NEW fund invests in greenhouse water quality measurement system
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NEW fund invests in greenhouse water quality measurement system

CE-Line is the first company to receive funding from Netherlands Enabling Water Technology (NEW), a national and sector-specific fund managed and implemented by NOM.

The startup from Heerenveen developed a new measurement system for water quality in greenhouse horticulture. CE-Line was proposed to the fund's investment committee after its innovative concept stood out positively to the NEW consortium, consisting of the knowledge institutions Wetsus, Deltares and the University of Groningen (RUG).

The year is starting well for CE-Line director Wilco Dijkstra: "The NEW Fund funding is crucial fuel to really get our measurement system ready for the market. According to Dijkstra, the horticultural sector is waiting for their innovation. 'After successful trials at a test site of Wageningen University & Research, last year's practical trials at a large nursery also proved promising. Whereas growers now still have the irrigation water for their plants tested weekly or biweekly at an external laboratory, with our measurement system they can measure the various nutrients in the water in real time.'

By integrating CE-Line's technology into the greenhouse water system, up-to-date data is continuously collected. This helps growers to easily and quickly adjust the required nutrient concentrations. 'This allows them to achieve optimal nutrient water for their plants under all conditions,' Dijkstra explains. 'Apart from the fact that the measuring system fits well with the increasing digitalization in high-tech greenhouses, the controllability and stability of the feed water ensure more yield and better quality of crops and fruits. Working daily with more sophisticated feed water also reduces the consumption of fertilizers and water.'

Ripe for breakthrough

These sustainability benefits are an essential factor for the NEW fund. Because of the high dependence on water in almost all sectors - from agriculture and horticulture to chemistry - NEW wants to contribute to water-technological solutions for circular production. The strength of the fund lies in the involvement of the knowledge institutions Wetsus, Deltares and RUG. 'They can assess which innovations around water technology can really make a difference and are ripe for a breakthrough,' says investment manager Allard van der Horst of the NOM. 'In this way the NEW consortium not only supports the knowledge starters, but also the fund's investment committee in making well-founded choices.'

The NEW consortium acts as a kind of filter: promising knowledge start-ups - such as CE-Line - are first "weighed" by the knowledge institutions involved. 'A valuable process,' says Dijkstra. 'Sparring about the content helped to further sharpen our approach and product. The next step was pitching to NEW's investment committee. Also very instructive, because you talk about your proposition in a different way with financial people than with techies. Good questions are just as important as good answers; it is precisely in a critical conversation that you as a startup discover where you stand in entrepreneurship. CE-Line is on the right track and we are happy that this NEW funding gives us the opportunity to advance to the market.

Future of greenhouse farming

The innovative measurement system has already received positive attention during its development phase: in 2020, CE-Line's technology won the GreenTech Innovation Concept Award, and last fall the startup was included in the HillenraadTECH50, as one of the most promising companies contributing to the future of greenhouse horticulture. 'Most important are the positive signals from our potential customers,' Dijkstra emphasizes. 'Growers are enthusiastic, we now have concrete intentions from the market. All signals are green, now it comes down to refining our prototype and getting the system ready for sale.'

'We are realizing one last important addition in the process,' says the director. 'In addition to the ten macro elements among the nutrients - such as phosphate, potassium and sulfate - our system will soon be able to measure six specific trace elements. Much lower concentrations of these are needed, but they are essential for growth, which is why growers would like to have insight into them as well.' CE-Line initially targets growers of fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini. 'Tomatoes in particular benefit from an optimal composition of the nutrient water,' Dijkstra knows. 'That's why precision fertilization is sought after in this market and we focus on that first. Although this innovative system is interesting for all crops grown in greenhouses.'

NEW in brief

Netherlands Enabling Watertechnology (NEW) is intended to bring promising initiatives in the field of water technology to the market. Examples include: water treatment, extracting raw materials and energy from water and smarter management of water systems and infrastructures. Wetsus, Deltares and RUG realized the NEW plan last year together with the NOM. Their greatest strength is the combination of knowledge transfer and a fund, for which they won eight million euros in a large tender of the TTT scheme (Thematic Technology Transfer) of the central government.

NOM is manager and executor of the NEW fund, which also involves five external shareholders/financiers. Only startups that have not yet developed commercial activities, but are in the proof of concept phase, can apply to the fund. Every positively assessed application is still formally reviewed by the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO).