Current tools for detecting cancer are slow and lack prognostic, however, a new technology developed by ECsens has more and better possibilities. This amazing concept has made ECsens win both the UT challenge and the 4TU Impact Challenge! In this interview, we ask them how they are currently doing.
Dear Pepijn, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing your views. To start, how would you describe the Ecsens’ idea to people who have not yet heard of you.
We developed a biosensor that can measure very sensitive and very reliable small fragments of tumor cells. To create a more fine-tuned diagnosis for better treatment as a result.
You and your partner won the edition of the UT challenge 2019, after which you also scored high in the 4TU final and took home the title. What did your life look like after that?
After we won the 4TU final, we received a lot of attention from different parties. We triggered quite some interest and have done many interviews with interested parties. The challenge took place in November, and the month after, in December, we received two additional grants which we needed to continue with our projects.
And then the Corona crisis happened, which in the first place put a hold on everything. However, because of the virus, we rewired our product to perform virus detection. Currently, we are moving forward fast, you may have seen us in some newspapers. Moreover, we are negotiating with potential investors and suppliers, while simultaneously we are in the middle of improving technological aspects. At the end of this summer, we started measuring samples of corona patients of the first wave. If that goes well, then probably many new doors will open for us.
When looking at your current events, are you and your partner focusing on virus detection only? And have you recruited more employees in the meantime?
Our initial product is a cancer detection model and the research is still ongoing, we also receive patient samples for this. In addition, we received a grant for bacterial detection from the same partners that are providing us with these samples. The initial product is put on hold for now. Meanwhile, we have four students helping us, and next year another employee will help us in the lab.
And after this COVID-19 period, where does ECsens see most possibilities?
It can go two ways, either the product works and we could stop there and retire. Or if it doesn't work, the coronavirus has offered us an opportunity to create a good demonstration of our technology. In that case, we can slowly move forward with our initial product. Besides, the virus detection technology must be established within a year, otherwise there’s no point anymore. Bringing this project to the market right now is extremely ambitious, so this will be quite the challenge. However, on a positive note, things are moving forward fast, it’s not too difficult to get approval and funding. Moreover, people are immediately attracted when they realize we are working on a virus test, which causes supplier priority.
Sounds like ECsens is becoming an important player in the startup world. Where do you think the company will be in a couple of years?
Perhaps if the virus detection works, we could start a subsidiary company. With the money earned, we then can continue developing our initial product: cancer detection. If it doesn't work, we can still slowly continue with our research and company.
You already have some solid plans for the future! What would say to current and future participants of the UT challenge?
I think it’s good to think about how to present something as simple as possible. Because there are probably many high tech ideas, and the key is to simplify it so that you can convey it to everyone. You can have a very elegant story, but the jury will listen to 40 stories in a row and yours will not stick if it is not short and simple. Especially now that everything is delayed, you have had several months to think about it.
That is a valuable tip! Thank you very much. We wish you the best of luck with ECsens and hope to hear more from you in the near future. Read more about ECsens on their website.
With an eye on your future, we selected 4x tips to feed your entrepreneurial minds. Next to entertainment and relaxation, there is some really good content available that will inspire and motivate you. Check out the following podcast, book, documentary, and website!
This podcast Host, Steve Glaveski, is committed to helping you better understand and handle the uncertainty that technology can bring. The podcast is about innovation, entrepreneurship and self-improvement. You can listen to world-class leaders who share their insights, news, case studies and how to keep up with (technological) changes.
In this documentary, David Eagleman (neuroscientist and best-selling author) assembles different skillful professionals from a broad creative background. Together they untangle the creative process, exploring brain-bending and other risk-taking approaches. They also inspire their audience to be more creative.
Tell us about yourself, your hobbies and interests.
On a cold evening, early January, I was born in the quiet and historic city of Brielle. Soon after, I moved with my parents to a small village north of Rotterdam close to Rotterdam Airport. The regular take-offs and landings drew my attention and as a child I was interested in early aviation; the various and exotic aircraft, and the people that build them. It motivated me to study aerospace engineering. But it was at a time that Fokker went belly up and I decided to finalise my bachelor and continue business administration. Yet technology remained drawing my attention. Today my interest is more broader and apart from new technology developments I enjoy riding my race bicycle, go sailing with the family and if time allows, go camping with our restored Volkswagen camper bus.
