Author: Mina Nacheva

Urbandine: The hospitality solution for the 1.5-meter economy

The hospitality industry has taken a hit over the past months, with the COVID-19 outbreak keeping restaurants, bars and cafes closed. Opening up again, while impatiently awaited, may turn out to be a slow start for many of those businesses. Urbandine, a YES!Delft startup, has developed an intelligent mobile ordering and payment platform that allows customers to order and pay directly through their smartphone. A platform that can make work at 1.5m distance that much easier. 

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

Urbandine is the brainchild of Jaikishen Jayesingha, Jay for short, and Bhagya Goonewardhane, two friends who first met in high school in Sri Lanka. While they have known each other for over 13 years, they have not walked the same paths. After high school, they each pursued their own interests – Jay went to the UK to study Mechatronics, while Bhagya made his way to Singapore for a degree in Biomedical Engineering. 

While in Singapore, Bhagya made his first steps in the hospitality industry by working on a food discovery platform. He wrote more than 350 for the platform’s blog until it was acquired by the Uber equivalent of the region. By writing all those reviews, Bhagya learned a fair bit about the inefficiencies of how restaurants operate, especially when it came to customer experience. 

He knew that technology could improve customer experience and started looking into mobile ordering as a way to do that. Around the same time, he reconnected with Jay and found out that his friend, too, was thinking of starting a business along the same lines. They joined forces and laid the foundation of Urbandine. 

“We started out by developing a solution that would allow customers to order and pay at restaurants directly from their mobile phones. At the same time, we were also doing market research and we looked at Singapore as a possible entry market,” says Bhagya. Yet, with some competition already there, they quickly changed course and turned their eyes to Europe. “We had both been to the Netherlands for leisure and had noticed that there were always a lot of vacancies for restaurant or cafe personnel. We thought this might be a good place to start, as there is certainly a product-market fit.”  

What also tipped the scales towards choosing the Netherlands were the possibilities that it offered to non-EU entrepreneurs. Jay flew in in late 2018 to meet several facilitators who could help them apply for the Startup Visa. YES!Delft was one of them. 

In proving that they can add business value to the Dutch market, Jay and Bhagya applied for YES!Delft’s Blockchain/AI Validation Lab, sailed through their Selection Day and joined the program in early 2019. The rest is history.

THROUGH YES!DELFT

The Validation Lab turned out to be exactly what Jay and Bhagya needed to establish their solution on the European market. “During the 10-week program, we got to meet with over 60 restaurant owners and validate the need for our product,” Jay says. “We quickly identified beach clubs as a potential market segment, as they often have large terraces that are difficult for waiting staff to service at all times. We ran a pilot with two beach clubs in Scheveningen, starting in August 2019, and managed to bring in new revenue lines for them.” 

While beach clubs rely on customers to sit down and order at their location, with Urbandine they could also get orders from people on the beach, thus getting a boost in sales. This finding proved to Jay, Bhagya and restaurant owners alike that there is unexplored value to be derived from a solution like Urbandine. 

Still, having only beach clubs as customers was not going to be enough to run a self-sufficient company. It is a seasonal business and the two co-founders knew that rather well. 

TO A GROWING COMPANY

Between the end of the season for beach clubs, which is around October, until February 2020, Urbandine made itself known in a different market segment. “We offered our technology for use at events and made it possible for visitors to order food and drinks from a number of different vendors,” Bhagya says. 

One of those events was Horecava, the largest annual hospitality trade fair in the Netherlands. For the vendors at the event, having Urbandine as the solution to order food and drinks meant more business, while for the event organisers, it meant more interaction on the floor. 

For Urbandine, the buzz generated by this move was crucial. It was an opportunity for them to have restaurant owners, who were the key target audience of the event, experience their solution from the other side of the table, as the customer. “The feedback we got was invaluable,” Jay says.

