Last November, we celebrated three “Dutch wins” during the European Space Week. We can now add another “Dutch” success to the list. The overall winner of the ESNC GSA Challenge, Centrip, is being founded right here in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

Centrip will combine GNSS and ZigBee technology to ensure the safety of groups of children, for instance while they are out on school trips. The system is meant to alert the teacher in case one or more children move too far away from the group.

The idea behind Centrip was born during the International GNSS Summer School in 2016 and is now being developed further by Ewa Kadziolka and Philipp Muller. We spoke to Ewa, who is originally from Poland, about her big win and her plans for the future.

Centrip wins GSA Challenge at the 2017 ESNC

Where did the idea for Centrip come from?

“You probably want to hear that it came from a very personal experience, but I actually don’t have kids yet myself. I do think it is important that children are safe. Kids are always distracted by everything – like puppies or things like that. So teachers need an extra pair of eyes when they go on excursions.

The basic solutions that are being used now are from decades ago, like holding on to a rope, or wearing the same vests. There are technological solutions for single kids, but these are expensive even for a single child, not to mention a group of 25. Meanwhile, some teachers have been sued or even sent to jail for losing track of children on a school outing.

With Centrip, we combine existing technologies into a new application. Specifically for groups, no such application existed. Right now, kids are our priority, but in the future we might also expand to applications for parents, elderly people, or people with special needs.”

Where did your interest in space technology start?

“It’s not difficult to get interested in space. Space is interesting!

I studied and worked as a telecom engineer. During my studies, I had many opportunities to work with space-related topics. For instance, in a study group we worked on Moon and Earth orbiters.

After my studies, I had several ‘normal’ telecommunications jobs. But then I had the chance to go to the GNSS Summer School. It was great. It was a place like SBIC Noordwijk, where there was space for a different kind of thinking. The space to think big!”

Did you expect your business idea would win the overall GSA Challenge?

“No we didn’t, but we were certainly hoping we would.

Everything went so fast. The top-10 ideas were invited to enter the E-GNSS Accellerator Bootcamp in Tallinn. Shortly before, we found out that we needed an incubation centre to support us already at that point. So I only had a few days to find myself a new home. I was familiar with the Netherlands, so I knew that it would be a good place for Centrip, and for me.

We had one or two meetings with Martijn and Martijn from SBIC Noordwijk, and then it went like *this* [Ewa snaps her fingers]. We felt very confident entering the final competition with the support of SBIC.

At the award ceremony, there were so many distractions – the lights, the music, remembering not to fall over! When they called out our category, the GNSS Bootcamp where, unlike the other categories, the results had been kept secret, at first we didn’t even understand that they had actually awarded us first place! They only read out part of the prize name, so we needed a second to realize that it was us.

It was so surreal. I can’t even remember what music they played.”

What are the next steps for Centrip, now that you are starting your business in Noordwijk?

“As I learned from an inspiring TED Talk: “It’s all about timing.” You have to introduce your product when the market is ready for it. The technology is out there now, we are just combining it in a new way. So we have to move fast, before anyone else does it.

For us, it makes sense to start in an incubator. There are so many overwhelming things for a startup. And nobody at university ever taught me how to start a business. Here at SBIC, we don’t feel so lost. There is always someone showing up to help, or to talk to, or to show you in the right direction.

First, we have to validate our idea and properly define our market. And we want to involve early innovators, we want customers to be involved in the process. We are now receiving individual coaching through Verhaert. The next step is to expand our team and then apply for ESA BIC.

It really is a privilege to be here. Without the funding from the GSA Special Prize and the E-GNSS Accelerator, maybe the company would have happened, but I’m not sure how or when. It’s really great to go from such a competition to a place of support.”