The 10 Dutch Breakthrough Technologies
From meat grown outside the cow to robots performing complex surgery. This is the first edition of the 10 Dutch Breakthrough Technologies for 2018.
For centuries the Netherlands has been the home for the discovery of many innovative solutions that have changed the world. Whether it’s Bluetooth, the Compact Disc or even Wi-Fi. This is in part thanks to being the home to some of the world’s most prestigious universities who aren’t just about teaching the next generation. What they represent are the pioneers of breakthrough technologies and from that the businesses that spin-off from them.
This list has been compiled in consultation with leading academics, investors and industry experts to showcase the next big dutch breakthrough technologies that will have an impact on our lives. For this first edition we see companies attempting to put an end to unsustainable livestock farming, machines giving a voice to those who cannot speak and how the world is changing with gene editing. So keep on reading, learn about these examples and stay in the know about technologies that will be changing your life in the years to come.
1. Cultured Meat
Consuming meat is one of the most extravagant ways to feed ourselves. The impact of livestock farming on the environment is huge, creating 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. As consumers, we find change difficult especially when it comes to our eating habits. Now companies are creating new innovative ways for people to get their meat without the negative carbon footprint. Imagine a future where you can get a burger without needing to raise a cow.
Companies such as Mosa Meat, a Maastricht University spin-off are creating lab-grown meat. The project began in 2013 with the world’s most expensive hamburger, costing $330,000 the burger was made using cultured meat. In 2018 the company already backed by the likes of Google’s Sergey Brin raised $8.8M to begin commercializing the manufacturing the process.
The process of making cultured meat (also known as clean meat) is similar to making livestock meat, except the cells grow outside the animal’s body. The first step is to take some cells from the muscle of an animal, such as a cow if you’re making beef, which is done with a small biopsy under anesthesia. From one sample from a cow, Mosa Meat can produce 800 million strands of muscle tissue (enough to make 80,000 quarter pounders). Since the inception of the company lab-grown burgers have come down in price by almost 97%. Mosa Meat aims to open a production location in the Netherlands by 2021 where it can produce patties at a cost of 8.50 euros each, due to drastic cuts in the production and development costs.
Mark Post, co-founder of Mosa Meat explains “Keeping animals for meat is a huge waste of edible grains, arable land, and clean water, not to mention the diseases that are spread through animals to the human population. Our technology will not only stop the slaughtering of animals but also have a huge impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Another promising company in this space is Meatable. Meatable claims it doesn’t use cells from slaughtered cows instead entirely sourcing stem cells from animals’ umbilical cords. The company has raised $3.5 million from three venture capital firms in 2018, and will look to have products in restaurants in four years.
2. Future of Printing
Printing has been around for 1000’s years, dating all the way back to Mesopotamia. So what’s so new about this, where’s the breakthrough? Well, of course, 3D printing has been making waves for the past 5–10 years under the initial promise of one in every home. This hasn’t yet happened but the industry continues to make huge strides in innovation worth talking about (both 3D, 2D, and coatings).
One company in the 3D printing sector is pioneering a new form of manufacturing is Luxexcel. This fast-growing startup is 3D printing lens for glasses. Traditionally, a lens blank is manufactured extremely inefficiently. First, it is created in a large manufacturing plant, then shipped and then held until it is needed. After this, it is then customized for the patient where excess material is cut way to create the final shape. This finishing takes more than 10 machine processing steps and lots of manual work. Around 80% of the original material is wasted in the cutting (grinding) process.
In contrast, Luxcexcel using 3D printing, meaning that they build up the lens layer by layer. This process means no need for stocking blanks, stock picking, blocking, taping, grinding, polishing, marking, de-blocking and de-taping. This is all now replaced with one step, just the 3D printing, reducing the time to market, cost and carbon footprint of the industry.
They are the first in the world to do so and in the process are reducing the inefficiencies of this industry ripe for disruption. The applications for their glasses include occupational lenses, polarisation foils and lens with embedded sensors. In 2017 Luxexcel funding totaled $24 million and in 2018 their operations expanded as they began delivering custom lens for the AR/VR market.
2D printing isn’t being left behind either. Inkless by Tocano, a spin-off from Technical University Delft is trying to fix the big office nuisance of running out of ink. Inkless has developed an inkless printer and is bringing it to market in 2018. Existing inkless technologies require a specially coated substrate to print on. Inkless is using a laser-based monochrome inkless printing technique that allows for printing on thin materials without consumables. In April 2018 Inkless raised €1 million in series A funding that will allow them to bring their technology to market.
