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EBB: Netherlands wins as Dutch startups dazzle in Silicon Valley pitch competition

Judges and teams on stage at the High Tech Campus Conference Center

(Editor’s note: This Eindhoven Business Briefing focusing Dutch startups going to The Valley is part of Dispatches’ Tech Tuesdays series. We created the EBB back in 2017 because we had more news in our headquarters city – which has a huge expat population – than we could possibly post. The future really is being invented here .Send your news to: [email protected])

FruitPunch AI is going to The Valley this summer after getting top reviews from judges at the Draper University’s Silicon Summer Pitch Prize competition on 20 May. Of course this is great news for this Eindhoven-based AI startup, which goes to spend five intense, immersive weeks in San Mateo, Calif., from 6 July through 10 August 2021.

Sako Arts, left, and Buster Franken collect their first-place prize.

This is even better news for the Netherlands’ ecosystem and the depth of startup talent, with Draper University officials naming FruitPunch AI as the winner out of a total of six teams. But they didn’t stop there. They announced they’d invite three more startups, offering each a $12,000 package, slightly less than the $14,000 for FruitPunch AI, or $50,000 in total awards.

The pitch competition in front of a panel of judges at the Conference Center at High Tech Campus Eindhoven marks a turning point, the first U.S. pitch competition to send a Dutch startup to Silicon Valley. In this case, Draper is focused on social entrepreneurs who can both improve lives and turn a profit.

The competition also marks a turning point in the fortunes of Eindhoven-based startups, suddenly throwing open the doors to the world’s most famous innovation hub. Just as importantly, the Draper judges were wowed. Andy Lürling, founding partner of event organizer LUMO Labs, noted that Draper, founded by venture capitalist Tim Draper, has pitch competitions all over the world, with Draper judges Suffiyan Malik and Daniela Quintero telling the crowd (virtually) they’d never seen this level of quality.

FruitPunch AI won after a very focused pitch by co-founder Buster Franken. “There was some stiff competition, but I think we won with such a big lead because we‘re bringing a unique solution (challenge-based learning, objective accreditation of hard and soft skills) to an underserved, huge market (AI & data science talent),” Franken said. “The investors in the jury said they see FruitPunch AI becoming the next Dutch unicorn and either go for an acquisition from one of the big tech companies or go for an IPO.

“Naturally we‘re aiming for the latter.”

Also offered expense-paid trips

• Hable, an Eindhoven-based startup that’s developed a communications tool for people with impaired vision.

• Loop Robots, a robots as a service scale-up based in Delft.

• Roseman Labs, a privacy by design firm based in Breda.

AlphaBeats, an Eindhoven-based startup with an app which uses Philips technology to fight stress, and Unpluq, a Delft-based startup that helps users break their addiction to smartphones, are on standby, said Daniela Quintero, enrollment coordinator with Draper.

The details:

FruitPunch AI

FruitPunch AI is part of the current cohort at LUMO Labs on High Tech Campus. The concept is to address the shortage of AI engineering talent at exactly the time when major innovators such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are embracing the technology, Franken said. FruitPunch AI uses challenge-based education to create a new global generation of AI engineers who have the skills and mindset needed to apply AI for Good.

Universities don’t have the expertise themselves. “That’s why they come to us,” said co-founder Sako Arts during the Q&A session following their pitch. FruitPunch AI is expanding the talent pool while charging client companies less than recruiters.

Long-term strategy:

FruitPunch AI just got a 500,000 euro investment from LUMO Labs. The team wants to go to the U.S. for a Series A round. Through the Draper University Hero Training program, the team wants to learn from the Americans how to scale rapidly. “Our goal is to become the world‘s No. 1 platform for AI talent development,” Franken said. “If we don’t move quickly, there will be a U.S. startup that will. We‘re only going to get there if we bring the best of both worlds to the table – EU knowledge and the U.S. mindset.”

Hable

This is a technology – hardware and software – we first saw several years ago at Technical University of Eindhoven. Founder Freek van Welsenis and his team have developed the technology to help vision-impaired people use smartphones. But we also saw the tech has potential to be the next evolution in wireless communications.

Hable already has revenue and a 10-person team.

Loop Robots

Loop Robots is another company with revenue and a team. Chief commercial officer/co-founder Mark van de Vrede made the pitch.

Loop Robots use UV-C lights to disinfect a closed environment to prevent injury to people. The robots are autonomous and take seven to 10 minutes to disinfect a room measuring about 25m2. “There’s no better moment than now” in a pandemic for the company to move into new markets, van de Vrede noted.