It would only be fair to say that Jay and Bhagya have made leaps of progress since they first moved to the Netherlands just over a year ago. They have also secured a convertible loan of 100,000 euros from six Dutch investors and UK-based entrepreneur Agash Navaranjan, who has since joined Urbandine as co-founder and CTO.

To keep growing at the same, and an even higher pace, the team needed to kick 2020 off strong. For one, they wanted to make sure that they open the season together with terraces in the Netherlands. Yet, nobody could have predicted a global pandemic slowing them down as it did. 

“March has been quite dormant for us, but that doesn’t mean that we have not been working on our proposition,” Jay says. “We have stayed in close contact with our customers and are jointly looking for ways to restart operations once the current measures have been lifted.” 

“We want to offer Urbandine for two months for free to help restaurant and cafe owners to get back on their feet as quickly as possible,” Bhagya adds. “So far, restaurant owners have reported a loss of about 90% of revenues due to closing down their physical locations and they’ve had to cut ties with a lot of their flexible workforce. It is much harder to bring workers back than to let them go, so we want to help owners in this transition phase. We are preparing the restaurant market for a scenario where they would have to work with fewer waiting staff and keep 1.5m distance to their customers.” 

At the moment, the team is talking to more than 150 customers and is aiming to launch their solution with them as soon as the restrictions have been lifted. Urbandine wants to make it easier on restaurant, bar and cafe owners to do their job post-COVID-19, but they also want to establish themselves as the go-to solution for even better and more efficient customer service. 

Given their growth and business approach so far, even in difficult times, it is clear that Urbandine takes challenges in stride and turns them into opportunities. And it can only go up from here.

Milestones 

Jan 2019 – POC pilots in Sri Lanka 

February 2019 – Joined YES!Delft’s Blockchain/AI Validation Lab

June 2019 – MVP built and validation completed

July 2019  – 100K pre seed convertible loan secured

August 2019 – Beachhead market pilots at Beachclubs 

October 2019 – Joined YES!Delft’s Accelerator Program

October 2019 – Exhibited at CES Unveiled in Amsterdam

November 2019 – Agash Navaranjan joins Urbandine as co-founder and CTO

November 2019 – First trade show as partner – Strand Nederland Beurs

November 2019 – Selected to represent The Hague at Web Summit ALPHA AI stream

December 2019 – First flagship location – Stads Koffyhuis

January 2020 – Official launch of Urbandine at the Horecava Innovation Lab and Expo

February 2020 – Exhibited and partnered with HorecaBeurs trade show in Goes 

MYTHRONICS: ‘AI CAN HELP MINIMIZE FOOD LOSS IN THE VALUE CHAIN’

About a third of all food produced goes to waste, and more than 30% of that one third is lost before it reaches the supermarkets. This data may seem shocking, but what’s worse is that it’s real. The reason for this is that quality control with the products is often done by people and problems are not detected in time.

This doesn’t have to be the case, though. With their solution, the team of Mythronics makes it possible for vegetables and fruits to be graded and sorted autonomously, thus minimizing error and maximizing efficiency.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

For founder Soheil Jahanshahi, starting a business for the agricultural industry was not a hard decision. “When I was a kid, my father and my uncle had an apple farm back home in Iran, so agriculture has always been close to my heart,” he says. “In a time when people are moving more towards consumption of high quality fresh products, it is crucial that more and more fruits and vegetables (among others) reach the supermarkets in a good condition.”

The key to making that happen is by sorting and grading the product at the right time. Yet, in this specific industry segment, there has been – and still is – a shortage of qualified labor, Soheil says. Technology can fill this gap.

“From speaking to many (potential) clients, we found out that there are simply not enough people to do the job,” he explains. “Quite often, companies have to hire people from abroad and invest in training them, only to see them leave in a year. We want to avoid that.”

With a background in software engineering, Soheil knew that he could tackle this challenge and help decrease food waste in the value chain. With Mythronics, he and his team of three are developing solutions based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics that can: (1) detect when plants are ready for harvesting, (2) detect defects and other attributes in the product and (3) help with sorting it.

