NLO Fortify no. 7 2017/2018
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no. 7 | volume 5 | fall/winter 2018

Having a brilliant idea or superior technology is not enough. Instead, you need many different talents to turn an innovative idea into a successful business. These include organisational, financial and communications talents, along with perseverance, power of persuasion and the ability to inspire others. Start-up businesses are often uninhibited and optimistic, receptive to new ideas and not afraid to strike out in new directions. But businesses in this phase of development are also vulnerable. Therefore, NLO is proud to play its part in helping to protect the innovative ideas that young talented people come up with.

Rik Breur


environmentally friendly protection against biofouling on ships

Who Rik Breur

Ship hulls get colonised, and then damaged, by algae, barnacles and other organisms growing on them. This growth then increases the drag and results in greater fuel consumption. Breur developed a method of covering ships in a foil comprising minuscule fibres to prevent biofouling and that is more environmentally friendly and lasts longer than antifouling paint.

“I started up again a year and a half ago and I’ve carried on without any investors. We’re now focusing primarily on pleasure craft, where we sell our foils under the Finsulate brand. We’ve also expanded our product range so that we can now provide optimized foil for various different types of boats. In the pleasure craft sector, growth goes boat by boat, but applying the foil to the boats ourselves means that each project we do is profitable. We can see how the sustainable nature of our product appeals to consumers. And that’s one of the reasons why Finsulate won the product of the year award at the 2018 HISWA Boat Show. We’re still the only ones in the market offering an alternative to anti-fouling paint. If we’re going to grow, we now need to build a worldwide distribution network. Our focus is on North-West Europe, but we’re also active in Southern Europe, the US and Australia, as well as continuing to explore opportunities outside the world of pleasure craft. Recently, for example, our foil was used on a large inland waterways vessel. The owner is really pleased because now he uses 20 per cent less fuel. But although we still see potential in the commercial vessels market, we’ll first need to find a suitable strategic partner if we are to pursue those opportunities. The offshore market, too, is attractive. Not so long ago, for example, we saw the first wind turbine covered in our foil being set up out at sea. We believe our foil will result in lower maintenance costs, lower risks and greater operating certainty for wind farms out at sea.”

Hugo Ekkelenkamp and Eldert Besseling


Building with sludge

Who Hugo Ekkelenkamp and Eldert Besseling

Dredging sludge is mainly taken away and disposed of as useless waste. NETICS has developed a system to turn that same sludge into valuable building materials, such as the GEOWALL, which is made from sludge that is dried and compressed into building blocks.

“Our technology is proving its value in wide-ranging projects. In England, for example, the breakwater we’ve designed to protect a harbour is made of dredging sludge from that same harbour. It was a project involving quite a few challenges, but the results have been great. And then in Drenthe we worked with KWS and the Vechtstromen water board on a project that used GEOWALL blocks to reinforce the banks of the Oranje Canal. And there, too, the results achieved so far have been really positive. In the meantime we are also working on improving our technology, including researching how we can improve GEOWALL blocks by reinforcing them with natural fibres – hemp, for example, or cellulose from recycled toilet paper. That’ll make them so strong they can even be used for housebuilding. We’re soon going to launch a pilot to test them out in Groningen. In 2016 we sold a stake in the company to Royal IHC, which builds dredging vessels among other things. So there are plenty of opportunities for synergy. Together we have the knowledge and expertise to build ‘dredging factories’, which are machines that can be used locally to compress huge volumes of reclaimed dredging sediment into blocks. Customers currently still have to pay a few euros per cubic metre to dispose of sludge, but we’ll soon be turning that sludge into building blocks worth a multiple of that. Thanks to IHC’s network we can also grow fast internationally. We’re now active in fourteen countries, mainly in Asia. Indonesia, for example, has a huge problem with subsidence. The Jakarta coastline is sinking by a few decimetres each year. And that sometimes means seawater surging through the streets. We think we can solve part of that problem by using local sludge, rather than expensive construction sand, to raise the level of the land. Getting involved in these sorts of international projects has always been one of our dreams.”

Stephan van de Brink

Manus VR

Designing a glove for interacting with virtual reality

Who Stephan van den Brink

The motion sensors in the Manus VR gloves register all finger and hand movements highly accurately. Connect the Manus VR glove to a virtual reality headset and you’ll see your hands in a virtual world and be able to use them intuitively to move around in that world.

