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.
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