A simple idea that they have taken to the market in under two years.

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Soheil and his team are certainly up to something, with their ultimate goal to make AI more understandable and accessible to businesses in the agricultural industry. Naming the company Mythronics was also not a coincidence. “For many people, AI is still a myth and we want to change that,” Soheil says.

Supporting them along the way has been YES!Delft and their network of experts and mentors. Soheil joined the AI/Robotics Validation Lab in May 2018 and quickly learned about how to match his business proposition to the right target market.

“I met with a lot of potential clients, which helped me validate my idea and better understand the market I was aiming for,” says Soheil. “I also got exposure to a wide range of investors.” Only months later, Mythronics was accepted into YES!Delft’s Accelerator program.

TO A GROWING COMPANY

Today, the startup is already testing their product on several commercial solutions. The team is targeting two different market segments – greenhouse owners and growers on the one hand, and companies on the packaging and logistics side on the other.

For greenhouses, they have developed a mobile assistant that can autonomously detect problems with the crops. It can also tell them when certain crops are ready for harvesting, eliminating the need to train people for it.

On the logistics side, Mythronics has focused on developing an AI-driven solution that can help eliminate subjective quality inspections and ensure that all products are in the high quality sought after by supermarkets.

“We are building this product together with our customer, ABC Logistics,” says Soheil. “In essence, we’ve created a sorting box with sensors and an integrated technology that grades fruits. So you can put up to 60 different types of fruits on a conveyor belt, run them through the box, and it will identify each of them individually. As they go through the box, a robotic arm helps sort those fruits.”

In the relationship between the two companies, ABC Logistics has been providing a lot of the knowledge and a test site, while Soheil and his team have been bringing the technical expertise.

With two solutions already out for customers to work with, the team of Mythronics is well on their way to fulfilling their goal of reducing food waste, even if only on a local scale for now.

MILESTONES

2018

  • Company established
  • Accelerator Alumni at YES!Delft and RoboValley

2019

  • Team grows to three people
  • Received funding from Horizon 2020; pilot tests with first client

2020

  • Development of Robotic Sorting machine
  • Joined Startlife program from Wageningen

YES!Delft startups contribute to solving the corona crisis

There is no doubt that the current COVID-19 developments are changing the way people go about their daily lives and the way they work. For entrepreneurs, in particular, those are times that test their ability to not only adapt to this new situation, but also find creative solutions to contribute positively to it. 

At YES!Delft, we are lucky to have some of the brightest examples of innovation, creativity and technical excellence. From developing new generation air purification and ventilation technologies, to smart solutions for diagnosing and monitoring patients at home, to using UV light to disinfect medical equipment in a matter of seconds, startups are working around the clock to add their value to the current situation. And they’re not the only ones.

Contributing to a cleaner living and working environment

VFA Solutions, in which VFA stands for Virus Free Air, is an expert in the field of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and filtration technologies. Its work focuses on air cleaning and disinfection from hazardous airborne contaminants such as fine particles as well as bio aerosols like bacteria, viruses, spores and fungi, among others. “The corona crisis feels like the last droplet that the market needed to realize the importance of proper air quality and its impact on people’s health,” says founder Eliane Khoury. 

VFA’s ASPRA air purification solutions help purify indoor environments – and at the moment largely healthcare institutions – by removing airborne viruses, pathogens and dust particles. “Inside our device, bio aerosols are guided through an electric field, where the majority are killed or deactivated. The viruses, bacteria and other pathogens are then captured in the collector (the filter) and permanently removed from the air, thus reducing the risk of spreading.”

Because sales volumes are growing for VFA, yet certain components are either not available or have a long delivery time, the team has had to be creative and has decided to simplify the design of their products and outsource production to partners and suppliers. 

