Villari develops wireless sensors to monitor aging infrastructure
Aging infrastructure is a growing concern for authorities across Europe, requiring them to look for more innovative monitoring tools as time goes by. Moving steel structures, in particular, ask for regular inspections and, increasingly so, maintenance. Monitoring those manually can be a challenge, so Olivier Baas and Hugo Romer, co-founders of Villari, took it upon themselves to create a solution that automates at least part of the process.
FROM A SIMPLE IDEA
Villari’s mission is rather straightforward – develop sensors and wireless monitoring systems that provide users with a 24/7 view of their assets and notify them of any possible structural problems.
“We build sensor systems that are able to monitor steel structures,” Olivier says. “If you have a steel structure that moves even a little bit – a bridge, ship, or an offshore platform, at one point it starts to crack and it becomes a problem. We can apply our systems to critical locations on such structures and monitor their state.”
As a result, operators gain a clear overview and insights into the state of their structures and are able to easily plan (and foresee) maintenance work.
Olivier and Hugo’s entrepreneurial journey started in late 2018 and goes back to their days at the TU Delft. They both did Offshore Engineering as a Master’s degree and graduated under the same professor. It was their professor, in fact, who had come up with the idea for the wireless monitoring sensors and as soon as all the academic research around it was finished, Olivier thought it might be a good idea to try and turn it into a business.
He reached out to Hugo, who was then in China for work, and the two quickly agreed to do this together. “I called Hugo and he immediately said we should do it. He just needed a bit of time to figure a few things out first,” Olivier says. “Of the two of us, Hugo has always been the one to think things through. I usually tend to dive in headfirst,” he laughs and Hugo agrees with a nod.
So, in early 2019 and with Hugo back from his project abroad, the two started thinking on how to turn an idea into a business success.
With both of them coming from a technical background, Olivier and Hugo were looking to learn more about what it’s like to run a company. In May 2019, they joined the YES!Delft Validation Lab and it all started rolling from there.
“The Validation Lab was a real pressure-cooker,” Hugo remembers. “It’s a ten-week program of identifying your potential clients and finding your product-market fit. We went in Olivier’s little car, driving around and doing interviews all around the Netherlands. It was intense but it was a great way to validate the potential of our idea.”
They often had as many as six interviews in a day, which left them with a lot of information to process day in and day out. Soon after finishing the Validation Lab, the two co-founders applied and were accepted into the YES!Delft Accelerator Program, which has helped them gain valuable connections and introduce their technology to the market.
TO A GROWING COMPANY
If they need to point out one challenge that they have struggled with along the way, Olivier and Hugo would have to say it was the decision which market segment to focus on. They have come to learn that there are simply a lot of applications for their solution. For a startup, that is a good problem to have but it can also make it difficult to stay on track.
“For now, we’ve decided to focus on bridges,” Olivier says. “They are easily accessible – especially compared to offshore platforms, have a lot of cracks, and need constant monitoring.” It is a good market for them to enter and test their solution in.
“Most of our (potential) clients there are public companies and with our sensors, we are looking to make their work more time- and cost-efficient.”
The startup is currently working with Rijkswaterstaat and is setting up more pilot projects. Expanding their portfolio is essentially what they want to achieve in the months to come. “By the end of the year, we will have a second prototype of our wireless sensor,” Hugo says. “We want to set up 4-5 new pilot projects next year with different clients and convert those into commercial projects. We are looking forward to getting our first bit of revenue with our technology.”
Olivier and Hugo have set themselves clear goals for 2021 and they seem to be on the right track to reach them. They’ve found their product-market fit and are ready to roll up their sleeves and go further into the market.
July 2019: Completed the YES!Delft Validation Lab
Dec 2019: Received €40.000 grant by NWO
Dec 2019: Company established
Mar 2020: Started the YES!Delft Accelerator Program
Apr 2020: Raised € 350.000 funding by the Dutch Enterprise Agency (RvO)
Jun 2020: Received first sensor prototypes
Jul 2020: Successful laboratory trials showing above-expectation results
Oct 2020: First field trials on a Rijkswaterstaat-owned bridge, successful
Dec 2020: Received the second series of prototypes to be deployed in several pilot projects throughout 2021