Back to 3D printing, Iamfluidics a spin-off from the University of Twente is 3D bioprinting. Iamfluidics recently developed a new technique that allows for the 3D printing of structures with living cells. The technique, which the scientists call in-air microfluidics (IAMF), is flexible and fast, allowing for viable micro building blocks to be produced, then used to repair damaged tissue. IAMF is a patented method that is up to a 1000x faster than standard microfluidics. This breakthrough could have a huge impact on tissue engineering and tissue repair.
The final area is coatings, products and alike are increasingly post-processed with a variety of substances and materials. LipoCoat a spin-off from the University of Twente develops bacterial repellent coatings for the medical industry. For example coatings for catheters or prostheses. Qlayers is another example but focuses on being the platform for applying coatings on large surfaces. They act as the springboard for research labs to release their innovative coatings on the market.
3. Surgical Robots
Surgical robots now allow doctors to perform different types of complex procedures with more precision, control and flexibility than conventional techniques. Major advances aided by surgical robots include remote surgery, minimally invasive surgery, and even unmanned surgery. Using surgical robots comes with the benefits to the patient of a reduced time in the hospital, less chance of blood loss and limited need for pain medication.
Universities around the Netherlands are pushing this technology forward. This year Sarthak Misra, professor of Surgical Robotics at the University of Twente received a proof of concept grant to further develop a flexible and ‘smart’ needle. The instrument can be used for minimally invasive procedures and is equipped with sensors that steer the needle to the optimal path through the human body. This way unnecessary damage to the tissue can be avoided.
At the Technical University in Eindhoven, distinguished professor and entrepreneur Maarten Steinbuch is also developing surgical robots. First, his department developed Preceyes, a robot-pen that helps stabilize the surgeon’s hand while performing eye surgery. In 2016 Preceyes was tested in Oxford and today it is being used in multiple hospitals in the Netherlands.
Following on from this success Microsure was founded, creating a surgical robot that can assist in microsurgery, for example reconnecting blood vessels. The robot works by converting the movements of the surgeons’ hands into more precise and tremor-free movements. Microsure raised €500,000 in a venture round from Innovation Industries in March of this year after clinical trials proved successful.
The next big thing Steinbuch is involved with is Eindhoven Medical Robotics, who are working on RoBoSculpt: a surgical robot that can drill precision holes in the base of the skull. RoBoSculpt began development this year and hopes to be brought to market in the next 5 years. RoBoSculpt is a joint effort of TU Eindhoven / Radboud UMC Nijmegen / Eindhoven Medical Robotics/
4. Brain-Controlled Computer Interfaces
What if we could ‘read’ the brain and let it speak, helping those who no longer have a voice speak again. Brain-controlled computer interfaces do just, allowing a connection between the brain, interpreting brain signals to direct an external device such as a computer or prosthetic. Harnessing the power of the brain to control devices is no longer reserved just for science fiction. The uses for this technology include helping those with ALS, traumatic head injuries and far more applications in the fields of medicine.
One company pioneering this field is MindAffect who raised €1 million this year. The spinoff from Radboud University has developed a technology that enables ALS patients to communicate again. One of the founders Peter Desain, a professor of Artificial Intelligence previously performed over 20 years of research in this field. The technology works by a patient wearing a headset that measures electrical brain activity. Through visually directing their attention at specifically designed stimulus, such as a special keyboard, the BCI matches the brain signals with the stimulus. This allows a patient to spell per letter. To show how easy to use and how reliable the method is, MindAffect tested their Brain-Computer Interface at LowLands, a music festival in the Netherlands, where hundreds of people jointly wrote a story using MindAffect.
Another company working in the space is Braincarta. Although not specifically developing Brain Controlled Computer Interfaces, what they are building will assist with the future of the technology. They have developed a way to detect focal points within the brain, using fMRI-technology. During surgery their product creates and evaluates maps of important brain regions, to aid the neurosurgeons and protect important tissue. Nick Ramsey, the professor from Utrecht University behind Braincarta, also successfully placed a brain implant that allows an ALS-patient to wirelessly control a speech computer. Braincarta was officially launched in 2018 after completing clinical trials.
