13 Jun 2022

Corporate Venturing boosts ability to innovate quickly

In focus: ✔ Damen Maritime Ventures ✔ Floating solar platform ✔ Exploring new technologies ✔ Skoon Energy ✔ Clean energy transition

In Damen’s traditional pioneering style the Damen Maritime Ventures division has established a corporate venturing unit to tap into the entrepreneurial capabilities of early phase businesses, increasing our ability to innovate quickly, and to stay one step ahead of the competition.

Head of Corporate Development and Venturing Joerek Kohutnicki, explains why Damen has decided to embark on this corporate venturing journey. “As a large corporate company, venturing allows us to boost our innovative capability by leveraging the skills and/or propositions of start-ups or scale-ups. Collaborating or investing in start-ups improves our strategic position and hence, our competitive advantage, and ultimately it makes it easier to achieve our sustainable and CSR goals.”

Venture Manager Jasper Schuringa points to the many advantages of working with start-ups. “These organisations can be more innovative than corporates and are often focused on a particular challenge, which makes it possible to be more responsive in developing solutions.” They can also react quickly in the development phase and find the technical and supply solutions, he adds.

Exploring new technologies and markets

The idea behind the new unit is to bridge the gap between Damen’s research & development and product development activities and specific start-up knowledge. “Our venturing strategy makes it much easier to try new products and explore new technologies and markets. Nevertheless, the team also works in close cooperation with many departments within Damen such as R&D and Supply Chain Management, and their contribution supports the success of these ventures,” says Joerek.

The corporate venturing unit aims to stimulate both internal venturing, as well as external venturing. Internal venturing has its roots inside Damen and it can either be spun off or grow as an entity within Damen, while external venturing has its roots outside of Damen and can eventually become part of Damen or grow and remain partially independent.

Currently, most of the portfolio of start-ups have developed from their original Damen connections, two of them - Skoon and SolarDuck - are actually founded by former employees. Jasper comments: “Being typical Damen people they had been continually thinking about innovation. We provide a great environment – somewhat of an ‘incubator’ – for new ideas and opportunities.”

SolarDuck - floating solar platform

CEO and Co-founder of SolarDuck, Koen Burgers, smiles saying that actually the initial idea that led to this pioneering floating solar platform technology emerged from meeting like-minded colleagues in Damen’s corridors. For 10 years Koen was working for Damen Gorinchem, ultimately responsible for strategy and business transformation at the company, while Don Hoogendoorn, the CTO, was Principal Research Engineer (Structures & Production).

With the drive to achieve a sustainable planet, the two firmly believed that there were ample opportunities to generate energy at sea using solar energy. “Offshore wind is sometimes seen as the panacea because there is plenty of wind in Northwest Europe but sunshine presents interesting untapped opportunities throughout the globe.”

After lots of hard work at evenings and weekends, given their full-time jobs, SolarDuck was launched in 2019 and is now a fully-independent organisation. This scalable technology is based on triangular shaped platforms carrying the solar panels. These platforms can be easily coupled together to create bigger ‘energy plants’. A pilot project using 16 m triangles, whereby Damen built a 450 m2 structure, was installed in IJzendoorn where it produces energy for the Dekker Group.

Following the success of the pilot, the team is building a much larger demonstrator, where the triangles will be 24 m long. The technology of floating triangular platforms, which can be connected together, has already been patented. The next demonstration project is likely to be installed off the coast of Ostend in 2022 and the first commercial plant is expected to be in place in the following year.

The platforms will be connected, creating hexagonal floating ‘islands’ of up to 240 triangles. This would generate an impressive 10-12MWp, roughly the same as a current generation wind turbine deployed in the North Sea. SolarDuck has extensive traction globally and aims to scale to project sizes of 100MW and more. For this the company is partnering with global developers.

“We have a top-notch team with both in-house expertise in hydrodynamics and offshore structures but also our roots within Damen which helps us in fast tracking the development of the technology. We are really proud to have constructed the first floating solar technology application for offshore use, including all the relevant certification. The potential is immense, and it is great to be playing a role in the energy transition and team up with Damen in achieving these shared goals.”

