HighTechXL Demo Day, Pt. 1: World-changing innovation from Europe’s Silicon Valley

(Editor’s note: Thursday’s HighTechXL’s Universal Changemakers demo day confirmed what we’ve been saying for a long time: Eindhoven isn’t like Silicon Valley. It is Europe’s Silicon Valley of high-tech hardware. In fact, there were too many great startups to include in one post. So we’ll post Part 2 on Monday. You can watch the full event here on the HighTechXL website.)

Yesterday at the Klokgebouw events space in Eindhoven, 1,000 people, including a large number of investors, turned out for an accelerator demo day, something that doesn’t really happen on this scale in the startup world outside The Valley.

Yeah, everyone cheered each pitch ….

But you know you have a successful high-tech accelerator when investors stand on the stage at your demo day and write checks for hundreds of thousands of euros … to one startup. Which happened yesterday at HighTechXL’s Universal Changemakers demo day.

The concepts we saw from 12 startups yesterday fell into three broad categories: Health care/wearables, sports and unclassifiable.

Of course, investors tend to think in terms of world-changing, gee-whiz and promising.

Our perspective is not merely that of cheerleader or casual observer.

A few weeks ago, we announced our effort to connect American investors in the South and Midwest (far from The Valley) to top startups in the Netherlands, starting with Eindhoven. Yesterday’s Demo Day helps us make our case … and this post will go to our prospective investors, of course. Because they like to invest and they have the capital and risk profiles to make big bets.

When you think about it, handicapping startups is not so different from handicapping racehorses.

You go to any track from Meydan in Dubai to Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. and you see beautifully bred and trained thoroughbreds that all have the ability to win. What bettors find out pretty quickly is there are a lot of variables and intangibles, from competitive spirit to luck.

Same with startups.

All the concepts seem to be worthy, but there are always a whole lot of complications before the finish line.

Yet HighTechXL Founder and CEO Guus Frericks’s hardware accelerator has been cranking out winners at an ever-increasing rate since its founding in 2013.

The goal is to develop 20 to 30 fast-growing companies in this region, Frericks said. He noted there are 15,000 new startups every day in China. But Eindhoven and HighTechXL have a more selective and rigorous approach … and has the success rate to prove it, proving to high tech hardware startups there’s no reason to go to Silicon Valley.

Since 2013, HighTechXL has accelerated 49 teams with a 75-percent survival rate, Frericks said, attracting 35 million euros in investments.

“But what matters is, who is on the path to make it big? We have 12 companies ready to scale up. Will all succeed? Probably not. But 24 percent are on a fast-growth path.”

“I think we are better. We are head of the game.”

Ultimately, the goal is to accelerate the accelerator, with a goal of 1,000 projects – both startups and internal intrapreneural corporate projects – flowing through HighTechXL by 2020.

“Is this aggressive? Yeah! Is it freaking me out? A little bit. If we get our heart and soul behind it, a high chance we’ll make it. But it can be done and we’re not going to rest until it’s done ….”

So, let’s check out some of the 12 startups. We’re listing them by our own flawed and subjective intuition about which have the best shot at becoming profitable, disruptive technology.


An investor writes a check on stage to Sustonable.


We’re putting these guys first because they’re moving rapidly to market with an experienced team of chemists, business development types and entrepreneurs drawn from Shell Oil, Deloitte and other multinational corporations.

Not to mention the fact investors handed Sustonable money at a demo day, which we’d never seen before. A lot of money … a total of 350,000 euros from BOM, the economic-development/investment arm of the Brabant Region of the Netherlands, which includes Eindhoven, and Dekker, a counter top company based in the Netherlands.

Sustonable is turning one of the biggest waste problems into a unique market killer, a high-quality product that’s cheaper, lighter and more sustainable than natural stone, CFO Laurens van Graafeiland told the demo day audience.

Sustonable, a Dutch/Swiss startup, has technology that takes Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, waste (plastic bottles and other packaging) and turns it into the next generation of composite stone. Sustonable has a huge advantage in that it’s building on tech under development for a decade, and actually came out of Shell Oil, where most of its team worked.

The biggest market sector for composite stone is kitchen counter tops, an estimated 10 billion euro market and Sustonable’s first target market.

As we said, Sustonable is way down the road after signing a launch customer. Dekker is the market leader in the Netherlands, and one of the largest kitchen counter top fabricators in the world. Sustonable also has about 30 potential customers in 10 European countries, according to van Graafeiland.

In addition, Sustonable executives are working to close a deal this month with an unidentified European recycler as their main supplier, a partner that would also invest 250,000 euros.

The numbers:

• The market for all types of composite stones, mostly used in construction, is 10 billion euros annually.

• Sustonable needs 2 million euros to move their plant to the Netherlands from Switzerland and for product development.

• Sustonable will need an additional 10 million euros to scale up and build a larger plant.

“After that,” van Graafeiland told the demo day crowd, “the sky is the limit.”


File this under “world changing.”

From St. Petersburg, Russia, Oriense has developed software and hardware allowing blind people to “see” using TomTom mapping technology and other innovations.

CEO Vit Kitaev gave the day’s most impassioned pitch for what he described as technology that will change the lives of billions of people.

Of the world’s 300 million blind and visually impaired people, only 2 percent have guide dogs, Kitaev said. But even a guide dog can’t find a road in a new city or recognize the color of a tee-shirt. “Modern tech can,” Kitaev said.