UV Smart, another startup in the YES!Delft portfolio, also plays its part in helping hospitals and healthcare centers maintain a clean working environment. Born out of the need to minimise the spread of resistant organisms and viruses, and maintain the highest possible hygiene in  healthcare, the company has developed an innovative solution based on UV light that helps disinfect medical instruments and devices within seconds. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, a number of hospitals in the Netherlands have approached the team to use their technology in disinfecting face masks so medical personnel can reuse them. “We have been working around the clock on a suitable solution for our customers,” says co-founder Daan Hoek. “The first 20 products with our technology are being delivered to different hospitals in the last week of March. From now on, we have to scale up production as fast as possible to get our devices available for the various hospitals.” 

Daan and his team are also thinking about ways to offer their technology internationally.

Working towards more efficient and risk-free screening

Without question, healthcare professionals are among the people who are most exposed to the risk of contracting the corona virus. Hospitals have taken multiple measures to curb that risk and startups are looking for ways to contribute. 

Innovattic is a company that builds digital solutions for social impact, including apps, websites and serious games. Since the coronavirus has been spreading, the startup has been approached by the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) to develop the CoronaBox, a medical kit that (potential) patients can take home to do a self-check.

“We are making a CoronaBox with a thermometer and an oxygen saturation measurement device so potential corona patients can go home and do the necessary measurements,” says Lauwerens Metz, CEO of Innovattic. “That way, they will not infect other people in the hospital and at the same, the box can help monitor them from their home in case their health deteriorates fast.”

This solution can not only help screen more people, but also allow healthcare personnel to focus on the cases that are most urgent, without losing the overview of everyone else who might need their attention. 

For those patients who do need to be examined at the hospital, though, Delmic has developed a different solution. As a spin-off of the TU Delft and the materials institute AMOLF, the startup makes microscopes for (academic) research in materials and life sciences. “Our current proposal is not in our core business at all so that has been a big change,” says CEO Sander den Hoedt. Yet a change that he and his team have embraced in order to help minimise the impact of the coronavirus. 

What they have developed is called the DAAD system, or the Diagnose At A Distance system, which makes it possible for medical staff to examine potential patients without coming in direct contact with them. 

“This solution allows doctors to screen patients without using personal protection measures, thus reducing the chance of doctors getting infected as well as patients getting infected from their protective gear.” The first system is being rolled out in the last week of March and Sander and his team are looking to scale their solution from there. 

Somnox is a startup that is developing a soft robotic that makes sure users have the best night’s sleep possible. Over the past few weeks, the team has adapted to the current coronavirus developments in several different ways. On the one hand, they have made all their sleep knowledge available for free since “sleep is an amazing immune system booster,” says CEO Julian Jagtenberg. On the other hand, “we are also making some of our products available for healthcare employees to borrow so they can get the rest they deserve for free.” 

In addition to that, Somnox has also taken on a more creative approach to contributing to the current corona developments. With the help of the 3D printers in their office, they are making ventilation masks out of Decathlon snorkeling masks and aim to deliver them to hospitals that are preparing for the peak. Anyone with a 3D printer is encouraged to join. 

In the meantime, Eliane from VFA has also been busy setting up a new, similar initiative to fight the shortage of face masks for healthcare personnel. 

At the end of the day, solving this crisis is about innovation, creativity and working together, and those startups seem to be on the right track. 

Elemental Water Makers: Turning water scarcity into abundance

For a country like The Netherlands where rain is a given and the sea level is often as high as it gets, the topic of water scarcity may not be the first to come to mind. Yet, for entrepreneurs Sid Vollebregt and Reinoud Feenstra, this issue holds a sense of urgency: “Already today, about two thirds of the world population is facing water shortages”. 

As a result, the two of them founded Elemental Water Makers and developed a sustainable desalination technology to provide water scarce areas with fresh water.  

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

Sid and Reinoud’s idea goes back to their time at the TU Delft when they were doing their graduation project in the field of desalination and renewable energy. “We founded Elemental Water Makers as a result of our research, and with the sole goal of solving fresh water scarcity using only the elements of the sea, sand, earth and wind.”

About two thirds of the world population is facing water scarcity, Sid says, which makes the company’s efforts so much more important. 