Still, in its inception phase with some positive test results this year, the Netherlands Brain Institute is researching the potential of connecting a camera directly to the visual cerebral cortex. For those without the option for a retinal prosthesis, this offers an opportunity to restore some sight, with the camera relaying visuals observations with small streams to the brain. The first tests in patients are not planned at this stage, but it is expected that people will be treated with the results of this study in five years’ time.
5. Regenerative Medicine
Organ transplants and artificial medical devices play a vital role in keeping 100,000’s of people alive and well every year. This reliance on these methodologies though does not solve the problem at the core, restoring healthy original tissues. Naturally, our bodies contain stem cells which have the ability to regenerate damaged tissue. Regenerative Medicine is a branch of medicine that creates methods to regrow, fix and replace diseased/damaged cells, organs and tissues. Specifically cellular therapy stem cells, tissue engineering and the production of artificial organs.
Four Dutch universities (Eindhoven, Leiden, Utrecht, and Maastricht) are joining forces in their research on regenerative medicine. The virtual institute called RegMed XB in its second year connects the best Dutch and Belgian public (universities and governments) and private (health foundations and companies) partners that will work together to develop regenerative medicine solutions to health challenges. The organization secured €25 million to kick off their research, which could grow to €250 million over the next ten years.
Multiple spin-offs have formed in the field of regenerative medicine in the Netherlands thanks to being the home of some of the world’s most prestigious medical schools and research centers. These include TU Eindhoven spinout STENTIT, who use in situ engineering to create slow-degradable stents. This startup, run by two former PhD-students, initiated pre-clinical trials in 2017.
Another example is Hy2Care a spin-off from MIRA Institute for Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine of the University of Twente, the Netherlands. Currently, Hy2Care develops in situ gelating bioresorbable hydrogels for the arthroscopic treatment of cartilage defects, aiming at functional cartilage repair. This offers a new way to treat Osteoarthritis, the 4th leading cause of mobility associated disability which affects more than 100 million patients in the Western world.
The list doesn’t stop there, Xeltis another TU Eindhoven spin-off closed €45 million in Series C funding in 2017. They are working collaboratively on the ImaValve, a replacement for outdated synthetic or pig valves. Their solution is a high-tech plastic alternative that is slowly broken down by the body being replaced by body cells. This alternative means patients don’t lifelong medication and deal with possible rejection.
Finally, Mimetas based in Leiden closed a series B round of $20 million in April 2018. Mimetas are pioneering organ on a chip technology developing human organ-on-a-chip tissue models and products for drug development. MIMETAS has developed models for the kidney, liver, gut, brain and a range of oncological applications, that offer better predictivity towards human physiology as compared to laboratory animals and conventional cell culture models.
6. NextGen batteries & energy storage
Everyone’s been there, you grab your phone out of your pocket and panic sets in as you see 2% battery remaining. It’s a common occurrence for many as batteries for consumer products haven’t really advanced in the past 10 years. On top of this lack of innovation, we have become more reliant than ever on battery-powered devices including smartphones, wearables and more. What manufacturers have done to combat this is to optimize hardware to maximize inefficiencies in batteries and energy storage. On top of this consumer reliance, electric vehicles have become more popular making us even more reliant on the capabilities of batteries and energy storage.
One company working on a solution to this problem is Lithium Werks. Kees Koolen, the Chairman of the Board and ex-CEO of Booking.com announced this year that they will build a major clean energy research and development (R&D) campus at Twente Airport investing more than €100 million.
Lithium Werks produces lithium-ion phosphate batteries, also known as LFP batteries. In order to be able to develop the next generations of storage techniques, Lithium Werks is cooperating with the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The university operates advanced materials research facilities, such as the MESA+ NanoLab, and is familiar with control electronics and artificial intelligence.
Koolen himself is putting $41 million of his own money into the venture and expects to raise an additional $300 million by year-end from investors and Oost NL, a development agency in the Netherlands. By 2025, Lithium Werks plans to have 10 plants, investing $2 billion, each with an output of 1-gigawatt hour a year, enough for 20,000 electric cars.
“In order to achieve a real transition, from fossil fuels to renewables, energy has to be available in the right place and at the right time,” said the initiator Kees Koolen, chairman of the board, Lithium Werks. “Over the next five years, we will recruit some 2,000 people to develop clean energy technologies at the campus.”