Skoon Energy - accelerating the clean energy transition

An example of one of our venturing partners, which is dedicated to the most important challenge facing the planet today, is Skoon Energy. Skoon believes in the power of software to accelerate the clean energy transition.

The two founders, Peter Paul van Voorst and Daan Geldermans, actually did their internship at Damen while studying at TU Delft and they established the company in 2017. They were both fascinated by the concept of introducing electrical propulsion for large container vessels by using swappable battery containers, something that resonated with people within Damen. Peter Paul comments: “Many people inspired me at Damen and I was particularly interested in green solutions and how to enable ships to run on electricity. This also inspired Daan and I to consider the use of containerised systems.”

But the two soon realised that such batteries had to be standardised and that they were not only suitable for ships but many other applications as well. “We had the basic philosophy of making energy solutions more flexible and affordable to enable a scalable energy transition and of course this applies to many sectors such as construction sites, film sets, ports etc.”

Central software platform for clean energy assets

They then developed a central software platform, making mobile, clean energy assets available to a wide range of users.

In 2019, Skoon launched the world’s first battery sharing platform, Skoon Sharing. Batteries and hydrogen generators can now easily be registered and rented online. And to further support owners of such energy assets in efficiently growing their businesses, they developed Skoon Suite in 2020. This is a rental management software tool, specially designed to manage fleets of mobile energy assets.

“In the maritime world we are gradually going from a diesel solution to full electric energy. We are also moving away from the idea of owning energy solutions to sharing assets among many users, managed by an AI-driven software platform. This can be compared to the shift from computer servers on the premises to sharing servers with many users by working in the cloud. This saves costs, decreases investment risks and helps companies to keep up with the energy transition.”

Additionally, Skoon sees that its solutions can play a role as a buffer for the electricity grid, where the container becomes the ‘electric grid’ if supply and demand are not balanced. “For example if there are no grids available or in disaster areas, or when a location doesn’t have enough power to meet peak demand.”

Emile Poot, Director Corporate Development at Damen, is very proud to see the progress of the company. “In 2017 we were inspired by the idea and agreed to invest some ‘learning money’ in Skoon. However, we ultimately wanted to learn from the start-up. In the past perhaps Damen was a little bit too self-reliant and thought that it can do everything itself but in today’s world, which is developing so rapidly, working with start-ups allows us to familiarise ourselves with new innovations quickly.” And Damen is keen on being part of the journey with Peter Paul and Daan, showing its faith by converting its loan into shares. Peter Paul adds that Damen is helping the start-up professionalise by providing feedback and advice, and with its global presence, Damen helps support Skoon’s international growth.

“Many people inspired me at Damen and I was particularly interested in green solutions and how to enable ships to run on electricity.” Peter Paul Van Voorst Tot Voorst.

RunWell - UV-C led tiles for anti-fouling

Examples of external venturing

An example of External Venturing is highlighted by RunWell. This adventure started in 2014 within Philips as a new technology development with UV-C led tiles for anti-fouling. They teamed up with AkzoNobel in 2017 and in 2019 Damen was approached to join the venture. A collaboration was set up and various small scale trials demonstrated that the technology has high potential for Damen, AkzoNobel and its clients. Together with our partners we are now preparing the next step: a large-scale pilot of 25 m2. The purpose is to further test the UV-C led technology and develop the vessel integration process.

The team also collaborates with Sensing 360 B.V. which deploys advanced fibre strain gauge (fibre optical sensing) technology to measure real-time bearing and gearbox loads, torque, condition, speed and temperatures. “Collaborating with start- and scale-ups can be challenging for both the corporate, as well as the start-up. However, by having a dedicated unit and team to facilitate this process, we increase the chance of success for both!” Jasper stresses.

Future opportunities

The corporate venturing unit plans to grow a long list of potential, future opportunities that will be scouted by the team. These then go to the corporate venture committee, which is headed up by our CEO Arnout Damen. In true “Dragons’ Den style” the committee decides which start-ups fit in with Damen’s own strategy and sustainable ambitions. “We can boost our performance and operational excellence by working with organisations like these. Collaboration enhances our innovative capability and stimulates the competitive edge of our customers, the start-up and Damen!” Joerek stresses.

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