How to make this earth a safe and comfortable place for all of us, and do so in a sustainable way? In the themes of Living & Working and Mobility, experts and judges were looking for innovative answers to these big questions. They found them in winners of the Blue Tulip Awards 2020: Avy Drones and DeNoize.
Avy’s ‘Superhero from the sky’
Avy took home the grand prize in the Mobility category of the Blue Tulip Awards. The Dutch startup makes drones to be used for good. Avy’s drones are not the regular remote-controlled choppers though. As Avy-founder Patrique Zaman explains, these have a lot more going for them. “Our drones are a combination between an aeroplane and a drone. We added wings. So they can take off and land vertically, like any other drone. But at a certain altitude, they transition to wingboard flight, where the wings generate lift.” According to Zaman, this allows the drones to fly ten times as far, long and efficiently at five times the speed of regular drones.
Speed and distance is important for Avy, as their drones fulfill some important even lifesaving tasks. Zaman: “We are currently working in different fields. One application of our drones is medical delivery, where our drones are the superhero from the sky.” Zaman offers the example of a road accident, where there is an urgent need for extra blood. “A second application is to support the fire brigade. During fires, our drones can be an eye in the sky.” For tasks like these, the current options are road transport or helicopters. As Zaman points out, his drones are faster than any car will ever be. And due to the electric propulsion, they are more sustainable than the polluting option of using a helicopter.
Not afraid to say no
Current clients include the Dutch Ambulance Airservice, the fire brigade, the postal service that does medical deliveries as well as some NGOs in Africa. Avy’s drones have the potential to serve a lot of other customers as well. But Zaman has no problem saying ‘no’ to certain potential clients. “Social impact is in our DNA. We get a lot of calls from military operations worldwide if they can use our technology. But we don’t do that. We have a responsibility as a company to use this impactful technology for something good.”
The past couple of months, another use case for their drones landed on their path. The crisis around COVID-19 opened up some opportunities, says Zaman: “Some countries only had testing labs in certain places. To create more labs or testing sites would be too expensive. So they asked us to set up air bridges to deliver tests and fly the samples back quickly.” For Zaman, the pandemic proved that they were in the right business. “We see now that health is an important market, and we are very happy to contribute.”
DeNoize: keeping the indoors quiet
Contributing to people’s health in a totally different way is Dutch company DeNoize. Their wild idea of keeping the indoor quiet and peaceful by adding noise cancellation to windows made them the winner in the Living & Working category of the Blue Tulip Awards 2020. DeNoize founder Aman Jindal got the idea when looking at the source of the noise problem: “I have a background in aerospace design, and while working in an incubator we started looking at the noise problem of planes. Solving it at the source is very hard, but we could do something at the place where people experience the actual problem. Glass is the weakest link in building insulation so we wanted to improve that.”
Adding more layers to improve insulation would be the obvious solution. But that would require more material, making it less sustainable. For Jindal it became apparent that noise cancellation would do the trick. “Figuring out how it was feasible was a challenge. My co-founder Olivier Schevin has a PhD in acoustics and has been working on noise cancellation for the past ten years. He knows a lot about how glass behaves.”
The health risk of noise pollution
DeNoize can help a lot of people. According to the company, the WHO regards noise pollution as a serious health risk for human beings and 31 million people suffer the consequences in Europe alone. DeNoize’s product doesn’t use a special type of glass and can basically be installed in any window, invisible to the end-user. Once installed, it can filter 80 to 90 percent of the annoying noises from outside.
DeNoize is currently in the process of developing and validating their proposition. However working from home due to the coronavirus doesn’t work for a product like they have, says Jindal: “With everyone working from home, the tech development slowed down a bit. We switched to doing simulations, but some specific things during testing could only be done in the lab.” DeNoize also planned to do a lot of field research, doing measurements in the homes of people living around Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam. Without the possibility to visit people at home, DeNoize temporarily pivoted to do a study about the perception of noise in this area.
Blue Tulip Awards: partners and publicity
Winning the Blue Tulip Awards 2020 may give DeNoize a decent boost in expanding their research and in developing a better product. Jindal: “I never expected this. The Blue Tulip Awards are a big platform, and the publicity as a result is very important for us. With the perception research around Schiphol just started, it really fits our timeline.” Besides publicity, there is a clear advantage on the business development side of it, says Jindal. “The awards connected us with a lot of partners, some of which can be very useful in the future.”
Jindal learned a lot from his mentor, Kristel van Haaren, from Heymans Infra BV: “She pushed us to really validate every single thing. Even on something very obvious, we still need to get feedback from the customer. We took her advice seriously, and are getting two people on board who are dedicated to get those answers.”
Valuable network and coaching
Zaman is equally happy with winning the Blue Tulip Award in the Mobility category. The fact that the awards were forced to choose for a different setting, due to COVID-19, made no difference: “I thought it would be hard to meet other innovations because everything was online this year. But we got a lot of interesting contacts. The coaching was super. We got good advice, but the network that coaches brought in was also very valuable.
Zaman: “When we started Avy, we had no clue what was awaiting us. Hardware development of an aircraft is incredibly hard and complicated. It has to fly, it can not fail. When we began, there were no regulations and we didn’t know any clients. So to get this award now is a very big accomplishment for us.”
Funding for Avy: looking for millions
Winning the coveted Blue Tulip gives Avy the energy and experience to move forward. Avy is already growing fast. Two years ago, their team consisted of only four people. That grew to the current group of 35. For Zaman, the key to continuing that growth is scaling up on multiple fronts. “The plan for this year is scaling up the production, increasing the payloads and growing our commercial operations. We are not in this to just mess around a bit. We believe we have huge potential. Next one or two years, we’ve doubled our team. At least!”
To fund that growth, Avy will be looking for fresh funding. Zaman: “We started out with subsidies and later found an angel investor. We also participated in an incubator programme from the European Space Agency. But currently, we are calculating what is required for our next steps.” Zaman expects a new funding round to be in the millions. The desire to scale up is there, but not at all costs. Zaman points out they’re not looking to grow ‘too wildly’. “We want to maintain the quality and safety of our product, as well as the culture within the company.”
DeNoize working on prototypes and funding
Jindal and DeNoize will also be looking for funding somewhere along the line. But their aim is first to have a functioning prototype installed in a building. Jindal: “We’re aiming for Q1 of 2021 and this seems feasible. Ideally, we want to start with a big room in a company building, to see how much value we can add.”
“On the business side, we want to do a pilot in the third quarter of next year with a prototype. That is also when we will be looking for funding, so we can scale to production.” So far DeNoize has received 430,000 euro in seed funding but is looking to add something to that next year. They’ve already started looking for investors and to build their network. Winning an award will help those efforts.