2015 was a unique year for Jasper Verreydt and Geert Slachmuylders. Next to their victory at the Startup Nations Summit, the two founders of Turbulent have had the opportunity to expand their business in Chile, after being selected for Start-up Chile, the country’s renowned incubation and acceleration program. For a period of six months, these two Belgian entrepreneurs will be able to explore the potential of the Chilean market and the unique networking opportunities provided by the program.
Co-founder Jasper Verreydt shares his thoughts on the success of Turbulent and its ambitions for the future.
How did you start your business?
Jasper Verreydt: My partner Geert and I met at a few times at business plan competitions we both entered. Geert was looking for someone with an Economics background to complement his Engineering skills in order to develop an idea he had started working on during his thesis. That’s where I came in.
The project he developed in his Master’s explained the general concept of a vortex, which is the basis of our product. Over the last year we have been adapting and fine-tuning it to turn his idea into a real and concrete product.
Today, we have a micro hydro power plant on the market, accessible to nearly everyone. It can easily be transported, requires very low maintenance and has a decreased impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
How did you get to know iMinds’ iStart program? How did it support your business?
Jasper: We were able to win a few start-up competitions, which led us to try it for real: start a company and see how far we could go. That’s when we decided to apply to iStart. A friend of mine who had participated in one of the iStart calls told us about the program and encouraged us to apply.
Aside from the pre-seed funding – which was very helpful considering all of the testing and prototyping we needed to do – the Marketing and Sales track was extremely useful for us. The coach taught us to step a little bit away from the technological aspect of the product and focus more on the market and on what the customer was telling us.
What makes Turbulent unique?
Jasper: One of the things that the jury at the Startup Nations Summit really liked was the kind of problem that we were addressing and the simplicity of the solution we were presenting.
Our broader understanding of the dynamics of a vortex has allowed us to significantly decrease the size of our turbines, which are now about half the size of the ones from our competitors. This unique feature accounts for less civil works and a lower impact on the ecosystem surrounding the hydropower plant.
Moreover, the less need for infrastructure also means that this type of technology is accessible to a larger number of people. Aside from the specific propeller and software – which we are the ones providing – the implementation of this plant can be done by virtually anyone. That is what’s so interesting about our product: the simplicity with which we tackled the problem of energy security; renewable energies at everyone’s reach.
What are your plans for the future?
Jasper: We are now testing our first pilot-project in a river in Belgium. The plan is to optimize this prototype and fine-tune all the components so that the next ones can be developed faster and more smoothly.
Europe is a very important market for us because of its pre-existing infrastructures. There are a lot of old water mills, old sites that we can actually use to simply place our turbine. Scandinavia, for example, is one of the regions we have already considered, though we still haven’t had any concrete lead towards it.
There is also a lot of potential for the development of hydropower energy in South America and Southeast Asia due to its underlying energy issues. In Chile, for example, there are still blackouts every day, so there is a lot of pressure from population and government to invest in renewable energy.
How is the Chile experience so far?
Jasper: We are having an amazing time here. We are currently under negotiations to get our second customer and we also plan to have a third one later in 2016. However, there are still a lot of questions that we need to answer, especially concerning the device’s earthquake resistance and life expectancy, as well the risk of floods in case of a river blockage.
Even though our original targets were small businesses with lower energy needs, we are now also talking to utility and energy companies to develop a bigger project where they can use our technology to then supply the energy to a lot of end-customers as well.
Company Name: Turbulent
Start Date: January 12, 2015
Founders: Geert Slachmuylders / Jasper Verreydt
Number of employees (2015): 4 FTE’s
Imec Support Received: iStart Business Incubation Program