Another company working more specifically on energy storage is AquaBattery. The AquaBattery is the only electrical storage system that is 100% sustainable. The team has developed an innovative product that stores electricity solely using water and table salt. At the moment the Aquabattery team is building their first pilot on The Green Village in Delft. Here the battery will store the electricity of solar panels and make sure the residents can enjoy renewable electricity day and night.
Leyden Jar, a Leiden based startups are working on the scalable production of nanostructured materials. Closing €1.5 million this year, they are building molecular protection to extend battery life by up to (1.200 Wh/l). Already this year big steps have been made as they have reached extending their test batteries to 1.000 Wh/l.
Is photonics the answer to Moore’s Law? With our growing need for data and the transition to a 5G network, electronic chips may not be able to cut it anymore. Photons (light) can carry more data than electrons, are faster and can reduce the energy consumption in data traffic. Photonics is, therefore, a key enabling technology in this era of digitalization.
The Netherlands is positioned at the forefront of these developments and has a rich history in this field. Dating back to the 60’s Phillips developed optical fiber-technology. It was used in the telecommunications industry and also in the development of CDs, DVDs, and Blu ray. In July 2018 the Dutch government understand the future of photonics and announced an investment of 224 million euros in the development of the technology.
Ton Backx from the Institute of Photonic Integration is positive about this next step into Photonics: “This technology is going to change the world and solve some of the grand challenges we are facing. This technology will enable precision robots, medical sensors, optical variations on ultrasound, autonomous driving, smart cities and more. All these technologies will be based on the fundamentals of photonics.”
New startups in the Netherlands are forming to move this technology forward, specifically in the field of integrated photonic chips. Lionix and SMART Photonics are two examples: both foundries that allow other companies to build made to measure photonic chips. SMART Photonics in September 2018 raised €6 million and turned €4.5 million in loans into shares. This major investment will fund improving their production process whilst giving them a foundation for their next step in building a full production plant.
EFFECT photonics a spinout from TU Eindhoven also secured series A funding in 2018 (amount undisclosed). The funding will bring its Optical System-on-Chip technology to market to meet the soaring demand for bandwidth in cell towers and between datacentres. EFFECT Photonics develops and delivers highly integrated optical components based on InP (Indium Phosphide). Using EFFECT Photonics’ System-on-Chip Technology, port density can be increased by over 6-times and operational expenses reduced by 40% when compared with existing approaches.
The world is paying attention to the Photonics developments happening in the Netherlands. This year Synopsys, the world’s 15th largest software company acquired the Enschede based PhoeniX Software for an undisclosed amount. PhoeniX is a global supplier of photonic chip design solutions and acts as a proof point for the level of Photonics innovation happening in the Netherlands.
8. Change the world with Crispr-CAS
In the late nineties in Wageningen, the foundation was laid for a very promising new technology. Professor John van der Oost discovered the mechanism of CRISPR-based immunity in bacteria, paving the way for developing CRISPR-mediated genome editing. Van der Oost published his renowned paper in 2008 showcasing his discovery. The bacteria have small pieces of the DNA of its predators built in its own DNA. Copies of those strings (RNA) guard the cell and attack incoming viruses that they recognize by coming in between the DNA strands of the virus. Once they are inside they cut the strings of the virus with a protein scissor and kill it. The study also showed that the protein scissors can be sent to the right place in the DNA to do their damage. This was the first example of programmable gene editing, subsequently developed for the CRISPR-Cas9 system that has been been further used by many research groups for applications ranging from fundamental protein research to revolutionary treatments for diseases including sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and HIV.
Hudson River Biotech (HRB) based at Wageningen Campus University focuses on developing innovative, new traits for plants that are used to produce high-value compounds for the pharma, cosmetics and food industries. Put simply they can do things such as increasing the yield of a specific compound in plants thus making natural ingredients cheaper. In addition, HRB offers their molecular breeding and target identification expertise as an end-to-end service solution for accelerating breeding efforts to plant breeders, seed companies and natural ingredient producers of all sizes. Combined, these efforts ultimately contribute to solving global food challenges such as the need for improved nutritional value or reduced pesticide use. This year HRB raised a seed investment round to expand their team and grow their R & D activities.