How did you become the Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship?
During my study Business Administration, I was interested in entrepreneurship, more specifically in technology-based entrepreneurship and the first developments at university to support this. Twinning and biopartner centres were new, incubation did not exist yet in the Netherlands and I decided to conduct my PhD in this field. After my PhD I worked shortly at RSM Rotterdam, but my interest in technology pulled me to TU Delft, where I started in 2007. Initially to contribute to entrepreneurship courses and later to build new programs for various faculties. Since 2016, the centre started to operate as an separate entity and I took the responsibility to become the director of the centre to better the education we offer for faculties and allow for more students to take these courses.
What do you think the contest's main takeaway is for students?
The core benefit of the contest for students is the network of industry professionals. Students are resourceful and are great in dropping ideas. Immediate validating of the idea is the crucial next step. Yet, it is beyond our expertise, as educators and coaches, to assess the validity of the idea and whether it would make a difference in industry. Industry professionals that are part of the contest network are most welcome to help speed up opportunity evaluation.
How do you define innovation?
Traditionally innovation is considered an invention that has commercial value. Commercial value is then translated as a large group of users willing to pay. For start-ups, the first market entry is important and if you can show 1 person willing to purchase your offering, you can start because you have an innovation.
What is the role of innovation in entrepreneurship?
In my view, without innovation, entrepreneurship cannot exist. Off course you can start a business without an innovation, but I would not consider that person an entrepreneur, maybe a trader or self-employed person taking considerable personal risk. In my view the entrepreneur brings change or welcomes change, and that is inherent with innovation.
How can the TU Delft encourage their students to become more innovative entrepreneurs?
At university, engineering students learn about technology which is often the first step to innovation. But more importantly, students have this inner disposition to question how things are done and tend to think it can be done better. While universities in technology have centuries of expertise to improve student’s specific technology knowledge, the tools to trigger the inner disposition of students are yet to emerge. These tools to make students aware of their strength and potential to become an entrepreneur or act entrepreneurially need more attention. One such tool are programs like the contest to support the interaction with industry professionals.
What do you think is more important: social or innovative entrepreneurship?
This is a tricky question. I would give preference to social innovation and let me explain why. In my view social entrepreneurship, is not only aimed at developing solutions for the poor, the underprivileged, but it also includes new solutions based on innovation in terms of a new process, a new business model and the inclusion of various stakeholders that can equally take place in high-end markets. As such social entrepreneurship is about changing the existing, thus also innovation, but through interactions with people, not only your customer, and thereby increasing the changes of acceptance and thus success.
Do you have any last advice for the students?
Students are smart, but sometimes they are too confident about the technology, the solution they have in mind. It works on the drawing board, hence it will sell by itself. However, reality is harsh and you cannot beforehand predict what a customer needs. Therefore, I would stress that it would be good to question yourself, question the initial solution you have as a student. Listening, listen very careful, to users, customers, stakeholders and industry professionals is the key skill to success.
Aren't you tired of the endless swiping battle with Tinder, Happen, etc.? There is a new solution! The dating app Breeze lets you immediately meet up with someone, which means no awkward chats, no ghosting, and no more swiping!
Dear Joris, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing your views. To start, can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your idea?
My name is Joris and I studied Industrial Design in Delft. I did my Masters in Strategic Design. Right now we are a group of seven people (first we were with five) who all have the same mindset: we want to be entrepreneurs and as of March 2019 we are. During our studies, we often worked together on various projects. Different ideas came to mind, and this wasn’t our first but it was our final idea. The idea about online dating occurred because of our frustrations with current dating apps. The problem with these apps is that it takes a lot of effort to meet people and very often the swiping and conversations are superficial. It is of course difficult to chat with a stranger, and often people get ghosted. These apps are focused on time spent, you have to put in the hours to find the right match. However, the app that we have developed focuses more on meeting up with someone who matches you well.
