NASA technology in Drachten to help prevent traffic accidents, water-saving taps in Leeuwarden's city hall, fishing plastic waste out of Groningen Seaports and charging your electric car while you park on the campus in Groningen. After six months of hard work, last Thursday was the day of days. The 9 selected startups presented their innovative solutions in the Groningen Forum during the Demo Day of the first edition of Startup in Residence North Netherlands.
During the program, the participating startups actively tackled social challenges formulated by the municipalities of Leeuwarden, Groningen, Assen and Emmen, The Hanze University of Applied Sciences and Noorderpoort, Groningen Seaports, Campus Groningen and partners, and the Provinces of Friesland and Groningen. What were the biggest lessons? And what challenges do the startups now face? Here is an overview of a few highlights.
"It's basically like raising a small child."
Together with a Swedish company, Zuen&Co developed a nozzle for taps that can save as much as 85% of water. For the municipality of Leeuwarden, they started a pilot in both the city hall and the town hall. But can you measure such savings properly when almost everyone is working from home? "It did complicate things at first," says founder Maarten ter Velde. "That's why during the pilot we focused specifically on users. Our tap can take some time getting used to, because it takes longer to refill your water bottle, for example. But our research showed that people were very enthusiastic about the taps if they were informed in advance about the savings. And this info makes it a lot easier for us to convince companies and organizations to make the switch to our nozzle."
oQuay performs safety inspections of waterway structures both above and below the waterline, using innovative techniques such as video mapping and imaging sonar. The startup helped the Province of Fryslân to better inspect the many banks and quays along waterways, using A.I. The first results were already promising, according to founder Peter Nieuwenhuizen. "But there is still much to be done, because there are many different structures and damages that the A.I. needs to learn to recognize. In that sense, it's actually like raising a small child."
Learning to work together
TripService went to work for Campus Groningen to make the campus more accessible and also to offer green travel options to all employees, students and visitors. "In the beginning, it took some time to figure out the right approach for this," said account manager Wouter Giesen. "But our mentor Robert Reekers was a huge help in pushing us to actively seek collaboration with Campus Groningen, rather than coming up with our own solution that might not have been a good fit."
EVoltify also collaborated with Campus Groningen and during the pilot the startup tested its mobile charging stations for campus visitors. "It's a technology that is still in development and of course there are many different types of electric cars," says founder Antonio Fajardo. "But thanks to the pilot, we can demonstrate that it works well, so the next step is looking for investors to help us scale up further."
A friendly parting
Nibblr developed an app to share meals and eat together with other people in the neighborhood. With this, the startup helped Campus Groningen roll out the red carpet and make people feel at home on campus. "Startup in Residence has been a huge help to us really," says co-founder Yannick Kampschoer. "Learning to collaborate with large organizations instead of just focusing on our end users has made it much easier for us to roll out the app further. We're currently in talks with universities at home and abroad and we're very optimistic."
Activitree is also on a mission to bring people together, with an app for low-key, small-scale activities. The startup partnered with Hanzehogeschool and Noorderpoort to help students meet and connect, but ultimately it didn't turn into a pilot. "We parted as good friends though," adds founder Moshe Sijben. "The Hanzehogeschool wanted something different in the end and on a smaller scale than we could offer, so we drew the conclusion together that a pilot didn't make sense. But they do see the value of our app and are going to help us promote it. The good news is that we’re growing very rapidly with about 1000 users per month, per university city where we’re active."
In love with your own tech
Field Factors, under the name Bluebloqs, supplies water purification systems and storage for rainwater that also simultaneously provide more greenery in urban areas. The company worked with the Municipality of Groningen to find out if their current and future buildings could become more sustainable in their water use and exactly how much could be saved. "After all, every drop of drinking water is going to count in the future," says Kieran Dartee. "So why use drinking water for purposes that we could also use rainwater for? We’re working together to show the value of what we do, so that we can be involved in new construction projects soon."
For province Fryslân, Mindhash developed a solution to make roads and intersections safer, based on the same technology NASA used for the Mars landing. "We tested our LIDAR technology at a busy, chaotic intersection in Drachten, to better map traffic behavior," says founder Lasse Licht. "We kind of underestimated just how busy that place was, so it took some work to get things working properly. And now we're actually looking for specific issues raised by traffic experts, so we can train our software to be even more effective."
Noria develops sustainable and affordable solutions for the plastic waste problem in inland waters; from the city to the sea. Together with Groningen Seaports, the startup tested a new prototype to remove plastic waste from the harbor. "As a startup you tend to fall in love with your own technology," says founder Arnoud van der Vaart. "By collaborating with a large organization, you quickly learn that the real value of your tech is not how it works or how innovative it is, it’s about its ability to fix a real and pressing problem."