The judges have spoken, the results of the year-round ecosystem-driven program held in the Netherlands, the Blue Tulip Awards 2020 are in. In the health category, the quick and easy way to disinfect endoscopes in hospitals using UV-C light made by — Delft-based startup UV Smart — took the grand prize.
While in the nutrition theme, the bat-like, bug busting drones of PATS, another startup from Delft in the Netherlands bagged the award. We spoke with both the Dutch companies about the present, future, and the Blue Tulip Awards. And just as the final event of the Blue Tulip Awards had to move online because of the current pandemic, we kicked off with asking how COVID-19 affected both businesses.
UV Smart: Saves time for hospital workers during the pandemic
For Thijs Kea, co-founder of UV Smart, the pandemic is tragic, but it also brings an upside. “We have something that everyone wants”. That ‘something’ is a quick and easy way to fully disinfect anything. UV Smart won the Blue Tulip Award with their D60 disinfection station. The device is specifically designed for the medical world to thoroughly clean endoscopic devices after use. By reducing the time to clean from many hours to mere minutes, UV Smart can save hospitals a bunch of time. And because the endoscopic devices can be quickly turned over for the next patient, hospitals don’t need as many which reduces costs.
The D60 is UV Smart’s second device. It is currently in clinical trial and waiting for all the necessary certificates it needs as a medical device. It is scheduled to go on sale for May 2021. The D60 follows the D25, used for smaller medical equipment. This one, already on the market, is currently in high demand. With a global pandemic wreaking havoc, hospitals have to ration their PPE and ideally re-use whatever they can. A quick way to disinfect for example face masks could save lives. It didn’t take long for the phone at UV Smart to start ringing.
Disinfect masks with smart tech
“In the very beginning of the pandemic, we were mostly bummed out because it would mean certain parts from China were going to be delayed”, says Kea. “But when the virus landed here, it turned out to be a massive opportunity for us. For the past 2.5 years we’ve been talking to hospitals and we quickly heard they needed face masks. So we started to look for a way to safely disinfect the masks from the virus using our UV C-technology.”
According to Kea, the first calls came in on March 5th after they scrambled to develop and test an emergency device. Based on the D25, the aptly called ‘Noodproduct’ (emergency device) was assembled by Kea and his team, and shipped to the first hospitals only two weeks later.
The bat-effect of PATS drones
Meanwhile, for the winners in the nutrition category, the pandemic seems to have less of an effect. And while it is presumed that bats got us in a global pandemic, CEO and co-founder Bram Tijmons saw in them an inspiration for his PATS Drones. The drones can move around greenhouses like bats do, autonomously eliminating flying pests that could ruin crops. A sustainable way of pest control, considering the alternative is dousing the stuff in chemicals.
“The effects of coronavirus crisis are less felt in the nutrition category than it is in health,” says Tijmons. “We are still in development, so we’re not yet focused on revenue that we may lose. We do see that horticulture had its challenges. We were afraid that the will to invest was going to be affected, but now most growers are optimistic again.”
PATS drones on winning Blue Tulip Award for nutrition
Another reason for optimism is the fact that PATS drones won the Blue Tulip Award in the Nutrition theme. Tijmons: “It’s a great compliment, and it shows we’re on the right track. Winning the award also comes with a lot of attention and let’s be honest; we really don’t mind that. We think our product has the potential to be a game changer. It’s great to see that the judges, who know exactly how this world works, see this as well.”
According to Tijmons, the judges were mostly charmed by the sustainable approach of PATS when it comes to pest control, as well as the scalability and impact of their solution. “The world will need more food in the future with an increasing standard for safety. New rules and regulations will make pest control harder. Our solution can make the difference.” They did get some feedback from their mentor during the competition, Kees de Gooijer from TKI Agri&Food. “He really pushed us to jam our monetization model into that one minute pitch, and to highlight our scalability.”
UV Smart: A proud winner!
Kea is also proud to win the Blue Tulip Award in the Health theme. “Winning this has already given us some really good PR. And we made an agreement with Accenture, to use their knowledge. When it comes to business case identification, it is very valuable to learn from large corporations.” UV Smart also got the advice to adjust its pitch, to explain the D60 and its advantages in more simple terms. Kea: “We’ve been in deep for the past 2.5 years, which makes it hard to make a product sexy and explain it clearly in a couple of sentences. The validation always comes after you’ve created an image of the thing you’re selling. Luckily, the D60 is an easy sell, since it drastically reduces the time needed to get medical equipment ready.”
UV Smart: Looking for new investors
The tweaked pitch might come in handy for Kea and UV Smart, as they are currently on the lookout for new investors. “We’re looking for the right investor to make the D60 available worldwide.” The company currently sells its D25 to hospitals in The Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Italy, Canada and even managed to sell a few in the Philippines. “The safety we offer, needs to be available everywhere. It’s not just about money. We’re looking for the influence an investor can have.”
If they find one, then Kea is confident the future for UV Smart looks bright. In about two years he hopes to be a household name in European hospitals, but also to be ready to make the jump to the USA. Not counting the current emergency device, he also hopes to have a third product in the portfolio: a D60 that can also disinfect different types of endoscopes that require cleaning on the inside.
PATS: The green alternative
For PATS, the future looks just as sunny. Especially when new EU regulations are set to outlaw pesticides even further. “Our indirect competitors are the chemical giants, but we offer a green alternative”, says Tijmons. For the foreseeable future, his company will focus on rolling out in the Westland area of The Netherlands, where the majority of horticultural activity is concentrated. But foreign adventures are likely. “We regularly have Koreans, Americans or Chinese dropping by, for instance when they visit the World Horti Center in Naaldwijk. They often ask us if we can already deliver our solution, or whether it works on different crops.”
To answer that question with a ‘yes’, PATS has some work to do. Tijmons: “Nobody is doing what we are doing. But to develop both hardware and software takes a lot of time. It’s very hard to pinpoint the right moment to launch in the market, even when you’re not hundred percent ready. But you have to keep on taking steps.” To enable them to keep stepping up, they are shopping around for a new investment, although not too serious yet says Tijmons. “We’re looking around. But we’re a high-risk high-gain project. Very exciting, but also tricky to find a good match with investors.