chips, while others are also happy to work together with the startup and help develop the technology further.

A little bit further down the line, the team will aim to add biotech companies to its customer base, alongside hospitals. “Our goal is to strike partnerships with such companies later on and establish our credibility in the field.”

Today, Bi/ond is a team of seven and they are well equipped to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. So far, they have been financed via local and international grants as well as a first round of funding from UNIIQ, the proof-of-concept fund of South Holland. Going into 2021, they will be looking at a second, bigger investment.

Nikolas and the team have surely gained momentum over the past year and are moving closer to their mission of making medicine more personalized in the future.

Milestones:
  • Collaboration with a complementary biotech company for the development of a Heart-on-Chip model;
  • Integration of electrodes and sensors inside the Bi/ond’s product to guarantee “more-than-imaging” to our customers;
  • Deal with a pharmaceutical company.

Manometric: The 3D-printed braces that make a difference in people’s lives

Tailor-made hand braces and orthoses are expensive and not fully tailored to the needs of the person using them. Not to mention, they are not the most beautiful pieces out there. Pieter Smakman came across this problem during his graduation project at the TU Delft and together with his friend and colleague, Robin Jones, took on 3D scanning and printing technology to design and create braces that people love to wear. 

It didn’t take long until the two of them founded Manometric, a Delft-based startup looking to make the above possible for people who need a brace. 

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

“We believe that braces are a consumer product and the experience of wearing them is more comparable to wearing a watch than a bandaid,” Pieter says. “It enables you to work again and perform your job. A piece of plastic can make a huge difference to someone’s life so it needs to fit the person him- or herself.”

During his Master’s in Integrated Product Design, Pieter came up with the idea of using 3D technology to create 360-scans of a hand and based on them, design a brace that is fully tailored to the person who needs it. The first version of the scanner was far from perfect, but it bore the potential of what it could become. 

“The first time we tried to scan a hand was not easy at all,” Pieter remembers. “Someone had to put their hand up and sit on a turning plateau in front of the 3D scanner so we could capture every angle. You can imagine how hard it is to keep a hand in a steady position even for a couple of seconds, so this was definitely not a very viable solution to collect information.”

Today, close to four years after founding Manometric, Pieter, Robin and their team have made leaps both in terms of their technology and in running a successful business. They are accredited as an orthopedic company, which enables them to see patients and work directly with health insurers. Even during COVID-19 times, they have been able to continue doing that – under strict measures, of course – and it is something that gives the team not only new insights for their research and development, but also a lot of positive energy. 

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Supporting them along the way has been the community of experts at YES!Delft and their international network. Manometric joined the YES!Delft Accelerator Program in September 2017 and quickly learned what it’s like to run a business. 

“The first thing we had to get into our system was to stop being so busy with our technology and instead focus on validating our product. We had to find out if there was a market for it before we spent more resources and effort developing it,” Pieter says.

Their mentor wasted no time in throwing them into the deep. “We were advised to organize a demo day, promote it on Facebook and see if people were willing to participate and pay for it. We went for it, but we were terrified,” Pieter remembers. “It just didn’t feel natural to promote a product that was not fully developed yet.” 

And while the two co-founders were surely outside of their comfort zone, they quickly saw the benefits of approaching their target market early on. They communicated their demo day to a large group of patients and were surprised to receive more than 150 responses overnight. Eventually, about 20 people signed up and traveled from all over the Netherlands to experience Manometric’s technology 

 “That meant a lot to us and it was the point where we knew we were onto something,” Pieter says. 

Those initial insights were what they needed to continue developing their technology. Today, the startup has a 3D scanner that can perform a 360 scan in a hundredth of a second, a software that can automate the production of orthoses and works together with hospitals, clinics, health insurers and other orthopedic companies. 

TO A GROWING COMPANY

Starting out, Pieter and Robin’s goal was to leverage technology in such a way that they could provide patients with the best-fitting hand braces possible, which look good too. At the same time, they also wanted to make the design and creation of those braces more efficient and less labor-intensive. 

“If you look at the traditional patient journey, there is a lot of time from intake to delivering the final product. With our 3D technology, we can achieve results much faster.”

Manometric has been working together with Gerald Kraan, an orthopedic surgeon from Reinier de Graaf hospital in Delft, who has helped them immensely over the past years. With his support, they have been able to develop their software and algorithms, and to make sure that the braces they create perform as well as traditional ones, if not even better.

The startup’s goal going forward is to have their scanners placed in hospitals all over the Netherlands. “Our solution is scalable and we can’t wait to distribute this widely,” Pieter says. 

