Many of the companies in the ESA BIC program do not meet the pizza-and-beer startup stereotype, nor do they fit into the myth of the Silicon Valley-type garage startup. In fact, most entrepreneurs in the program have a solid background as engineers, business developers, or both.
Eyeplane is an example of such a team that is bursting with experience. When asked about his background, business developer Jurriaan Pröpper answers that he “makes money-making machines.” CEO Rob Sturm, who has almost a decade of experience as a manager in the aviation business, and who has been an entrepreneur for more than 15 years, says he enjoys coming up with new ideas “but ideas aren’t any fun unless you can bring them to market.”
Drones for a good night’s sleep
Their startup Eyeplane, which they co-founded with Rutger Kramer, proposes an innovative fixed-wing drone service, which will be able to monitor large areas of land from the sky and warn customers in case of irregularities.
The starting point for the business was not (just) love for drone technology, but a very concrete customer question. Pröpper explains how they arrived at the business idea: “When I meet entrepreneurs, I always ask them two questions: How do you make your money and what keeps you up at night?” Pröpper met their soon-to-be launching customer ‘Johan’, who loses precious sleep because of troubles that Eyeplane can solve by watching his property from the sky in real-time. “In retrospect I followed the lean startup approach from the customer need to the solution and technology,” Pröpper says.
The Eyeplane team is hesitant to share too many details about their business case. “What we propose does not exist yet, but someone else could in theory have the same idea.” Sturm explains. “That is why we joined the incubator: to speed up our development.”
Both Sturm and Pröpper enjoy speaking in metaphors. Right now, “the car is there, and we have to build the right engine from available components,” Pröpper explains. Meanwhile, Sturm as CEO of the startup is “playing chess on several boards at once.”
The Eyeplane service itself can be described as a ‘fire alarm’: “we don’t prevent anything, but we can observe from the sky and quickly alert the customer in case of danger to prevent damage,” Pröpper explains the metaphor. “My time at Unilever has taught me that a good business case combines the functional with the emotional. Emotion does not cost anything, but a good night’s sleep is priceless to a customer.”
The Netherlands as global drone hub
Eyeplane hopes to scale up to a global service very soon, but the roots of the founders and their business remain solidly in South-Holland. “We want to add a little bit to the Dutch glory. This is one of those problems that we in The Netherlands are better equipped to solve than the people in the countries where the problem is,” Pröpper believes.
The men have grand plans to make the Netherlands the global hub for drone service technology, preferably right here in their own back yard in Noordwijk.