While Elemental Water Makers is about making fresh water more accessible to those who need it the most, it is also about achieving that in a sustainable manner. “Desalination processes do exist and they are similar to what we do, but they are powered by fossil fuels – so, conventional electricity. What we can do is offer either a cheaper and/or a sustainable solution,” Sid explains. 

With the smart use of renewable (solar, wind and wave) energy and gravity, Elemental Water Makers’ technology allows for a constant desalination process. 

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Today, the team is focused on implementing its technology on islands with limited access to fresh water. While having completed more than 20 projects to date and being active in over 10 countries, Sid admits that it was customer development that had proven to be one of their main challenges starting out.

“You can use desalination technology to provide fresh water for a wide range of customers – from hospital to resorts, to entire municipalities,” Sid says. “What we wanted to find out was who could benefit the most from our technology.”

To get a better understanding of their target market as well as the ins and outs of running a business, the two entrepreneurs joined the “Ready to start up” course, followed by YES!Delft’s Incubation Program, the former Accelerator Program. “In the early stages of our development, it was very valuable to be among entrepreneurs and to tap into this network of people and advice, especially the financial and legal coaching,” Sid says.

Becoming part of this ecosystem was the initial push both founders needed on their way to success. Perhaps the most intense part of their idea validation process, however, was when they decided to hop on a plane and visit various islands to talk to as many customers, suppliers, regulators and other stakeholders as possible. 

It was then that they secured their first customer, too. 

TO A GROWING COMPANY

With a number of successful commercial projects behind them and more than five team members onboard, Elemental Water Makers is working towards new heights. 

Together with various coastal regions, the team aims to prove that fresh water can be delivered at an affordable price and in a sustainable manner to regions that do not have access to it. Take the African island of Madagascar, for instance. Eleven million on it still do not have to clean water and about 85% of the population lives in remote communities. Efoetsy is one of these communities. 

In 2019, Sid and Reinoud launched the Elemental Water Foundation, a certified NGO with the goal to help people that need it most. Together with its local partner Trans Mad and the support of private sector donations, it successfully raised the funds required for the installation of the solar-powered desalination system. Thanks to this project, the community now has access to 15,000 liters of clean water every day.

To make implementation of the technology easier, Elemental Water Makers has developed a containerized plug-and-play solution that can be deployed quickly and easily to ensure the reliable supply of affordable clean water at any coastal location.

Sid and his team have come a long way since the early days of their company and have, so far, enabled multiple communities across Africa and Central America gain access to fresh water not only in an affordable, but also environmentally-friendly way. 

“Many people are starting to understand the topic of water scarcity and the importance of water,” Sid says. “For us, it’s not just about solving a problem: We’d like to get to the point where we turn water scarcity into abundance.”

Milestones: 

April 2012: Company founded

June 2012: Admission into Climate-KIC Acceleration Program Phase I

September 2012: Admission into YES!Delft’s Incubation Program

Oct 2012: Climate KIC Acceleration Program Phase II

Dec 2012: STW I grant secured

May 2013: Climate-KIC Acceleration Program Phase III

May 2014: STW II grant secured

July 2015: Official launch of project with first customer

April 2017: Winners of Global Water Award   

2019: Efficient Solution Label received by Solar Impulse Foundation

2019: Finalist Dutch National Icon

Applied Drone Innovations: Leading horticulture into a data-driven future

Drone technology is gaining momentum. While until not long ago, it used to be in the hands of either larger companies or of consumers who would use it for fun, today, drones are accessible to businesses of different sizes and industries.

Agriculture is no exception. With the right tools and data, growers can monitor their crops in near-real time and make sure they remain healthy. To make that possible for horticultural businesses, Applied Drone Innovations (ADI) develops greenhouse monitoring systems, and collects and processes valuable data to increase crop yields and quality.