“Originally we were totally focused on the market for virtual reality (VR) games, but the various technical restrictions still surrounding VR meant the consumer market isn’t going to start growing until much later than previously expected. Luckily we were quick to see that, at this stage, it’s mainly customers in industry who are willing to pay for virtual and augmented reality and the input systems required. So we made sure we really listened to what industry wants and then went on to develop our gloves along those lines. And we’re shortly going to be launching the commercial version in the market. We’ve also set up various joint ventures with parties who already provide VR solutions for training courses and for visualising projects and designs and so on. Although these markets are still small, they’re growing really fast. And, by working with our partners, we can now offer comprehensive solutions. Another attractive market for us is motion capture, which involves digitally capturing movement for films, games and ergonomic studies and for analysing top athletes’ performance, for instance. There’s also a wide range of other ways to use our products. Skoda, for example, used the gloves to enable visitors to the Frankfurt car fair to test-drive the group’s virtual concept car. And, in the medical world, our gloves are being used to diagnose and provide rehabilitation therapies for certain hand conditions. You can use them to interact with robots, which then become an extension of yourself. And even NASA orders a few pairs of gloves every so often, though we don’t know what they’re being used for.”

Marcelo do Amaral


Optimising yeast strains for industrial biotech

Who Marcelo do Amaral

This start-up company from Louvain, Belgium, knows almost everything there is to know about yeast. And, more specifically, they know exactly how you modify the genetic code of industrial yeasts to optimise performance in various industrial conditions. This knowledge is essential for producing second as well as first generation fuel bioethanol profitably.

“Our yeast strains are the quickest at converting hard-to-digest sugars in the inedible parts of maize and sugarcane into ethanol. That could have meant a break-through in the second-generation bioethanol market. But that market didn’t develop the way everyone was envisaging, either in Brazil or the US, which are by far the largest markets for bioethanol. So we then had to switch our focus to other markets. And we certainly managed to do that! For example, we’re the first company in Brazil to have advanced yeast strains evaluated as safe under that country’s new, very strict biosafety regulations. Our advanced yeast strains mean we can also improve traditional bioethanol production. On top of that, we’re marketing our knowledge of yeast and industrial fermentation processes through Biocal, a digital platform we’ve developed to improve fermentation solutions for our customers. By monitoring customers’ operations more or less continuously, and then collecting and analysing the data, we gain a really in-depth understanding of industrial processes. We’ve also developed an algorithm that uses this data to automatically generate instructions for stabilising and optimising fermentation processes. And customers in both the US and Brazil are already putting these solutions into practice. Thanks to all the data we’ve collected we’ve also been able to identify some promising new ideas for yeast research. As a result, we’re really optimistic about the future. And so, too, are our investors. We also recently appointed a new R&D Director and moved to a new lab that has been equipped entirely to our specifications.”

Toine Schoutens


Using light to improve people’s wellbeing and performance

Who Toine Schoutens

The way that light impacts on people’s health and performance is underestimated. The Propeaq glasses’ light influences the production of hormones that regulate your sleeping and waking rhythms, your digestion and your body temperature, for example. And that means the glasses can counter the adverse effects of jetlag, irregular working hours and the ‘winter blues’. But it is still early days for medical applications of Propeaq.

“Top athletes continue to be great advertisements for us. Over fifty participants at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, including many Dutch longer-distance and short-track speed skaters, used our light therapy glasses. And, together, they won a total of thirteen medals. Obviously not only because they were wearing Propeaq glasses. But our glasses were clearly shown to add value by enabling athletes to avoid the effects of jetlag. That’s why we’re regularly contacted by athletes and sports federations who are interested in what we can offer. Right now, for example, we’re in talks with the Chinese Olympic Committee. And we’re also working on new plans and ideas outside the elite sports world. And we just need a few of them to succeed for our growth to accelerate enormously. From autumn this year, Propeaq glasses will be for sale at ten European airports to travellers wanting to reduce the impact of jetlag. We’re also close to signing deals with a few major airlines that want to offer Propeaq glasses to their business class passengers and frequent flyers. As well as that, we’re setting up pilot projects in various countries with businesses whose employees work irregular hours. We previously ran such a project at Holland Casino, which has now provided Propeaq glasses to its staff. The Radboud hospital in Nijmegen is also looking into whether Parkinson patients suffering sleep problems could benefit from using our glasses. And if those results confirm what we’re anticipating, I’ll jump sky high.”