Oriense’s team of robotics and computer engineers has adapted self-driving auto technology and created an augmented reality tool for the blind that turns a gray and dangerous world into “a clear, colorful picture” of what lies ahead, he said.

The result is a patented talking device that warns about obstacles, describes the world around the person and helps them find their way. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Kitaev said, “we’re not a startup. We’re a scaleup,” with device ready to go to market after their time at HighTechXL. Coming to Eindhoven connected the company to Amsterdam-based TomTom, as well as other companies providing design, production and distribution capabilities that could take the product to 50 countries.

Their breakthrough tech from feedback from 300 people in 15 countries and combines the best features from three devices into one device.

The numbers:

  • The market just for tech devices is $1.5 billion annually, while visually impaired people spend 6 billion euros each year on guide dogs.
  • Oriease has sold 100 devices to people who receive no insurance reimbursement in countries such as Russia and Eastern Europe, where the monthly handicap benefits are less than the cost of the device.
  • Oriense is on pace to sell 1,000 devices this year, generating $900,000 in top-line income, and 5,000 next year, for $6.3 million in revenue.
  • Oriense has raised $300,000 in investments and grants.
  • Oriense is raising another $500,000 – $250,000 for general release and $250,000 for marketing and sales.


Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.51.47 AMHugsy has developed a high-tech baby blanket that replicates the smell, warmth and even the heartbeat of a mother for premature babies, optimizing “kangaroo care.”

“There are lots of baby products out there,” said Sylvie Claes, Hugsy CEO, in her pitch. “What sets Hugsy apart is the way we combine the most important senses of a mother and bring them back to her baby to give the baby the most comfort possible.”

Hugsy is one of the more advanced of the Spring, 2017 HighTech XL cohort, with home trials and other proof-of-concept data.

The two-person team is in clinical trials at four hospitals in the Netherlands, and results of Hugsy trials will be published later this year.

Last October, Hugsy was of one of six winners out of 2,500 Dutch Design Week entrants.

The numbers:

• The startup is selling Hugsy through distributors to hospitals for 150 euros, and directly via e-commerce to parents for 110 euros, ready to launch pre-sales on the Dutch consumer market now.

• Hugsy is seeking 300,000 euros in funding by mid-2017 to produce the first batch of 4,000 Hugsys, along with marketing and shipping.

• Their goal is to reach 50 million euros in sales by 2021.



If there was a transcendent moment at HighTechXL Universal Changemakers demo day, it was when BerkelBike tester Johnny Beer Timms flashed through the event, showing what Dutch technology can do for someone who’s a tetraplegic, a nearly unbelievable “wow” moment.

BerkelBike inventor Rik Berkelmans had set up the dramatic entrance during his pitch with video of Timms, an Englishman who’d broken his neck as a teen doing stunts. But seeing Timms at full speed dazzled the crowd.

Berkelmans’ motivation for creating the BerkelBike is to disrupt the technical limitations that keep people with spinal cord injuries from being mobile, or even being healthy.

“We want to improve their lives … we’re on a mission,” he said.

Berkelmans cited statistics that indicate paralysis cuts 19 years off lives, and leads to complications such as sores, diabetes and susceptibility to infections. “Especially infections, because bacterias and viruses like weak bodies ….”

If paralyzed people could use their legs  – the bodies’ largest muscles – to exercise again, they could become fit again, and healthy.

The technology uses electronics in wearables to send impulses to the arms and legs, enabling them to power the bike.

Berkelmans acknowledged BerkelBike has three challenges:

• Clinical – BerkelBike worked with universities and rehab centers, including the University of Alberta, to get clinical evidence. Researchers in Alberta, Berkelmans said, found that not only was the BerkelBike far more effective than standard therapies, but early tests suggest the possibility the device can help to reconnected nerves. “Imagine if we could help people walk again! This could be the future ….”

• Affordability – Each BerkelBike costs 10,000 euros. But Berkelmans is working on a way to charge users 295 euros per month, reimbursable by insurance. That could represent a savings to insurers and healthcare systems because Berkelmans said on average, treating a person with spinal cord injuries costs 22k euros per year due to medical complications. BerkelBike could ring that down by 50 percent if he can get reimbursement approved.

• Distribution – BerkelBike has several deals working, including one with LevareCura, which has rehab equipment in most of the centers in the Netherlands, to use BerkelBike technology on its home trainers.

Berkelmans closed his pitch by presenting Johnny Beer Timms from Great Britain to demonstrate the bike live.

Beers told the crowd he got fed up “staring at the walls,” trying to regain his strength through conventional hospital therapy.

Timm, who, as a tetrapalegic doesn’t even have the use of his hands, said the BerkelBike allows him to use his leg muscles to cycle and get into exceptional shape.

“I’ve seen huge, huge benefits.”

The numbers:

• BerkelBike has sold a total of 400 units for a total of about 3 million in revenue.

• BerkelBike has sold 130 units to people with spinal cord injuries.

• The startup has also sold 270 bikes without the electronics to people with other disabilities including multiple sclerosis, amputation and brain injury.

• Potential market: In the EU alone, there are about 300,000 people with spinal cord injuries, and 1 million potential users if you count other disabilities.

• Berkelmans projects revenue of 20 million euros by 2021

• BerkelBike needs an investment of 600,000 euros for marketing and sales and develop further applications.

Guus Frericks presented Berkelmans the People’s Choice Award, voted by “virtual investments” by the audience.

“If you’re not spending your time improving the lives of others, then you’re totally wasting your time,” Frericks told the crowd as the event closed.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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