Against all odds: HighTechXL’s XL Day showcases six deep-tech startups created amid the pandemic

(Editor’s note: This post, dedicated to HighTechXL and XL Day, is part of Dispatches’ Tech Tuesday series covering startups that includes the Eindhoven Business Briefings.)

In Eindhoven, nothing – not even a pandemic – is going to stall the startup scene. With in-person meetings halted for months, “it would have been easy to stop,” said HighTechXL CEO and cofounder Guus Frericks. Instead Frericks’s venture builder/accelerator leveraged newly acquired digital conferencing skills to create six new companies.

That included teams that had never met in person because of the three-month “smart lockdown” in the Netherlands.

On Friday, 3 July, those startups debuted at High Tech Campus Conference Center, pitching to an invitation-only (and carefully socially distanced) live crowd along with a virtual audience. The XL Day demo day was the first live event since HighTechXL co-hosted the High Tech Campus Sustainability Hackathon on 6 March, but not the first event.

HighTechXL’s signature FasTrackathon, where teams first come together around deep-tech from CERN and other research centers, went off 25 March as a digital event after only nine days of preparation. That reverse-hackathon, in turn, produced this group of teams, which are in Phase 1 of a three-phase, nine-month accelerator program.

Friday, XL Day was the first opportunity in 2020 to get teams back in front of a live audience of investors and corporate supporters.



Ram Ramachandra pitched for innoflex, a startup built around nano materials, with the first product a foil developed by engineer Kevin Lagarde. That catalyst can neutralize contaminants in the atmosphere, in this case nitrogen oxide, or NOx.

Nitrogen oxide – emitted by cars, construction equipment, farm soils, livestock and fertilizers – can damage forests, soils and waterways and can act as an indirect greenhouse gas. In fact, NOx has 300 times the impact of CO2, Ramachandra said.

The Netherlands has some of the highest NOx levels in Europe and is taking drastic steps to cut emissions, including reducing the daytime speed limit to 100 kilometers per hour, halting construction of a number of big residential developments and even talking about shuttering some farms.

Just changing the speed limit signs cost 20 million euros … all for a very minor improvement of a 0.13 percent reduction, Ramachandra said. By comparison, if innoflex’s foil were applied to sound barriers along the highways and even buildings, it would cost about 40 million euros, but yield a six-percent reduction in NOx, he said.

The innoflex catalytic foil lasts five times longer than any competing technology and costs 50 percent less, Ramachandra said: “I can’t put it any simpler than that.”

The ask:

innoflex is now raising 250,000 euros to develop its minimal viable product on the way to raising 3.5 million euros to go to market.

Motto: “Solving air pollution today for a safer tomorrow.”

Nestegg Labs

Nestegg Labs CEO Tanner Carden pitched the startup, which has developed technology for automating the cell culturing process for pharmaceuticals and other industries including futuristic food research.

That’s a labor-intensive and precise process, Carden said, and includes sample preparation, incubation, quality checks and fluid readout: “What if I told you we can automate 90 percent of that process?”

Unlike the other five startups at XL Day, Nestegg has a beta product ready for customers. The Merln Institute at Maastricht University, which researches regenerative medicine, has called that technology “an important tool for regenerative medicine for kidney and diabetes research,” said the American expat.

Nestegg has two products – the Obruza analysis system and Unaflux, a proprietary adaptor system to automate standard microplates. While the first market likely will be university research labs, Nestegg already has connected with companies as diverse as pharma giant Novartis and Mosa Meat. Mosa Meat will start trials this summer with Nestegg equipment, testing different types of cells to find out which make the tastiest lab-grown meat for hamburgers.

The biomed consortium RegMed XB has expressed interest in Obruza to monitor the control of growing bone fragments.

The ask:

Nestegg has raised 1 million euros and now needs 1.5 million euros to move from academic research clients to the pharmaceutical sector.

Imagin Motion

Imagin Motion uses a photonic sensor – essentially a gyroscope on a chip – to stabilize images in a MRI scanner.

“Why is motion such an important issue in MRI? Blurred images are considered waste, but more than 20 percent of images are no good,” said Dennis Veeling. That loss is about $114,000 per scanner per year, or almost $6 billion wasted annually.

It seems like an obvious problem that someone should have solved by now, Veeling said. The problem is, until now, there hasn’t been a technology that works, because current motion sensors won’t work in an MRI scanner’s strong magnetic field. His Imagin Motion team, which Veeling said is strong in nanophotonics business development and engineering, is working with Philips to advance the technology.

Revenue will come both from the sale of the device, and a success fee tied to eliminating waste.

MRI scanners are just the beginning, Veeling said, with other uses in healthcare and other precision industries.

The ask:

Imagin Motion is raising 450,000 euros for a feasibility study, then  1.2 million euros for a demo.


inPhocal has a revolutionary new printing technology that uses a CERN-developed narrow-focus structured laser for specialized printing such as expiration dates on consumer products. inPhocal’s technology is faster and cheaper than inkjet printing and generates no waste.

Robert van Tankeren, a physicist who’s the former director of TMC Physics, gave the pitch and used the example of Coca-Cola, which prints on millions of soda bottles each day, as the target end-user.

Tankeren says inPhocal is focused on creating partnerships with the preferred suppliers to giant companies such as Coca-Cola and Unilever. But there’s more … inPhocal sees a future market in laser wafer dicing for the semiconductor industry.

The ask:

inPhocal is raising 1.1 million euros. The team has put together the first batch of lasers and needs capital to move into laser as a service.


“Light without limits.”

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