On a final note BunyaVax although not using CRISPR-cas are worth mentioning as they utilize RNA. They have developed a technique to quickly develop vaccines for fast-spreading viruses. Instead of using the virus in the vaccine, a piece of genetic material (RNA) of the virus is used. This piece of RNA will settle in the cell and will cause the cell to produce virus proteins, causing the defense system of the cell to go to work. In 2018 the technology will be tested for the first time by vaccinating pigs for pigs influenza.
9. Gut Health
It may not be at the top of your list when looking to have a healthy lifestyle but the gut is more important than you might think. The gastrointestinal system is the most important place when taking in and absorbing nutrients. On top of this, the critical digestive organs act as a signaling station to and from the brain whilst also acting as one of the body’s frontlines in the fight against the disease. Three Dutch companies are taking gut health to a whole new level, providing solutions to not only better your nutrition but also cure disease. Two, in particular, are looking to battle diabetes type 2, expected to be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030 [http://www.who.int/diabetes/en/].
Newtricious is a spin-off from a family-owned poultry company that was founded in 1956. No longer focused on just hatching eggs the team from Newtricious now develop natural and clinically proven ingredients based on eggs, which contribute to human well-being. These ingredients can be used in functional foods, nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, and medical foods. Products include a “Healthy Aging” drink that improves the sharpness of vision, reduces the loss of vision with aging, protects eyes from excess blue light and improves cognitive function. Five clinical studies that included over 500 individuals have been conducted in cooperation with renowned hospitals and universities worldwide to confirm this.
A-Mansia a spin-off from the joint research conducted by the UCL (Belgium) and Wageningen University, focuses on the prevention of diseases and disorders associated with obesity and diabetes. The spin-off raised €13 million in 2018 so that in three years’ time, they can bring their first nutritional supplement to market. The product will be based on the bacterium Akkermansia, this bacterium can be taken as a dietary supplement to reduce the effects of obesity and diabetes.
Lastly, Caelus Health, a spin-off from the University of Amsterdam and is also active in treating people by positively affecting the gut. Caelus Health is a biotech company developing an entirely new class of Microbiome Therapeutics for the reduction of insulin resistance and prevention of Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) in people with metabolic syndrome. Their first medical trials began this year and potentially could lead to delaying the onset of Type 2 Diabetes in people who are overweight.
10. Plant breeding
The Dutch have a rich history in agriculture, continually at the forefront of farming. The world reaps the benefits of this expertise with the Netherlands being the world’s second-biggest exporter of food. What makes this statistic even more impressive is that the Netherlands finishes 2nd with 270 times less land mass than first place (U.S.A).
One key area of agriculture is making sure you cultivate crops that have positive attributes such as a strong resistance to disease. The way in which this happens can be through genetic engineering or selective breeding. One company making waves in traditional planting breed is Solynta. The Dutch selective breeding company Solynta secured a major investment in late 2017 of €16 million in series B based on their technique to breed a phytophthora-resistant potato. The phytophthora-fungus causes € 10 billion in damages per year worldwide. While the Netherlands is already leading the potato-breeding market, Solynta is causing its own revolution. They want to reduce the time it takes to breed a new potato from 15 to just 5 years.
Where a few years ago growing a potato out of seed instead of a seed-potato was laughed upon, now it seems the way to go to feed the world since seeds are much easier to ship all over the world and less vulnerable to viruses and decay. This could lead to Solynta having a real impact in the next few years not only at bringing about disease-free crops but also scalable potato production for the hunger crisis.
One other major breakthrough this year was two of the Netherlands biggest flower and plant breeders and propagators, Florist Holland and HilverdaKooij announced this year that they plan to merge. The merger of these two companies represents a potentially huge step forward for plant breeding as they combine their efforts in innovating next-generation plants. The joint focus will primarily on innovative cultivation and breeding techniques. Both companies have already purchased 10 acres of land together and by 2020 they will begin working together.
Thank you to the following for helping to put together this list:
Jaap Beernink, NovelT
Hans Boumans, TNO
Harm de Vries — Innovations Industries
Oscar Kneppers, Rockstart
Ivo de Nooijer — Luris , Leiden University — LUMC
Robert Verwaayen — Keen Venture Partners
Dick Broer TU Eindhoven
Jan Meiling, Wageningen University & Research Centre
Emma Kluwen, Yes!Delft
Nils Beers, StartupDelta
Anne-Wil Lucas, StartupDelta
Writer: George Fisher-Wilson, StartupDelta