Aquacolor Sensors has no complaints about market interest. Nor about appealing projects. Yet it proved difficult to realize structural sales. Scalable and repeatable sales, to be precise. That problem seems to have been solved. 'The Market Readiness Program has led to an adjustment of our strategy and focus.'
'You have to continue where others stop,' says Mateo Mayer. 'Never give up, that's the main lesson I've learned in recent years.' Mateo is a chemical engineer, PhD polymer technologist and self-employed entrepreneur with a strong penchant for developing and commercializing sustainable technology. Together with poultry farmer Frank Akkerman, he founded Aquacolor Sensors in 2015, a company based in Oudehorne, Friesland, that develops and produces sensors to measure and monitor the quality and safety of (drinking) water.
Aquacolor Sensors ' products have already been used, under a variety of process conditions, in various market segments. In cooling towers of data centers, for example, as an early warning sensor for legionella detection. Or in swimming pools to monitor the quality of swimming water. But they were also used during the 2016 European Football Championship in France to ensure good drinking water quality in and around stadiums. So although the sensors are widely applicable, the company recently decided to focus particularly on sewage treatment, greenhouse farming and fish farms. That has everything to do with the Market Readiness Program that Aquacolor Sensors went through. Flinc 's Market Readiness Program is a part-time program that teaches ambitious startups that want to grow consistently to think from the perspective of their (potential) customers in ten weeks. The main goal is to find the early adopters within a specific market segment. But more on that in a moment. First, let's go back to the beginning.
Aquacolor Sensors originated from an idea of Frank Akkerman. On his poultry farm, he increasingly noticed that the water quality in the drinking water lines was not in order. The considerable length of those water lines, to which drinking water nipples for the poultry are attached, combined with the high temperature in the barn, quickly causes biofilm, a slime layer of bacteria and fungi, to form. And yes, that contaminated water obviously does not benefit the health of the animals. "Frank saw that taking a sample already gave a pretty good picture of the water quality," Mateo says.
"Simply by looking at it. That should be possible with a sensor too, he thought. With such a sensor you can continuously measure the water quality and thus anticipate all kinds of bacterial growth in good time. He then went to Wetsus and that's where we came into contact in 2012. Shortly before that, I had joined Wetsus with my company EasyMeasure, which realizes products in the field of water purification and early warning sensor systems. Hence we were connected. Together we started developing a sensor, initially in a wood-powered manner. When it was satisfactory, we designed a professional housing around it. Six months later we had a well-functioning sensor for Frank's poultry farm that we then also marketed.'
The market launch was such a success that they saw spin-off opportunities to develop smart sensors for other sectors as well. In 2015, that resulted in the founding of Aquacolor Sensors. Since then, things have moved quickly. 'In a relatively short period of time, we managed to realize good working sensors that really benefit customers,' Mateo emphasizes. 'In the initial phase, it was mainly about sensors that did something for one specific application. That sometimes made it difficult to respond quickly and adequately to a specific customer need. Nowadays we develop and produce sensors that do considerably more than just measure water quality. If you buy a standard sensor, it gives a signal, for example a lot or little biofilm, a high or low temperature, or a lot or little light absorption. This is all well and good, but often a customer wants to be able to control equipment such as dosing pumps, UV lamps, filters and rinsing machines on the basis of such a measurement. We have developed and supply the hardware and software to do this remotely as "smart Lego bricks". This way we are very flexible and not dependent on hardware and software licenses from large tech companies. Getting that right has really been a long-term process.
Aquacolor Sensors never lacked interested customers. A bigger challenge proved to be achieving structural sales. Turnover with a repeat factor, as Mateo calls it. 'In the recent past, our sensors were often used in just one project,' he explains. 'So that only generated revenue once. We therefore want to integrate our sensors into installations and ensure that such a sensor is then placed in every new customer installation. That way we can sell our products multiple times to the same customer. After an intensive development process, we seem to be succeeding quite well. Indeed, since the beginning of this year we actually have products that can and, as it seems now, will lead to scalable and repeat sales. '
Going through the aforementioned Market Readiness Program has helped the company position itself even more sharply. Aquacolor Sensors was alerted to the program by the NOM, which provided the company with funding in 2016. 'A very valuable program in which, together with fellow entrepreneurs, you optimize your vision, your mission, but above all your business plan,' Mateo says. 'In the form of weekly client meetings, you try to get a clear picture of the challenges that clients and potential clients are facing and what we can do to help. In short, you try to validate their problems and find a common thread in them. This ultimately led to an adjustment of our strategy and focus. For example, the Market Readiness Program clearly showed that our added value is mainly in sewage treatment, greenhouse horticulture and fish farms. In the coming period we will therefore focus primarily on these three market segments. We want to do two showcases with customers in each market segment for a year so that we can build up good references in them. These showcases were chosen very deliberately because they have a repeat factor. If new opportunities arise in those three market segments or other requirements are set, we can respond immediately.'
At the same time, by participating in the Market Readiness Program, the realization grew that the company needed to focus more on SMEs and less on large multinationals. 'Our strength and expertise lie mainly in responding to customer requests in a customized way,' Mateo emphasizes. 'Does the customer want a sensor in a certain type of pipe? Or does he want to measure just a little more precisely than usual with a certain sensor and control dosing pumps or valves on that basis? That's what we respond to. So it's not "one size fits all," but pure customization. That way of working suits an SME company better, because you can more easily set up a structural cooperation with them, where you work together with the customer towards a total solution that exactly fits their problem. In a multinational company, you quickly have to deal with a purchasing department, multiple decision making units and long lead times. That significantly reduces the chance of working with the customer to focus on the exact challenge, and thus the application of your product with a repeat factor. Whereas that is exactly what we want to prevent. '
In this white paper:
- What challenges do you face and how do you deal with them?
- Becoming investor ready in four steps!
- An overview of all funding options
Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.