Continuing in the month of Maritime Day, we present you as September’s Entrepreneur of the Month another winner of the Blue Invest 2018, the matchmaking event in blue economy organised by the European Commission – DG Mare and supported by EBN and EBN Members, that took place on 17 May in Brussels.
We have already discovered the story of FuVeX, now it is the turn on Marlinks, a startup making lives of offshore wind professionals easier by monitoring wind turbines’ power cables and preventing their exposure to the seafloor and the associated risks, while saving millions of euros in repair costs and lost revenues.
In the time of raising threats of global warming, alternative and renewable sources of energy such as wind energy have become increasingly important in combating climate change. Wind turbines, especially the ones offshore, are one of the main instruments in harnessing wind power.
Established in 2017, Marlinks originated from the cooperation of two companies Fluves and Parkwind. Fluves team (among them Roel Vanthillo who later became Marlinks’ Managing Director), developed technique of continuous burial depth measurement during a research project for an onshore application. As the tool evolved, they noticed it would also be applicable in the offshore industry. Fluves started scanning several offshore wind developers for collaboration, and Parkwind, an offshore wind developer, immediately recognised the value of this innovative technique. Therefore, they decided to join forces in a mutual research project: to investigate the use of the same technique for offshore power cables, and thus disruptively improving the burial depth monitoring of offshore power cables in the offshore wind industry. The project turned out to be successful, so a joint-venture was launched to commercialise the project results: Marlinks was born. Marlinks’ co-founder Parkwind invested in the startup while also being the perfect test bed for developing and polishing Marlinks’ technology during the process.
When compared to onshore wind turbines, the offshore ones are more effective in using wind energy as the wind blows stronger at the water level. Despite this advantage, the offshore wind professionals face challenges when extracting this renewable source of energy, and one of the reasons is the difficulty of keeping the turbines’ power cables stabilised and buried in the seabed due to the water and seabed movements. While working on a research project in Fluves, Roel and his team often talked to offshore wind professionals and saw how their expertise in continuous burial measurement can actually tackle this problem.
If power cables become exposed to the seafloor , they are vulnerable to anchors, fishing nets and other threads which can lead to millions of euros in repair costs and lost revenues.
How does Marlinks tackle this issue?
Capitalising on the previous experience while working in Fluves, Marlinks’ co-founders Roel, an engineer with the vast experience of working in the wind industry, and Thomas, expert in sediment and soil measurement, developed a range of services enabling continuous monitoring of offshore power cables: the software application focusses on the burial depth of the cables, using thermal models combined with distributed temperature measurements (DTS) of the cable In this way, Marlinks reduces total cable risk during the operations phase and protects the offshore wind professionals from damages due to buried cables. Furthermore, Marlinks’ trend-analysis warns if any responsive actions need to be taken to prevent the damages, which is especially important nowadays with the drop of government subsidies to wind farms.
Challenging beginnings and how has EBN Member IMEC supported them
It was not an easy task to start a company operating in such a niche market such as Marlinks. Having only offshore wind professionals as clients and developing precise software tools, specifically designed to perform in an unpredictable environment, required many hours of testing and fine-tuning the tools to make them reliable and well-performed. Moreover, a significant amount of funding was required to support these R&D efforts. EBN Member IMEC (Belgium), the world-leading R&D and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, has played a major role in the establishment of Marlinks. While still at Fluves and exploring the applicability of their measurement expertise in the offshore industry, Imec offered a wide variety of services to the startup; besides funding, Imec offered them mentoring services, helped them define their value proposition, as well as with the initial negotiations with Parkwind which ended up being a success.
Marlinks team from left to right: Tim Mannaerts, Co-founder and Operations Manager, Thomas Van Hoestenberghe, Co-founder and Technology Manager, Roel Vanthillo, Co-founder and Managing Director
Thanks to the collaboration with Parkwind, their first partner and client, Marlinks had the opportunity to polish the process of continuous offshore burial depth measurements by working closely and testing the tools and processes with their “typical customer”. From then on, Marlinks started testing their technologies while slowly gaining visibility in countries using offshore wind turbines to create a sustainable source of energy (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, UK, etc).
Marlinks – Blue Invest 2018 winner supported by EBN and EBN Member Nantes Atlanpole
Marlinks was one of the two winners along with FuVeX (read their story here) at Blue Invest 2018 (17 May 2018). This unique opportunity for startups active in maritime and blue economy gave them the chance to pitch and get real-time feedback from professionals specialised in the sector. For this adventure, Marlinks had the support of EBN Member Nantes Atlanpole.
From 120 startups applied 20 got selected, which had the opportunity to practice their pitches with the help of EBN and EBN Members WestBIC, Nantes Atlanpole, Lazio Innova, and TVT, at the EBN premises the day before. Marlinks didn’t expect this success to happen:
“As our company is in an early stage, we were very happy just to pitch at Blue Invest – for us that’s was an opportunity to spread the word about Marlinks, so we didn’t expect to win. The preparation a day before at EBN premises and coaching services we received from Samuel Bachelot ( EBN Member Nantes Atlantpole) and feedback from EBN CEO Javier Echarri helped us prepare for the final pitching the day after”.
— EBN (@EUBIC) 18 mai 2018
The event gave them opportunity to network with the experts in the field and attend EBN Congress, where they pitched among many other startups pitching in space, growth, and industry category.
The next steps
Marlinks team is in the final stage of commercialising their technologies, testing them with their partner and customer, Parkwind. The team has already customers in the pipeline and besides European countries they plan to explore growing markets in the United States and Taiwan which are increasingly using offshore wind turbines for producing renewable energy.
Since the initial support of Imec and Parkwind, the team has been mainly depending on their savings, determined to fine tune their technologies prior going to the market. On a question what drives them every day to work hard despite the lack of funding and uncertainties, Roel, Marlinks’ Managing Director, said:
“Our role might be small, but I like to think that by ensuring the offshore wind turbines operate efficiently, we do play a role in efficient use of renewable energy and in the same way making our contribution in combating global warming”.
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