FROM A SIMPLE IDEA

It was back in 2015 when William Simmonds, Lucien Fesselet and two fellow university students came together during an Engineering Entrepreneurship Minor at the Inholland University of Applied Sciences. As part of an assignment for the horticultural department, they were asked to visit a local plant producer, Bunnik Plants, and find out if there was a problem they could solve for them.

“We went there, spoke to the growers and asked them about the challenges they were experiencing,” William remembers. “We flew our drone around and talked about the opportunities drone technology could offer.”

A single kick-off meeting was enough for William, Lucien and the rest of the team to realize that there was business potential in introducing drones to greenhouses. They started working on a case and quickly attracted interest in their idea, which won them the Wij Inholland Award and a cash prize of 2,000 euros. 

“It was enough to launch a website and print some business cards,” William says. “It was the start we needed.”

What followed was a lot of hard work, long days of research, testing and market validation. In 2017, the team joined a two-year education project of High Precision Greenhouse Farming (HiPerGreen) which gave the idea exposure and the possibility for 60 students to work on it and further develop it. William and Lucien, as the two co-founders, kept busy with that, together with university teaching and work at other startups, while getting ready to lay the foundation of ADI. 

THROUGH YES!DELFT

Less than a year later, ADI was already founded and looking for ways to put their solution on the market. “We applied and got accepted into the YES!Delft Validation Lab and got to learn what it’s like to turn a research project into a business,” William says. 

“We learned how to ask the right questions and find our product-market fit. We understood the importance of having the right contacts and growing our network.”

It was with the help of YES!Delft that the team of ADI got their first pilot projects and later their first paying customers. It was there that they got in touch with Rabobank and secured a 150K startup loan. And it was also there that they learned that their business proposition wasn’t really about the drone itself, but about the data and what growers could do with it. 

TO A GROWING COMPANY

Today, ADI is focused on providing customers with the data collection and analysis tools they need to keep their crops healthy and improve operational efficiency. Together with Beekenkamp Plants, the team is working on a mobile data collection platform that provides the customer with information about germination processes, and uses advanced image analysis to determine the quality of crops. 

ADI has recently delivered a proof of concept of one of its most recent developments, a germination analysis machine.

Since their early startup days, William and Lucien have come a long way. They have grown their team to over 10 members and in less than one year, they have raised half a million euros in grants and funding on top of the initial startup loan. 

The latest milestone is 350K from the MIT R&D grant, in which the company was the lead applicant. “We’re going to use this money for a specific project where we will work closely together with partner Avular, an Eindhoven-based startup focused on enabling mobile robotics,” William says. “We will focus on further developing the data analytics part of our solution, while they will work on making it more user-friendly and suited to operate in greenhouses. 

To date, ADI has three paying customers – two in the orchid industry and one in the young-stage vegetable industry, and several ongoing pilots. And if you ask them about their key goals for 2020, the first one on the list is keeping those customers happy. “To be successful, we need to make sure we do that all the time,” William says. 

ADI would also like to further expand its team and aims to raise 2 million euros in funding within the year in the ambition to become the Google of Agri Data. “At the end of the day, we want to invest more in our core image analysis technology and bridge the gap between image processing and biology.”

Milestones: 

2018

  • Company founded; ADI joins YES!Delft Validation Lab
  • First pilot project
  • 150K startup loan from Rabobank secured

2019

  • ADI joins the YES!Delft Accelerator program
  • First paying customers secured
  • 250K funding from the NWO secured

2020

  • 350K MIT R&D grant secured
  • First big commercial order from Beekenkamp Plants

 

 

Physee: Making buildings future-proof

Becoming energy-neutral is not just a trend anymore, it is a necessity. It is a necessity across generations, markets and industries, and especially when it comes to people’s day-to-day lives. So then imagine living in a building that absorbs sunlight energy during the day and uses it to keep you warm at night. Or working in an office that aims for the ideal temperature and air quality to make you as productive as you want to be. 

All of this is now possible thanks to Delft-based company Physee and its patented SmartSkin technology, which can autonomously power, sense and regulate a building’s climate.

