Friday, 26 July 2013

Summer warmed up with a vengence

So how hot is it with you?

It's 35 degrees outside my office window. That's why I'm running a tropical roster at the moment...Getting up at the crack of dawn to be able to take a few hours off at midday when it really starts to boil. Luckily this video of all the events taking place at High Tech Campus Eindhoven is really cool.

Indeed it is the ecosystem and network that makes these campuses unique. You can copy buildings and procedures. But the mix of people is unique. And startups that get in to Startupbootcamp HightechXL in Eindhoven get access to a wide range of events being planned just before, during and after the program.

The hot weather is no distraction for the great conversations we've been having with teams applying for the Startupbootcamp HightechXL accelerator program. We're talking with teams all over the world as the on-line deadline for applications is fast approaching.

In my conversations with early startup companies, I realise that there are big differences between the world of app development and those involve hardware in their solution. As you're out there searching for the sustainable business model, as Steve Blank would say, it's much easier to tweak a line of code rather than rebuild a piece of hardware. Which is why the HightechXL programme is fine tuned to the needs of high-tech companies.

Bart Lugard is in charge of our global search for teams.

"Of course, in high-tech, we’re looking for strong teams that have more than an idea. The winning teams will start the program on November 11th with a proof of concept or technology proof of principle. Ideally, they should have a demonstrator or a working prototype. A friend of mine put it like this. The prototype should have reached a stage where if it drops on your foot, it would hurt! What he means is that paper plans are not usually enough."

"We have had questions from companies who are specialising in software only. But in each case this software is somehow connected to a piece of dedicated hardware. Like a vehicle. Or a specialised sensor, or a robot."

It is important to understand that during the three months we will not focus on developing the technology any further. Instead, we use the time to fine tune the business model, validate the customer base, engage with lead customers, sign up pilot projects as well as prepare a world-class investor pitch for Demo Day. Others have described our program as building a real-world business strategy.

Why Apply Early?

It makes a lot of sense to sign up today because late comers often lose out! Stand out from the others. Remember many applications at an accelerator program come in during the last week before applications closing. Our advice is to apply early, even if you have not yet finalised everything (like getting a video pitch ready). Fill in what you can and consider applying for one of the on-line pitching sessions. That's a great chance to ask open questions to the program organisers and some of the lead mentors. They may come back with advice and suggestions that can improve your chances of getting selected. You still have time to tweak the application. In the period from 6 to 2 weeks before applications close (i.e. that means July and August 2013), the program management and their mentors usually have more time available. Our team in Eindhoven is watching the incoming applications and may already approach you for an initial conversation.

Remember, they can only do this when they know you are applying for the program.

Finally news that we're arranging Pitch days right now. Sign-up first in order to take part.

·       At Startupbootcamp HightechXL, we’re setting up a days in August for Open Pitches, either in person or via Skype. Those who have applied early have encouraged us to continue with this great opportunity to learn more about applicants and watch their progress.
·       Technical tip: Make sure you have a reasonably fast/stable Internet connection before trying to pitch over Skype.

·       Remember, the closing date for on-line applications for the Startupbootcamp HightechXL 2013 program is September 8th 2013. That's a firm date because we want to be fair to others. Don't leave it until the last minute!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Flying Robot Birds - Peregrine Falcon Predator

I am part of the team that is searching for the world's best high-tech startups. We're looking in very specific areas for the Startupbootcamp HightechXL program which is currently open for applicants. As part of the preparation, we've been looking at what's happening in startups that are interested in robotics. And there we discovered that small companies in Europe are doing a huge amount of pioneering work.

Through Heico Sandee, who was actively involved in the recent Robocup contest in Eindhoven, we discovered a range of interesting companies. Like Clear Flight Solutions, a startup in Enschede in the East of the Netherlands. 


They build remotely piloted robotic birds which they call Robirds. They have the very realistic appearance of a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle. This unique invention uses flapping wing flight as a means of propulsion. Robirds not only resemble real birds of prey in appearance, but also in weight, flapping wing flight profile and flight performance.

Robirds turn out to be very suitable for controlling nuisance birds. Think of the problems that birds can cause near airports and the amount of money that is currently put into installing electronic devices to scare them away. Conventional bird scaring equipment looks like this: They use sound to scare the birds away.

The silhouette combined with the characteristic wing movement of the Robirds trigger the inbuilt instinct in pest birds to fly up, flock together and try to out climb the Robird in exactly the same way they do when confronted with the predator the Robird represents. 
After flocking the operator can now herd the pest birds in the desired direction out of harm’s way, without habituation and with a lasting effect. By imitating nature so closely, Robirds are extremely effective in herding birds, whereas most other currently used measures only randomly scare pest birds which then will scatter, with high risk of coming back to cause trouble again.