The business model is interesting because they don’t sell their robots. It’s robots as a service business plan. “In that way we share the responsibility for the success of the robot,” van de Vrede said. Most of the questions from the panel of judges involved why Loop Robots was focused on disinfecting and not overall cleaning.

“Humans are good at cleaning,” said CEO Per Slycke in the follow-up Q&A session. “But disinfecting is hard for humans.”

Raising:  1.5 million euros to expand. Loop has been bootstrapped to this point.

Goal: To break into the U.S. market and its 6,000 hospitals. The founders see the potential for $1 billion in annually reoccurring income.

Roseman Labs

Roseman Labs is based in Breda.

Roderick Rodenburg, the CEO, gave the pitch for the privacy-by-design concept. Roseman Labs uses multiparty computation where data is processed and secured in multiple locations, but their technology makes it feel to users like they’re using one database. Target markets include public health institutions and financial services.

Raising: Raising 400,000 euros and looking for deep-tech investors

ON STANDBY

AlphaBeats

AlphaBeats’ app helps users lower stress simply by listening to their favorite music. “We train the brain to relax,” said co-founder and CEO Han Dirkx, who gave the pitch.

Advantages – Eight years of independent research at Tilburg University and the worldwide exclusive license of the Philips technology.

Unpluq

Unpluq.com is based in Delft. The concept is to help people with a growing problem – smartphone addiction. “People don’t admit their addiction,” said Jorn Rigter, who gave the pitch. Unpluq already has substantial revenue and a full team.

Founders: Tim Smits and Jorn Rigter    

Pluses: Patent-pending technology

Needs – 250,000 euros to build an iOS version and an investor with experience in pricing modeling and contacts in telecom.

About Draper University:

Draper is a private, for-profit school/incubator/accelerator located in San Mateo, Calif. and focused on entrepreneurship. Its early stage startups have raised more than $350 million. Affiliated entrepreneurs include VC and founder Tim Draper, his brother Bill, who’s also a VC, Elon Musk, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh and John Zimmer, founder of Lyft.

FruitPunch AI needs an operations manager and a lead developer

Want to join a winning Dutch startup team? FruitPunch AI needs a full-time lead developer to build its platform.

Requirements include:

Based in the Eindhoven area (allowed flexibility in working from home or in office)

Education level: HBO-plus with a background in computer sciences and at least three years of experience.

Functional Requirements

Must have

  • Experience with multiple Programming/Scripting  languages (Java, C#, JS, Python), and related frameworks. 
  • Extensive experience with core developer tools (Git, Docker, Linux, Test frameworks, CI/CD) 
  • Familiarity with new-age programming paradigms like micro services and serverless
  • Experience with a relevant cloud provider and their serverless tools (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud)
  • Experience in leading a development team and the related tools and skills (Scrum, functional requirements, stakeholder management)
  • Professional-plus level of English

You can apply here on LinkedIn.

FruitPunch AI also needs an operations manager.

The winning candidate will create the structure and organization needed to scale its AI for Good community to millions of members, running thousands of challenges with chapters at universities around the world. Learning how by managing the ongoing AI for Good challenges, events and education. 

Responsibilities

  • Build the organizational structure and coordinating everything that is needed for optimal functioning of the contributors’ community
  • Manage the AI for Good challenges, labs, events & education and improving their formats
  • The HR, legal and financials of a fast growing startup
  • Optimize the functioning of the company
  • Translate the vision and ideas into clear strategies & manage their execution 

Must have:

  • strong organizational & project management skills
  • financial & budgeting knowledge
  • leadership, judgement and decision making skills
  • the ability to manage many projects 
  • a solid grasp of data analysis and performance metrics

You can apply here on LinkedIn.

THIS JUST IN:

Aircision, a HighTechXL startup, and TNO, the Netherlands’ premier applied science research lab, successfully completed their field tests establishing the first optical wireless link of 10 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) over 2.5 kilometers in the Netherlands. The tests were conducted between the Tower in the TNO Oude Waalsdorperweg  facility in the Hague and the Luchtwachttoren in Scheveningen.

“This field test is crucial for our mission to build high performing free space optics systems that meet the demand for worldwide connectivity.” said Aircision CEO Luis Oliveira. “By demonstrating that our technology works at 10 Gbps and 2.5km, we are on our way to outperform the technical specifications set by current E-band solutions.”

We’ll have more on this in the next EBB.

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