The process may take some time, but the team has already proven that there is great potential for their technology, across the country and beyond. 

Having been able to disrupt (in a good way) such a traditional industry has certainly brought Pieter, Robin and their team the feeling that they can change people’s lives with their work. What makes it all even more worthwhile, though, is actually seeing the impact of their technology. 

“Not too long ago, one of our patients brought her saxophone to our office, sat down and started playing,” Pieter says. “It was the hand brace that we made for her that enabled her to play her instrument again. You can imagine the surprise on all of our faces.

It is those moments that count the most. It is those moments that remind us of the impact we can make.” 

Milestones of 2020

 

  • A doubling of the team (now 11) with highly talented and experienced people
  • More than tripled the revenue of 2019
  • Accredited as official Orthopedic Company
  • CE Certification for the ManoX 3D Scanner
  • Contracts with all Dutch health insurers

 

Don’t forget to apply for our next Accelerator Program, the application deadline is on the 31st of January.

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Voyc: Turning customer call analysis into a superpower, with the help of AI

Customer support has always been key to successful business strategies and plans, yet it is not always without misunderstandings. Startup Voyc is tackling this problem by ensuring that both customers and companies are treated fairly during verbal exchange. How? Voyc’s artificial intelligence (AI) software enables companies to gain deeper understanding of their customers’ needs and problems, and resolve issues as efficiently and fairly as possible.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

Call monitoring is essential in identifying potential risks, improving agent performance and enhancing the overall customer experience.

In their venture to ensure understanding between companies and customers, Matthew Westaway and his co-founder, Lethabo Motsoaledi, developed an AI-based solution that adds value to customer service. “We hope that one day everyone will feel trusted and that their voices will be heard,” says Matthew.

Currently focused on the insurance sector, the startup is working with more than 10 companies, enabling them to maintain strong and positive relationships with their customers.

The Quality Assurance (QA) team plays a key role. It is in charge of recording and analyzing all calls that take place, and providing insurance companies with relevant information that allows them to handle clients’ requests fairly and reliably. Voyc’s AI-driven software is able to transcribe and analyze calls within minutes, and deliver data-packed reports to the team. 

“We basically give our QA Team superpowers to protect both the company and the customer,” says Matthew. “That way we can ensure that there are no issues between them.”

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Delft-based incubator YES!Delft and their professional network of experts have been a part of Voyc’s entrepreneurial journey so far. As one of the startups in its Accelerator program, Voyc has enjoyed the wide range of expertise they have had access to and the good connections they have been able to make. 

“YES!Delft’s strong network has been very valuable for our company, especially in the early days,” Matthew says. “It employs amazing people that are ready to help and that want you to do well.”

Today, two years after being founded, Voyc has a team of 10 who share the same passion and energy for establishing equal relations between companies and their clients.

TO A GROWING COMPANY

During this journey, the startup has gone through periods of trial and error that have expanded its understanding of the potential risks that both companies and their customers have to bear in the business world. 

“Most of the issues usually come up on service calls when customers are just extremely unhappy”, Matthew says. “It is often the case that customers misunderstand what service they are being offered and end up receiving something they never asked for.”

He makes another point that while customers could misjudge some of the information they are offered, misinterpretation on the company’s side is also a possibility. 

“Our clients, mostly insurance companies, generally have a lot at stake so being able to analyze their customer service calls is crucial for them,” Matthew says. “On the other hand, their customers can also end up largely affected should it come to a misunderstanding.” 

In a way, both sides have a lot to gain from a solution like that of Voyc.

The past two years of running their company has taught Matthew and his co-founder a lot not just about entrepreneurship but about their industry as well. For the coming months, they have locked their sights on expanding to the UK and establishing a foothold in the market there. 

With a few investments from accelerators such as Techstars and several Dutch angel investors, Voyc is certainly on the right path. From this point on, the team will be venturing onto even bigger and better business opportunities, both in the Netherlands and abroad. 

Milestones

Mar 2018: Founded company

Sep 2018: Joined Techstars SAP.iO Berlin

Nov 2019: Signed first large insurance company

Jan 2020: Hired 5th Team Member

Feb 2020: Setup HQ in the Netherlands

Mar 2020: Joined YES!Delft

Nov 2020: Signed 4th large insurance company

Dec 2020: Hired 10th Team Member

Dec 2020: Monitored the call of 100 000’th end-customer

Give your 2021 a kick start and sign up for our Accelerator Program! 

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