Real birds using strong muscles for the down stroke. During this move the wing produces lift and thrust. They don't have strong muscles for the upstroke so the wing doesn't produce thrust during that move. The wing also bends vertically between hand and arm part during the upstroke as the Robird does it a bit to. ( wing articulation). During the stroke cycle a wing twists by changing the position of the hand. In compare to real birds the Robird powers the wing even during the upstroke. Thrust is still generating! That's why the Robird can fly faster than his natural competitors. The outcome of scientific wind tunnel tests of a fixed Robird wing is that this wing produces 41% more lift than any other wing ever made!

Amazing stuff don't you agree?

Even more amazing when you compare this robot with the wildlife documentary the BBC did about the Peregrine Falcon. Just compare the motions.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Robots in the Food sector

Bumped into this robotics startup in Delft, in the west of the Netherlands, who are busy looking at how robots can replace repetitive tasks in food factories.

Reminds me of the sketch with Lucille Ball in the Candy Factory.

Volocopter - Tech startups in Karlsruhe

Stephan Wolf (CEO) got to know Thomas Senkel (CTO) in an internet forum in a discussion on quadrocopters. Thomas Senkel specializes in the development of electric drives and the construction of ultra light vehicles. Alexander Zosel (CEO), a visionary entrepreneur and inventor, was sold on the idea of rescaling the model to the size of a manned aircraft too.

Wonder how much one of these would cost?

These guys backed by several partners including the University of Stuttgart are doing some amazing things with personal flying copters. It seems that they have now built what they call a Volocopter which is capable of carrying two persons. Still in final development during the summer, the maiden voyage is expected later this year.

The same company have already demonstrated their proof of concept with a test flight in October 2011. That was pretty spectacular in itself.

On October 21st, 2011, Thomas Senkel of e-volo made the first manned flight with an electric multicopter (VTOL), the so called volocopter VC1, at an airstrip in the SouthWest part of Germany. The flight lasted 90 seconds, after which the constructor and test pilot said: "The flight characteristics are stable. Without any steering input it would just hover there on the spot". I bet he said it was awesome as well. That's not in the video.


Startup Materials in Eindhoven and Sweden

In our search for brilliant high-tech startups at HighTechXL, we're also looking for young teams working on new materials. And here are two examples.

Recently, the Public Library of Science reported results from a University team in Upsalla, Sweden in an article published on July 17th. But you really need to the read the article by Robin Burks in the magazine DVICE to understand the significance of what has been discovered.

Upsalite - Credit to PLOS-One
Upsalite has the highest surface area measured for an alkali earth metal carbonate: 800 square meters per gram. This puts the material in a very exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials that includes silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks and carbon nanotubes. The research team also found that the material was filled with empty pores, which gives it a unique way of interacting with the environment. For example, Upsalite can absorb more water at low relative humidities than any other currently available material.
These unique properties could lead to Upsalite being useful in a variety of industrial applications, including the collection of toxic waste, chemicals and oil spills. It could also prove useful for drug delivery systems, odor control, and sanitation after a fire.
So basically, this is like Silica Gel on Steroids! 

And that reminds me of an article which recently resurfaced in the Los Angeles Times

Pollution Absorbing Pavements Reduce Smog

It is about a technique developed at the Eindhoven University of Technology and tested in a residential area of Hengelo. The original report was published three years ago when the TuE, working with a paving company, developed a new type of pavement which directly reduces air pollution. The technique involves spraying specially treated paving stones with a compound that includes Titanium Oxide. The brochure from the manufacturer says that measurements in Hengelo are showing the stones are absorbing large quantities of Nitrous Oxide, one of the pollutants emitted from car exhaust pipes. The findings, published in a recent edition of the Journal of Hazardous Materials, could provide a scenarios of how cities might be designed to gobble up air pollution from auto emissions. After taking measurements for a year, the scientists found that the street outfitted with smog-eating paving blocks, also called photocatalytic pavement, reduced nitrogen oxide air pollution by up to 45% in ideal weather conditions and 19% over the course of a day.

Nitrogen oxides -- also known as NOx -- are a group of poisonous gases produced by cars and power plants that react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form smog.
Modern Eindhoven 

While the air-cleaning potential of photocatalytic surfaces has been known for several years, the Institution of Chemical Engineers Chief Executive David Brown, “this latest research shows the potential of chemically engineered surfaces to further improve our quality of life, especially in major urban areas where traffic emissions are high.”