Keeping the change your app makes in mind, according to you, what is innovation?
That is an interesting question! For me, an innovation needs to have three requirements: it must be new, it must work and it must create an impact.
What is your view; is there always a better way to do things?
I believe that in fact, a lot of things can improve. The question you want to ask yourself is: when have I reached a satisfactory level? Is this enough for me? I'm convinced that our concept of Breeze can and will improve a lot in the future.
Speaking of innovation, what do you think are the characteristics of a great innovator? And why?
Don’t be afraid to start and see the bigger picture instead of the obstacles ahead. Stay realistic and have a clear goal. Hands-on mentality is very important. Tackle things right away and dare to make mistakes sometimes. I can see the above-mentioned qualities in my team.
You have explained it shortly, but how was the idea of Breeze born?
Breeze is set out to make online dating more human again. We want to encourage people to actually meet each other face to face instead of spending hours swiping and chatting on their phones. To use the modern digital possibilities, but to make the world a more human place. By making it easier for people to meet we hope to get rid of the pressure and expectations that are associated with a date, since dating should be like a Breeze. You don't have to immediately find the love of your life, instead Breeze is about the fun and thrill of meeting new people.
After a year of dealing with the app, what is it that motivates and drives you in working on this idea?
It is important to me that whatever I spend my time on, creates a good impact. I like to apply the impact on entrepreneurship. That was already the case when we started this, but it is still the case today. In the beginning, it was exciting: we set up something from nothing. Now we are growing towards investment, upscaling, and new challenges. In the future, there is a possibility that it will become so big that I am or we are not the right team for the job, but for now that is certainly not the case.
If you could go back in time and start up a company that currently exists, what would it be?
At the moment, I think Swapfiets is a very good example. In essence, it is not a difficult idea, it is easy to understand and implement. I like business model innovations myself. So innovations are based on existing products/ideas. I also think it's great that it comes from Delft. And it has a sustainable aspect: cycling is good for the environment, bicycles are constantly being repaired and reused.
How do you see yourselves and your idea in 5 years?
I think it would be great to still be working with Breeze. We hope to have organized many, many dates. We hope that a lot of new, fun encounters have taken place this way. It is also a dream to internationalize the app. Foremost, I hope that Breeze initiated our collective mindset about online dating to change: that online dating actually is aimed at initiating offline meaningful interactions.
The TU Delft Impact Contest will continue (online)!
We don’t have to tell you that the current situation in the world is affecting us all and is challenging us to make adjustments. But we also know that when you challenge young people, the best comes out of them. For that reason, as you may know, we are continuing with the TU Delft Impact Contest! Here are the latest updates:
-> Networking Round
The teams can now collect recommendations from classmates, friends and family. The project with the most collected online recommendations will win the 'Online Audience Prize' of €250,-. So make sure you vote for your favourite team before the 4th of May!
We have a few workshops planned in April and May. On the 23th of April the workshop about Solution development & Customer involvement will take place online. The workshop on Lean Start-Up and Prototyping on the 30th of April as well as the workshop about Business model, Financials and the Pitch practice on the 7th of May will also be online workshops. We are looking at alternatives so everyone is able to participate and continue investing in themselves and the projects. You will still be able to register via your dashboard!
-> Speed Dating event
The Speed Dating event will take place online on the 14th of May. Further information about how this will be organised, and what is required from the teams and partners will be provided at a later stage.
Make sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook for regular updates and reminders. If you have any questions, tips or something else you want to contact us about, please contact us via Whatsapp (+31 6 3809 0892) or email email@example.com.
ECsens has won the 4TU Impact Challenge. The start-up from the University of Twente is designing sensitive sensors for a faster diagnosis of cancer. This year, for the first time, the technical universities in the Netherlands have organized a joint innovation competition where students can showcase their groundbreaking solutions to social problems. The winner will go together with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of companies on a trade mission to the World Expo in Dubai.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance that we have got to take,” says Pepijn Beekman in response to his ECsens company’s victory. “It’s great that it was a success.” His aim with this start-up is to ensure that every patient can be given personalized treatment. A major elimination round preceded the final in the Zuiderstrand Theater in The Hague. The technical universities in Eindhoven, Delft, Twente and Wageningen had each held their own preliminary rounds last spring. A total of around 800 students took part in the competitions, 80 teams per TU. In the end, sixteen finalists made it through.
