Those of you that follow my writing know how passionate I am about the role of marketing in sustainability and I continue to be amazed by the progress of startup companies in this space.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Martijn Ildiz, Founder and CEO of Dutch startup, IM Efficiency, a company utilising the latest in mobility technologies and a passion for improving efficiency in the road freight transportation sector.
The company has recently introduced its first commercial technology, the SolarOnTop, a low-cost solution for transportation companies to decrease fuel consumption among their vehicles, designed to help decrease fuel consumption. Martijn and his team pride themselves on using highly non-conventional thinking to get to their solutions.
Martijn: “Our team has a passion for making transport more sustainable and efficient, taking advantage of technological advancements in carbon neutral, affordable and renewable energy sources. Recently we have introduced our first commercial technology, the SolarOnTop. With flexible solar panels, SolarOnTop supplies the truck with green electricity which can be generated as the vehicle makes its journey. With this technology, the trucks become mobile solar parks, reducing more costs and emissions than solar panels that are connected to the grid, as well as reducing the need for idle engines to charge appliances inside the vehicle.”
Impressive stuff and potentially a game-changing use case for this technology—and an idea that came from a unique perspective and plenty of test-and-learn iteration.
“I used to do freerunning with friends and frequently saw solar panels on buildings and houses, but never on trucks or freight vehicles—and had a light bulb moment! We started developing SolarOnTop in 2016, and we are now going to the customer which highlights just how much research was required for development and testing. Working with a team of developers, we created the concept and technology in a laboratory, before rolling out prototypes with a select number of trucks on the road.”
One of the company’s key breakthrough moments came through a partnership. Approaching IoT connectivity provider Wireless Logic, who manage over 6 million IoT subscriptions across 165 countries, the company’s speed to market was greatly accelerated.
“We soon realised that SIM cards and an efficient SIM connectivity platform solution would be required to achieve our goals, and we approached Wireless Logic in Spring 2020 about connecting our vehicles using cellular connectivity. In the space of a few weeks, our fleet of trucks was fitted with roaming SIMs that automatically linked them to the cloud, allowing our team to track performance remotely.”
One of the biggest challenges IM Efficiency encountered in the early stages of its product development cycle was monitoring and controlling their prototypes to performance data from one of the test trucks—a problem solved by cloud technologies.
“At first we would have to physically connect our tablet or laptop device to the vehicle in question. This manual approach is feasible when you’re dealing with a single truck, but it becomes a far more time-consuming challenge when you have a fleet of many vehicles. As a result, we agreed that connecting our technologies to the cloud would be the ideal solution to this problem.”
As well as benefiting from technology acceleration, as a startup, IM Efficency also gained real consultative value when working with a larger partner. Wireless Logic’s transparent approach was very much welcomed and appreciated as ultimately the company hopes to identify new ways to roll out their technology across the globe.
“With innovative technologies, it has become possible to meet the electricity demand of heavy-duty vehicles with onboard clean energy. We are excited to introduce our customers to our technology and demonstrate how we can leverage the power of the sun while driving. Our goal is to highlight the business case of implementing SolarOnTop in vehicle fleets, as the break-even period is less than three years and offers a solution to significantly reduce fuel consumption.”
This ambition has developed through out-of-the-box thinking and the company has a team consisting of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences—all of which have allowed them to do some really interesting innovation.
“We are proud to have an international team with a number of different backgrounds, but we all share a common passion for innovation, sustainability and transportation. Thanks to having great relations with top Universities in the Netherlands, there are always students from different countries and continents, and we love having this international mix! We all bring new insights to the table, whether on a professional or personal level.”
Martijn believes that sustainability in transportation should be affordable and reliable. Key to this is developing innovative ideas and creative thinking. As the company progressed through its various design phases, there were numerous challenges in trying to implement their designs—however working with end-customers and generating data early was key.
“We promote thinking of the unthinkable. We cherish the input our key customers give us, thanks to them we’ve developed an effective technology. As a company, we acknowledge that we’ve had the chance to create our technology thanks to support from the community. Therefore, we want to give back to the community. Not only by making trucks pollute our environment less, but also by paying taxes, employing people in a good way and providing the opportunity to learn and have impact, and collaborating with companies that have similar values in sustainability and social impact.”
While IM Efficiency is working with a very specific use case and sector, marketing leaders can learn a lot from the approach as a company; from its roots in a moment of inspiration from the CEO, it has taken collaborative approach to co-creating a product with end-customers and key partners, continually learning through data.