The fledgling consultancy company Drebble is supporting the business community and knowledge institutions in their efforts to digitalize, e.g. with AI and Internet of Things. Willem Remie and Pascal den Boef set up their start-up last year and in the meantime they already have five employees. The former students of the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) are cleverly marketing their knowledge. They aim to connect these two parties more by doing projects for both businesses and knowledge institutions. According to Willem Remie, this still does not happen often enough. “While that connection leads to even more innovation.”
What do you do at Drebble?
“We help companies and knowledge institutions with their digitalization issues. This includes all ‘buzzwords’, such as ‘Industry 4.0’ and ‘Internet of Things’. That sounds vague, but we try to make these technologies easy to implement and workable for companies.”
“At the moment, we’re working on a fantastic assignment for Total. We’re going to connect all gas-related activities to a cloud so that maintenance parties, for instance, can easily access the relevant data. This will make it easier for them, for one thing, to monitor maintenance at filling stations so that the company will no longer be faced with any surprises. Total is busy working on digitization initiatives and is also more and more focused on sustainability and innovation. We are doing our bit this way.”
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“We are also working on a Matlab toolbox for the TU/e. Matlab is a programming language. It is widely used in science to test theories and run simulations. Except at the moment, PhD students, graduates or other students often develop a separate code themselves in order to test a theory, among other things. Universities can build a library using Matlab where various research projects are brought together. As it is all in the same programming language, new research can get up and running faster. It also allows students and others to quickly keep on working on something after a project is finished and use the information that is available. It’s a shame if all those projects end up on the shelf because other people can’t read the codes.”
How did this all begin?
“I had already started out as a freelancer during my studies. Before that, I also worked while doing my degree. I did several things in the offshore oil and gas industry. But developments within those kind of companies didn’t go fast enough for me. The urge to be an entrepreneur was growing stronger. Three years ago I went to the Chamber of Commerce to register myself. I did the first project together with a fellow student. So straight away I had someone on the payroll.”
“For our first client, we designed and programmed a display for use in a gas pump. The display was designed to guide users through the process of tanking liquid gas. It actually works the same way as a regular petrol pump, but tanking gas is more dangerous and therefore the process is more complicated. There’s now a clear user manual for the consumer thanks to the display.”
“That was a great assignment during my studies, but now we’re focusing on more complex things. For instance, we’re working with the team on a project for the Le Mans 24 Hours motor race. A new classification will start in 2024 featuring racing with vehicles that are fully powered by hydrogen. Total is designing a refueling station to fill up the cars. Hydrogen is a complex gas. We have designed a mathematical model to fill a tank as optimally as possible, as fast and as full as possible”.
“Last April, Pascal and I decided to start a company together. That’s Drebble. With this, we can continue working on the stuff that we’ve already done and are going to expand this in the future, of course.”
What motivates you to do this?
“We want to work on technological challenges. In doing so, we find it very important that a technology is implementable in practice. Studying is fun, but an invention only really becomes worthwhile if it can be used in practice. Through Drebble, we are aiming to connect science with business. The theory should support the practice and move things forward. But that doesn’t always happen. That’s the gap we’re trying to fill.”
“As a start-up, we can do this more easily than, for example, universities themselves. Which, incidentally, they are busy with. Where a university is trying to give shape to collaborations in specific projects, we, as a young company, are very flexible. We literally sit at the conference table of such a company and see what’s needed. At Total, it took quite a long time before they actually realized that the world is changing and that they, as a company, should do something about it. In the meantime, we have garnered enough support and are consequently working on interesting projects.”
“We try to be involved on the university side as well as on the business side. And I try to convince companies that they must and can do something with the knowledge and innovations that are developed at a university. It strikes me that some companies have much greater access to a campus than others. The gap is smaller if the entrepreneurs themselves have built up a network around a university. But for the vast majority of entrepreneurs, especially SMEs, the campus is a kind of no-man’s-land where they don’t know what’s going on.”
What was your finest champagne moment?
“I spent almost a year talking to Total about the contract we won last September. That was an exciting time. Firstly, because we found the technical challenge very interesting and were eager to work on it. But also because it would provide us with financial security and a foothold. That’s often quite tricky for a start-up. That’s why we had a party when the deal was officially finalized.”
What can we expect from you in the coming year?
“We now have two major customers, TU/e and Total. We have a good relationship with them and a long-term collaboration, so that’s really nice. But we would like to add some other projects. In any case, Wolfpack is also going to support the project for Total. Wolfpack is another start-up that originated at the university. Various plans are being devised for digitalization in that organisation, and Wolfpack will help with developing specific applications. They will see to it that the plans are actually carried out.”
What is your dream for the future?
“We aim to show what we are capable of through these various assignments at various companies. We are always looking for clients who are willing to work together for a longer period of time. In the future we would very much like to do another project for or collaborate with ASML. That’s a major company in the high tech field. But in order to get a foot in the door there, we have to have proven ourselves. We’re working on that right now.”
“We are not the prototypical start-up fairy tale. We have a passion for technology. That’s what drives us and that’s what we want to be doing day and night. We intend with Drebble to only do projects that we like and where we see that there’s a challenge. Up until now, we have always managed to comply with this ‘rule’. Every month we look each other in the eye and ask if we still like being entrepreneurs. The answer is still ‘yes.’ And that’s what it’s all about, after all.”
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