SKOON and Damen: A successful startup-corporate collaboration story

The most amazing thing about this collaboration is that Damen is this huge corporate with a lot of people, projects and clients, and yet they still take the time to support us. They make our story better.

A story that started two years ago.

Peter Paul van Voorst tot Voorst is the founder of Rotterdam-based startup SKOON, which makes it possible to remotely charge vessels with the help of battery containers. The idea came about in a class at the TU Delft, where he was working on a solution to minimize the vibrations of diesel engines on ships. “I thought, if I took out the diesel engines, I would take out the vibrations. It would also make ships a lot greener.”

On the basis of this research, Peter Paul ventured out into the real world to make his findings a reality. Together with co-founder Daan Geldermans, they developed the concept of the SKOON box – a portable, container-sized battery. So-called swapping stations make it possible to swap batteries and have them recharged so no time is wasted in the port.

Break-through innovation in a traditional industry

Perhaps the most innovative part of the solution is their software, the SKOON Cloud. As the batteries generate a lot of data, the software helps customers make sense of it and find out exactly how sustainable they have been, both environmentally and financially. It also provides them with a fully automated logistics process, which should eventually “make ordering a battery as easy as booking a hotel.

SKOON is one of those young and innovative companies looking to make a dent in the centuries-old and rather traditional maritime industry, but include these same traditional companies in the process by cooperating with them.

The startup, with a team of now 13, certainly has the foundation and the innovative drive. What they need – or needed, in fact – was a way to build on that foundation and scale. And they found just the right partner to do it with, Dutch vessel manufacturer Damen Shipyards.

Damen invested in us last year and quickly became a very strong partner. Having the board of a large corporate see the potential of our solution was a big step for us as a company.” While the financial part of the investment was not necessarily too big for a corporate, “it was enough for them to have skin in the game,” Peter Paul says. 

Since then, both Damen and SKOON have been working hard on jointly solving the challenges that the corporate faces in embracing greener technologies.

The quirks of the startup-corporate collaboration

Making it on the radar of an industry giant like Damen might seem like quite a challenge at first. But it turns out that networking and a little bit of smart PR might just as well do the trick.

Peter Paul approached the company from two sides simultaneously. “I knew someone who worked at Damen and who told our story to the Chief Product Officer (CPO). In the meantime, I met the CFO at an event and it turned out that he had already read about SKOON on LinkedIn.” 

In no time, the startup was part of the corporate’s inner circle. If there is one lesson learned here, it is that networking can quickly bear the fruits of success. There is one catch, though: It is crucial for a startup to be in contact with the board, or at least have their direct buy-in. For a young and innovative company, it is important to be able to make quick decisions and the management can offer that. This is something Peter Paul learned the hard way. 

Of course, as in any startup-corporate collaboration, both companies had to get used to each other’s ways. As a startup, the team of SKOON are fast and innovative and look for challenges that they can solve here and now. Corporates, on the other hand, are more risk-averse and have bigger and heavier processes, which take time to set in motion.  

Surely, these differences can cause frustrations. That being said, they can also be at the heart of synergy. 

Often times, corporates like Damen have specific challenges that they need to solve. Just as often, though, those challenges involve risks that they are not willing to take. SKOON, thus, becomes the right party to handle them. “We get to work on cases that involve too much risk for the corporate; yet for our multidisciplinary team, they are easier to crack. Essentially, we come up with the solution and then Damen makes sure it is implemented and scaled.” 

It is the kind of startup-corporate relationship where complementary skills and an ambitious, common goal trump the differences that might exist. Seeing the value in such a partnership, SKOON recently announced a new strategic investment – this time from Koolen Industries, with the goal to jointly accelerate the energy transition. 

For SKOON, working closely together with a partner like Koolen Industries is a major milestone. “[Founder] Kees Koolen invests in energy-related companies that all add something to each other. The goal is to have a strong package on the energy transition,” says Peter Paul. “For us, this is great – it means that he sees us as a contribution to his group and to the bigger picture.

For a startup like SKOON, this second investment means future growth and internationalization. For Peter Paul personally, this is an opportunity to further share his passion for sustainability and clean energy, and not only get others excited about it, but convince large companies to become part of that movement, too.

Join the Rotterdam Capital Days Launch Event to hear Peter Paul van Voorst tot Voorst from Skoon and Kees Koolen from Koolen Industries talk about the scale-up phase! Click here to get tickets!

Author: Mina Nacheva

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