The Fibersail shape sensor. Photo: InnoEnergy
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On March 19, Portugal’s economy and public life were officially shut down. Infection with COVID-19 had to be suppressed as soon as possible and like in many other countries, this meant a lockdown. For the co-founder of start-up Fibersail, Pedro Pinto, this meant that appointments and meetings on projects with customers started to be cancelled. “We had four to five projects in the pipeline that were then postponed,” says Pinto.
These are research projects and pilots in collaboration with commercial and R&D customers looking for solutions to reduce costs in the wind industry.

Pedro Pinto Photo: InnoEnergy

Fibersail has developed a technology to use sensors to measure deviations in the blades of wind turbines. This makes it possible to solve existing, common problems. By measuring the rotor it is possible to correctly estimate the value of the turbine and the wind farms, the risk and the remaining life span.

Stable market for wind energy

The market in which Fibersail operates is stable, says Pinto. The partners with whom they do business are large multinationals and energy producers who are financially very stable. The risk of these companies going under due to the COVID-19 crisis is therefore limited. That is an advantage for their business strategy. “We haven’t had to adjust it. It remains our mission to provide data that makes the supply of energy by wind turbines cheaper and more reliable,” says Pinto.

Change in the market is unlikely. With the commitment of European member states to the Paris climate targets of halving CO2 emissions by 2030, the market for wind energy will grow rather than shrink. Unique data through deep technology such as Fibersail’s to better control and manage wind turbines will therefore continue to be needed.

At least that is the expectation. “We are in a very competitive market. The competition is increasing its investments and acquisitions. This indicates that the wind industry is paying more and more attention to monitoring wind turbine blades. Our technology has been selected by world-renowned corporations and research institutes. For us, this is proof that we are on the right track.”

A few months’ delay

The intention is therefore to keep the momentum going. “The organizations and companies we work with have also had to adjust their strategy and operations during the first months of the lockdown. That’s why there was a lot of delay. But in the meantime they are operating almost as usual again.”

One might think that COVID-19 was a cakewalk for Fibersail, in a market that has such stable prospects for growth and with clients and business partners who are financially very stable. “It’s not quite like that,” says Pinto. “We had a runway that is normal for an early-stage start-up. But if you don’t intervene quickly and are not supported by the right partners and investors, you run the risk of being delayed even more.”

Initially, Pinto and his three colleagues came up with all kinds of contingency plans to keep their heads above water financially. But in the end, they didn’t need them as they could make use of various government and supplier repayment schemes. As a result, they managed to postpone the runway shortage.

Consultation with shareholders about COVID-19

As soon as it became clear that COVID-19 would delay their projects in the short term, Pinto and his colleagues called the shareholders together to discuss their options to get through the crisis. Their shareholder EIT InnoEnergy pledged extra money to invest in Fibersail. Another shareholder, Rockstart, made an investment earlier than originally planned. That extra money was crucial,” says Pinto. “We were able to increase our speed as a result, while some competitors were struggling.”

Still, Pinto is laconic. “We’ve overcome so many problems to get this company off the ground. This is just another hurdle. The best strategy you can have is to use your investment team to achieve the milestones you have set.”