Wilco Dijkstra and his team developed a technology that can measure - in real time - a variety of elements in water and wondered: which sector really benefits from this measurement system? He discovered that their finding is particularly interesting for horticulturists growing fruit vegetables in greenhouses. Meanwhile, the startup CE-Line is about to conquer the greenhouse market.
Sometimes the best business opportunities simply come along in your immediate surroundings. 'That link with greenhouse horticulture came about when I told friends about this innovative technique,' says Wilco, who after studying applied chemistry ended up in the world of drinking and process water and engaged in product and service development. 'I'm from Luttelgeest and there are a number of greenhouses of breeding companies there. I heard from my friends that it is customary in the horticultural world to send a sample of feed water to a laboratory every week to have the nutrients measured. Then I realized: our measurement system can help growers achieve the best possible nutrient water for their plants under all conditions.'
CE-Line 's technology will be integrated into the water system of horticultural greenhouses. Growers will thus have continuous access to up-to-date data on the concentrations of nutrients in the water, whereas now - after sampling - they receive results from an external laboratory at most once or even every two weeks. 'Growers can make adjustments much faster with real-time data,' says Wilco. 'Our measuring system contributes to the stability of the feed water and the effect is: more yield and better quality of crops and fruits. Moreover, thanks to precision fertilization, the consumption of fertilizers and water goes down. With their current approach to external lab testing, horticulturists already strive for the most sophisticated feed water possible, but now they are actually always behind the times.'
'The beauty of our system is that it can measure the ten most important macroelements among the nutrients,' explains the entrepreneur. 'Think, for example, of calcium, phosphate and potassium. The need for these substances varies by crop and conditions. Greenhouses are increasingly high-tech to properly control the climate, but even at stable temperatures, plants have different nutritional needs on sunny days than on cloudy days. Tomatoes in particular are very sensitive to the composition of nutrients in the feed water. Precision fertilization is especially valuable when growing fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini, so that's what we're focusing on first. Although our measurement system is also applicable for other crops.'
Ready for the market
CE-Line's innovative product is almost ripe for the market. After successful tests with the prototype at a test site of Wageningen University & Research as well as promising practical experiences at a large nursery, the measuring system will be prepared for sale this year. 'We are now refining the technology,' says Wilco. 'In doing so, we are realizing another important addition: the measurement of six specific trace elements. Much lower concentrations of these are needed in the feed water, but they are essential for crop growth. That is why our system - at the growers' request - will soon also measure these trace elements, in addition to the ten aforementioned macro elements that are tracked as standard.'
CE-Line's water technology invention fits well with digitization in greenhouse farming and the industry's desire for sustainable production. 'Data-driven work is also becoming increasingly common in greenhouses,' Wilco knows. 'Growers are enthusiastic about our system and those positive signals are already translating into concrete intentions from the market. In short, as a startup we are now in a phase where we have to move forward, and fortunately that is possible, thanks to the recently obtained funding from the NEW fund (see box, ed.). In the development phase of CE-Line we already made great strides by participating in BeStart's Accelerator Program, in which the Water Campus is also involved. Now, through Ronald Wielinga - manager of entrepeneurship at the WaterCampus - we came into contact with the NEW consortium, which can help us further in this next phase. So that's how incredibly valuable a good network is for startups!
Growers are enthusiastic about our system and those positive signals are already translating into concrete intentions from the market.
Wilco Dijkstra | CE-Line
The NEW consortium acts as a kind of filter: promising knowledge startups - such as CE-Line - are first "weighed" by the knowledge institutions involved. If that turns out well, the startups are allowed to pitch before the fund's investment committee. 'An enormously instructive process,' says Wilco. Because innovations are only meaningful if they are successful in the market. That requires not only a promising product, but also a good business plan and entrepreneurship. Both BeStart and the NEW selection process - full of handholding and critical questions - have contributed to the development of our company. Along the way, winning the Green Tech Innovation Concept Award (2020) and listing in the HillenraadTECH50 (2021) were also encouraging milestones. To be seen as one of the most promising companies contributing to the future of greenhouse horticulture is a great compliment. Now it's up to us to live up to that.'
Netherlands Enabling Watertechnology (NEW)
Netherlands Enabling Watertechnology (NEW) is intended to bring promising initiatives in the field of water technology to the market. Examples include: water treatment, obtaining raw materials and energy from water and smarter management of water systems and infrastructures. NEW has been realized by the knowledge institutions Wetsus, Deltares and RUG in cooperation with the NOM, which manages and executes the fund.
In this white paper you will learn:
- What you have to deal with when you start working with investors
- Differences and similarities between bank funding, subordinated loan and equity capital
- In what ways NOM as an investor can help you
Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.