FROM AN INNOVATIVE IDEA

It all started back in 2014 when Willem Kesteloo and Ferdinand Grapperhaus decided to work together on the Master’s theses degree at the Technical University in Delft (TU Delft) and focused their research on the physics on luminescent materials. 

“We had known each other for some time and we knew we worked well together so it was a great opportunity to join forces on the same research project,” Willem says. What started as a university assignment soon led to some interesting discoveries in the lab, and to the idea of turning them into a business.

But what were those discoveries exactly? While researching the luminescent properties of a specific metal, together with their supervisor Erik van der Kolk, Willem and Ferdinand found that, in certain states, this metal can absorb a very broad spectrum of light, which it subsequently emits in a very sharp peak outside of its absorption spectrum. The novelty of this discovery prompted them to think that there might be business applications to consider, like making buildings more energy-efficient by capturing light and using it to generate energy. 

“I have long had an interest in sustainability and the energy transition, so I was excited at the prospect of developing a new technology to make buildings more energy-efficient,” Willem says. “We spend 90% of our time in buildings, which consume 40% of our global energy demand.” And eventually, a lot of that energy ends up being lost through the facade. 

Willem and Ferdinand knew there had to be a solution to not only use, but also generate and reuse energy inside buildings. Straight after graduation, they decided that there was only one way to find out if their idea had business potential, so they rolled up their sleeves and laid the foundation of Physee.  

THROUGH YES!DELFT

In the first year and a half, it was just the two of them trying to develop a proof of concept and figure out their next steps. As physicists, though, they didn’t know much about business, Willem admits. They didn’t know how to find their product-market fit, how to pitch, raise funds or build a great team. 

“This is where YES!Delft came in,” he says. 

“We first joined the LaunchLab [now Validation Lab] and later continued onto the next program. YES!Delft taught us to get out of the building and find out what’s out there; who are our customers and what can we do for them. Because for us, of course, it was obvious – who wouldn’t want electricity-generating windows?” Willem laughs.

Today, Physee is a team of 45 people, all united around the mission of using smart technologies to make buildings more sustainable and energy-efficient.  

TO A GROWING COMPANY

The SmartSkin technology that they have developed solves challenges on a number of levels for a number of market segments. “In my opinion, facades are still being built in a very low-tech and inefficient manner,” Willem says. “What we do is leverage technology to use light more effectively.”

SmartSkin was developed to tackle various challenges at the same time. On the one hand, there is the software, which essentially makes it possible to create smart windows. It combines sensor data, weather conditions and user settings to reduce buildings’ energy consumption up to 20%.

On the other, there is the hardware component. The company has patented a technology that integrates solar cells into the glass of normal windows and harnesses electricity from the sun. That way, the light – and therefore energy – that would normally be reflected off the facade is now absorbed and put to use.

The third and perhaps most complex element to Physee’s work is the development of glass coatings. “We are working on two types of coatings – one for real estate and one for greenhouses – and we are doing so with some of the biggest glass manufacturers in the world,” Willem says. Finalizing those coatings is on their list of goals for 2020.

As a company aiming to revolutionize how buildings are designed and built, Physee works together with a variety of stakeholders to spread its products and services as widely as possible. And it seems there is a market for each of them: Two of four main global glass manufacturers are mainly interested in the coating developments, while the other two have larger interest in the smart hard- and software components. The real estate industry, in turn, is mostly interested in the software and the ability to create intelligent building facades.

From this point onward, Physee is looking towards expanding its team even further – because “our team is our biggest asset,” as Willem puts it, closing a Series A round of funding and starting its first international projects in Spain, Germany and the UK. 

There are big goals on the horizon for Physee but they are goals that the team can surely take on. 

MILESTONES:

2015 – First round of funding secured

2016 – First pilot project launched

2017 – Winners of Green Challenge

2018 – Second round of funding secured

2019 – First commercial projects launched

AMPELMANN: FROM AN INNOVATIVE IDEA TO INDUSTRY GIANT

“It’s been a fantastic ride so far. Extreme growth. Never a dull moment.”

Jan van der Tempel is the inventor, co-founder and CEO of Ampelmann, the Dutch company operating offshore access systems and services. If there is anybody who knows what it’s like to build a fast-growing business, it has to be him. 

Starting with just an idea in an industry that was, and still is, somewhat conservative, Jan has managed to build a company of more than 400 people, across countries and continents. 

‘OFFSHORE ACCESS AS EASY AS CROSSING THE STREET’

The idea behind Ampelmann was conceived rather spontaneously – during an offshore wind conference in Berlin that Jan and his colleague David Molenaar were attending back in 2002. 

As Ph.D. students at the TU Delft, the two of them were researching the design and controls of wind turbines and the conference prompted them to find out if they could create an offshore access system that could compensate wave motions. 

Years of research and testing showed that it was indeed possible: A flight simulator turned upside down, capable of compensating all six degrees of freedom of a vessel and making transferring offshore much safer.

The project became known under the code name Ampelmann. Just like the initial idea, the name, too, was born during their time in Berlin. Ampelmann is German for “the little man in the traffic light,” says Jan, “and it fits perfectly with our motto: making offshore access as easy as crossing the street.” 

THE ROAD TO LAUNCHING THE COMPANY

The mission of the company was straightforward: create a system that would measure the ship motions and compensate them to provide safe access to offshore platforms. In theory, it all sounded great, but as the founder got to learn, the industry needed to see the concept working before embracing it. 

In the first few years following the idea’s conception, he and his team were solely focused on tackling the technology and speaking to potential customers. After receiving positive – though still slightly skeptical – feedback from the industry, they decided to build a full-scale prototype that could be used on a big ship to transfer people onto offshore platforms. 

They took all of 2007 to do that and managed to finish within a year, contrary to many people’s expectations. “It was intense, but it was a lot of fun,” Jan says. The following year, Ampelmann was officially founded and their first system, the A-type, was put in operation. 

EARLY BEGINNINGS AND EXPONENTIAL GROWTH 

In its early days, the team was drawing support and inspiration from the community of fellow entrepreneurs, mentors and experts at the then brand new incubator YES!Delft. “It was very instructive,” Jan remembers. “We shared a lot of experiences with the other startups, especially when it came to the development of our companies and the struggle of getting initial customers.”

Since then, a lot has changed, mainly because of the rate the company has grown at. “We doubled every year,” Jan says. “We started with five people, then 10, then 20. In the second year, we didn’t double – we tripled. That was the anomaly,” he laughs. 

Growing the team, revenues and customer base so quickly was bound to keep things changing. “The thing I used to say about Ampelmann’s development is that every six months you’d be in a different company,” Jan says. That meant going through changes every half year – a bigger office, new recruits, new goals to set ahead. 

Building a sales team, he adds, has been one of the main challenges along the way. “Especially in the beginning, it’s all very specialist work. You need to have the knowledge of what the system does, how a ship moves, how an offshore operation works and what safety features we have. We were educating the industry about something completely new and something they didn’t yet understand,” Jan says.

Fast forward over a decade, and Ampelmann is the leader in the global offshore access industry with more than 6 million safe people transfers and over 13 million kilograms of cargo transferred. The company has also gone a long way in diversifying its fleet, operating in various industries across the world, and increasingly working on making its solutions more energy-efficient and sustainable. 

There may have been challenges over the years, but nothing Jan and his team weren’t able to overcome. “If there is one thing that I have learned along the way, it’s to follow your passion and never give up,” Jan says. It is certainly a lesson he has learned well. 

 

Milestones:

2007 – First prototype ready; company founded

2008 – First commercial project launched 

2015 – First 1 million transfers completed worldwide

2016 – Ampelmann opens several offices abroad

2018 – OTC Spotlight on New Technology Award won

2019 – Opening more international offices and entering multiple new markets 

2019 – Double milestone: 5 million people and 10 million kg of cargo transferred

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