One of the reasons why the independent jury chose the Twente start-up was because their product solves a major social problem. It has the potential to have an impact on the lives of many people. Nevertheless, jury chair Esther van Someren, deputy general of the Dutch consulate in Dubai, admitted that it was a tough decision.
Each and every one of the teams has brilliant solutions for social problems. For example, from more efficient healthcare with eye tests at home, to the smart repair of coral reefs. The food industry and the impending food shortage are also popular themes. As an example, students researched the substitution of meat with insects as a way to get sufficient protein. Another team devised practical products with a clear goal. Such as a tool for recognizing PTSD symptoms in aid workers and care providers early on. This would mean that employers, for instance, could offer professional help at an earlier stage. Or a toy train that grows along with children as it teaches them programming in a playful way.
A few months ago, the students received pitch training so that they could present their story in a clear and concise manner. “The students had demonstrated in the preliminary rounds that their idea has potential in technical fields. But transferring that idea is a profession in its own right,” Pitch Academy trainer Nathalie Mangelaars told IO at the time. “To do that, students need to get out of their comfort zone.” The students learned to pitch in three different ways: for journalists, politicians and the general public during the final. At the end of the training, students stated that explaining the idea in a simple way is not always easy, but it is important.
Prior to the final e-pitches, a number of students handed over their ideas to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Binnenhof, the Dutch parliament building. “Rutte was open to our ideas and asked several questions,” says Beekman. Now there is hope among the technical universities that the Dutch government will actually invest more in innovation. According to Robert-Jan Smits, chairman of the Executive Board at TU/e, this will not nearly be enough. He would find it a good move if, for example, the government were to support start-ups through incubation programs.
“We want to remain at the forefront of innovation and technological development in the Netherlands,” says Victor van der Chijs, chairman of the 4TU collaboration. “It is essential to continue to invest in young talent and the innovations they come up with. The social importance of this is tremendous. Moreover, companies are eager to get in touch with young talent who are able to shape the future and who can work well together.”
Eindhoven University of Technology does this together with TU/e innovation Space, among other things. Student teams, start-ups and companies can meet each other and work together on innovative solutions for social problems through this community. Four teams from this community participated in the 4TU Impact Challenge. For example, Team RED is making a model for quickly providing insight into changes within the field of sustainable energy. Team CORE is building an incinerator that recycles metal which is becoming increasingly scarce. Intense Keyboards is designing a pressure-sensitive keyboard that helps to recognize stress-related complaints more quickly. And SpaceSea came up with a solution for the impending food shortage using seaweed.
Robert-Jan Smits is convinced that being part of a student team is a worthwhile experience within a study program. “I daresay that students learn more in one year in a student team than in two years during their regular studies,” he tells IO at the end of the event. He emphasizes that gaining knowledge is extremely important, but that students in student teams develop other skills such as presentation, communication and solution-oriented thinking.
In his opinion, these skills are also crucial when the students eventually start working for a company. This is one of the reasons why Eindhoven University actively involves companies in the creation of student teams. One of the partners is ASML. Herman Boon also gave a speech on behalf of ASML during the event, which focused on the start-up mentality they started out with. “It’s great that ASML still continues to show and cherish that,” says Smits. “Companies have to contribute to student teams because it is about their future employees in many cases.”
Things are looking good for that future. Smits: “Of the hundred ideas from students, perhaps only two or three actually reach the market. These are the companies that will really change the market and society.”
The 4TU Impact Challenge is part of the overall cooperation between the four Dutch technical universities. They are joining forces with a view to making optimal use of knowledge and creativity in the technology sector. They are doing this in the areas of education, research and knowledge valorization. This event is an example when it comes to the knowledge valorization category. The students transfer the knowledge that they have gained back to society through start-ups and student teams. Their products and services contribute to solving social problems.
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