The specially treated paving stones in Hengelo are already visible on Google Street View

Electric Vehicles 2 - Thanks for the Feedback

It is some time since  I  looked into what the automotive industry is doing with tech startups. But now that Startupbootcamp HightechXL is on a global hunt for high-tech startups, it is time to revisit the business and catch up. Thanks for the feedback to my article yesterday about Renault. I see that there are crossovers between robotics, sensors and energy storage that I wasn't aware of. 

US kids not eager to get a drivers licence.

It appears that drivers licences rates among US citizens between 16 and 39 years old has been falling consistently since 1983. In a recent article about this in the New York Times, Mimi Sheller, Drexel University's Director of Mobilities Research, noted that Millennials don't value cars or car ownership. It may well have a lot to do with the enormous cost of running a car, especially in Europe, as well as crazy parking charges in cities like Amsterdam (35 Euro a day!).

As Adam Lesser of GigaOm pointed out a few days ago, the last few months have seen the expected demises of a few major VC-backed startups in the electric vehicle game, including Coda and Better Place, not to mention the seemingly unending saga that has become Fisker’s fate.  Bloomberg reported that Coda, for instance, listed assets of as much as $50 million and debt of as much as $100 million in the Chapter 11 filing. The reasons for each of these companies’ hard times varies. But seen in a helicopter view mode, they tell us a lot about what does and does not work in the EV market.

Range is still a concern

The Nissan Leaf’s less than spectacular sales and Coda’s failure probably had to do with the elephant in the room - customers are still concerned that they won't have the required range. Even though most of us don't  drive more than 40 kms a day, there is always that nagging thought about holidays or perhaps a longer trip to visit relatives. Tesla has always pushed the fact that their cars have a range of 200 miles and, in the US at least, now has a battery swapping program for really long trips. Not sure that works in Europe though. And like DAB radios, the electric car won't take off until the price comes down, let's say to around €23,000.

In Munich Germany, BMW is currently preparing the market for the introduction of the “i” EV models based on the 3 and 5 series. We will know more on July 29th when the finally reveal the production version of the BMW i3. UK car magazines are reporting that the 167 hp electric motor will have a driving range of 80 miles between charges. There will also be a range extender version with a small petrol motor to fast charge the battery. I guess the price will be more like €35,000. We're already seeing that BMW is well ahead in integrating apps into the driving experience.

Apparently, there is heated discussion  inside the company because so many resources were withdrawn from the other projects to focus on the electric cars. BMW has placed a huge bet on their technology including the  ultra-light frame made of carbon fibre.

Meantime, Honda is boasting about it's deal with the Google complex in Mountain View fr the Fit EV. 

Brian Taylor in the UK forwarded me this video of a series of sensors developed by TRW of Koblenz - Traffic Jam Assist. They use video and radar sensors to understand the vehicles surroundings, assisting the driver with things like keeping a safe distance or keeping in lane. (no sound on the video). 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Renault Nissan - Will they be the Electric Vehicle Pioneers?

It is some time since I looked into what the automotive industry is doing with tech startups. But now that Startupbootcamp HightechXL is on a global hunt for high-tech startups, it is time to revisit the business and catch up.

For me, the first time I realised that the automotive industry was getting serious about adapting to meet consumer demand was way back in December 2010. During the Leweb10, a sort of (European SxSW but better) I remember that Renault Nissan gave away the keys to one of its new electric city vehicles, the Twizy.

Back then, Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn suggested that despite the recession there will always be a market for personal mobility. The car industry needs to adapt to maintain its position as the most desirable object for most people. That means responding to concerns about energy - also opening up the car as a platform for application developers rather like the iPhone and Android.

Ghosn was bullish in 2012, noting that the personal mobility industry, was still worth 2 trillion dollars. He was clear that the entire industry will have to to agree on open standards to avoid the developer nightmares we've seen in the mobile handset space. I made a short reportage from LeWeb in 2010.

Since that video was made, more than 3 years have passed. Renault has launched that platform R-link, although it seems to be only known amongst French developers. It's clear to me that the car industry is still struggling with apps. I note that the streaming services as well as catch-up feature prominently. Radio is still a frequency. I maintain that most people don't shout frequencies at the dashboard, no matter how catchy the jingle. Major problem with Renault is that they haven't spent any money at all to explain the story in English.

