Startups that orbit the industrial sphere are often unsung heroes. It’s a shame because what they do is every bit as interesting and innovative as their flashy B2C counterparts. Take Fluves for example: this Belgian startup created an advanced long distance monitoring system to protect energy cables that power offshore wind farms. The systems can measure strain, pressure, and temperature over long distances for all types of marine applications. What would inspire someone to come up with this crafty solution? Let’s find out.
It all starts with an idea
The Fluves ball started rolling when founder Thomas Van Hoestenberghe got his first taste of fiber optics at the engineering firm he was working at. “I was mesmerized,” he divulges, “Fiber optics allow you to measure a wide array of parameters in over 100,000 places. When a job using the technology came my way, I jumped on it. I had registered my own company before I even fully realized it.”
A year later, in 2015, Roel Van Thillo joined Fluves as Van Hoestenberghe’s partner.
“We met each other at Vlerick Business school,” the latter explains, “We’re very complementary in many ways: he’s the no-nonsense pragmatist, I’m a data-breathing bio engineer. I’m an optimist, he’s more of a pessimist. I’m a speaker, he’s a thinker. We have a good rapport.”
Getting the project off the ground
Fluves truly started getting into stride when it announced its joint venture with Parkwind, a developer and operator of wind farms in the North Sea. “They were a perfect match for us,” nods Van Hoestenberghe, “They’re a very innovative company and they didn’t just want to work with us – they wanted to invest in us. At that point, we already had Start it @kbc to guide us in our journey. Back when I applied for the program, I wasn’t even sure what my product was going to be yet, or where I would find my customers. I didn’t quite know how to explain any of it either. By the time we connected with Parkwind, however, I knew who I was and where I wanted to go.
Up until that point, we’d done a whole lot of bootstrapping and put in a lot of hard work. I’m happy to say that it all paid off. If anything, I wish I’d started Fluves sooner. I was already in my late 30s when I started, you see. Right now, we’re gearing up to conquer overseas markets. Belgium is small and there are only so many projects in such a niche market. Don’t get me wrong, we’re very appreciative of these local assignments, they’re golden, but in order to scale we have no choice but to aim for new horizons. Right now we’ve set our sights on San Francisco, and tenders are starting to roll in.”
“If anything, I wish I’d started Fluves sooner.”
Finding the right people
The final frontier in this success story boils down to finding the right people. “It’s definitely our biggest struggle,” admits the Belgian founder, “Finding people with the right skills has been rough. There is a lot of research and development involved in a novel technological field like ours, and researchers are accustomed to big bucks and stability. As a startup, that is something we just can’t offer right off the bat and I can tell that it deters certain people. But all in all I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far and even greater things are coming, I just know it. We have the best experts backing us up and we have a scalable product we believe in.”