It turns out that R-LINK consists of three things: an integrated tablet in your car with a 17-inch screen, a connection via a local agreement with a mobile operator, and a combination of both integrated services and a Renault app store, an iTunes-like store. Technically, it's all working. But the extent of implementation seems to vary from market to market with France leading the way. I would suggest that language might have a lot to do with it.

Late last year (December 2012) the BBC's Hard Talk programme did a follow-up woth Ghosn, who was less confident than when I saw him in 2010. Wonder if they will make it? Or do these giant corporations have such huge problems thinking outside the box?

So anyone had experience of working with car manufacturers building hardware and software? If so please get in touch.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Vint Cerf - What high-tech startups need to be focussed on

The Guardian has just published a keynote discussion from their "Activate London Summit 2013". Its a conversation between Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google and Jeff Jarvis, professor, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. After a brief introduction, Jeff steers the conversation in the direction of online privacy, the internet of things, Google Glass, and the future of libraries. I have met and talked with Vint at several conferences. He is such a wise man and very approachable. He promised to follow-up on a suggestion I gave at LIFT in Geneva, and within days he had done just that, bringing me into contact with exactly the organisations I was looking for. So I find his thoughts and visions on what could happen next to be more than relevant when the media is all buzzing about privacy, Edward Snowden and his NSA revelations, and whether we can trust the cloud. For some reason the Guardian Media Network has not released this video for embedding, so you have to watch it on the Guardian site. It is here. Well worth the 18 minutes.

Vint Cerf also offers his perspective on re-imagining the media and government. May be the interview will encourage you to rediscover what Vint has said elsewhere recently. I also include the LIFT conference video where I first came into contact with the great man. 

Note how he stimulates you to think about what still needs to be done. The companies in Silicon Valley are still very much focussed on social and communications (mainly tablets and phones). What excites me about other places in the world, like Eindhoven. is what they are doing with the Internet of Things. As Vint explains in the Guardian interview. Passive Products are becoming active services. And the high-tech startups are the people really moving the boundaries. That's why I have become involved with Startupbootcamp HightechXL. It is clearly where both science and finance are converging. 

Because VC's are always searching for scalable ideas, in the one-billion dollar range, those teams working with both hardware as well as software solutions has a distinct advantage. Yes, the initial risk is higher. But so are the rewards. 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Insiders Guide to what Venture Capitalists are looking for...

As part of my research into high-tech startups for the Startupbootcamp HighTechXL program this November, I've been looking at the public resources out there. It turns out that Europe needs to do a lot more to explain why it is great choice for high-tech startups. The reasons are there, but not the stories. There are plenty of videos out there that give you an insight into events that you just missed. But, especially the Universities across Europe are slow to realise the power of publishing their mentor briefings. They should take a leaf out the on-line "books" being written by the US institutions like MIT and Stanford University. When it comes to the latter,  it turns out there are some real gems amongst the 1855 videos posted by that University.

Unfortunately, they are poorly labelled. That may be deliberate because they form part of paid college course. But if you're a startup, do spend the hour watching this excellent video from Howard Hartenbaum, who is a partner at August Capital. He explains why most startups don't need to even think about talking to Venture Capitalists....unless your company is going to be worth 4-5 billion dollars by 2020. In other words you have to prove that your company is capable of scaling fast...He also explains the different types of funding that is open to you - and why family and friends is never a good idea if you value those relationships. Part of a useful series.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Solar Team Eindhoven launches Stella. Now ready for Darwin

We've mentioned the Solar Team Eindhoven (STE) before. They were the team which helped to launch the Startupbootcamp HightechXL accelerator programme at an event in June. They mentioned then that the public launch of the world's first solar powered family car would take place on at the Technical University Eindhoven (TU / e) on Thursday, July 4 2013. There was a lot of local and international interest in the unveiling ceremony. There is a lot going on in the South of the Netherlands at the moment.

'Stella' is the first positive energy car with room for four people plus a trunk for luggage. A fully charged battery gives the car a range of 600 kilometers. If you drive less, the solar panels can be used to charge an external battery, hence the term positive energy. You can imagine that these cars of the future would be able to park for free on the rooftops of parking garages, supplying energy rather than consuming it. The team is now focussed on getting this prototype car to Darwin, Australia by October 2013. Once they arrive, they will enter the vehicle in the Cruiser class during the 3000 km World Solar Challenge. They are up against another 9 contenders for the title (including a team from Iran). Congrats to the Engineering team in Eindhoven that made this possible. 

The World Solar Challenge starts in Darwin in the Northern Territory and travels the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta and then via Highway 1 to the finish in the City of Adelaide in South Australia – 3000 kms.