CIC Impact Report Interview TransitionHero; Paving the way for green technologies to thrive

At CIC we see an increasing amount of companies working on sustainable solutions. Meet a few of these promising initiatives we interviewed about their industries, challenges, decisions and goals and how they reflect on the innovation opportunities and challenges in Rotterdam.

“We are engineers and we love challenging projects that require us to design and implement smart solutions,” says Petra Beris. So much so, in fact, that she wanted to do it on a large scale, creating as much impact as possible. Together with colleague Stef Clevers, she co-founded TransitionHERO, a Rotterdam-based organization that enables companies – startups and corporates alike – to make green technologies part of their business model.

Petra and Stef both come from a corporate background, having worked for a large engineering firm for more than a decade. Part of their job was to find ways to create new sustainable businesses as well as support startups in developing green technologies and scaling them up.

“We found out that it was quite a challenge to do it in such a [corporate] environment and that we needed more freedom and entrepreneurship,” Petra says. So they decided to start their own business together and laid the foundation of TransitionHERO.

“We don’t want to do small, simple projects;” she continues, “we want to do things that really matter and what really matters at the moment is climate change. We believe we need to go into a circular economy and we need to put more effort into realizing that.”

Helping businesses scale up green technologies

The mission of TransitionHERO is to enable companies to design and scale up new technologies with a strong focus on sustainability and positive environmental impact. They are looking at a wide range of green technologies, from energy solutions and circular production systems, to recycling technologies and biobased chemistry.

Typical for startups developing such technologies is that they are full of enthusiasm and ambition, but that they often lack the knowledge of bringing their idea to an industrial scale plant. “They are a bit like penguins,” Petra says. “They walk around a bit uneasily, but everybody loves them and wants to have a look at them. Still, they barely move forward because they are often in the wrong environment. The thing with penguins is, if you put them in water, they’ll start swimming.”

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It is the same with green technologies, she adds, “if you put them in the right environment and build the right business case around it, it will work out.”

This is essentially what TransitionHERO aims to do for startups and more established companies. The team makes sure to create the right environment, with the right resources, skills and expertise so new sustainable ideas can thrive. They help them build the right business case and support in engineering towards an industrial scale, in order to grow even the most ambitious of their projects.

In addition to setting the stage for new and innovative business ideas, TransitionHERO also makes it easier to bridge the gap between startups and corporates by helping the first build industry-ready demos of their technologies. They also facilitate the collaboration between startups and corporates, as those can often be quite the challenge. Eventually, TransitionHERO is also able to provide companies with a much faster and effective scale-up of their technologies, in which a lot of repetitive work is automated.

Putting the TransitionHERO approach to work

One of the projects that the com- 44 pany is currently working on is for a client in Norway looking to build a greentech demo plant on site of a power plant. “It is a project that makes you think and work on so many levels,” Petra says. “Our client has developed a technology that uses biomass to produce bio coal. There are multiple processes involved, from heat integration and use, to replacing chemical building blocks in the industry with bio-based building blocks.”

Petra and her team believe the latter is the future, which is what makes such projects so exciting for them. This specific one is a Horizon 2020 project from the EU, with a duration of four years and TransitionHERO is onboard as the technical lead for it. The end goal is to build a demonstration plant for the technology.

Even though Petra and Stef’s company has been around for less than a year now, they have made strides in growing it in terms of team, funding and projects that they are working on. Getting a first investor onboard was a key step in their development as it allowed them to build a solid business case and get started. They have also hired their first employees, all of whom engineers, which Petra says was one of their key achievements, but also the main challenges.

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“Finding the right people was indeed our biggest challenge to date, because we look for a very specific combination of the right capabilities and the right mindset – creative, open-minded and passionate for technology.” With some of those people now onboard, the sky is the limit.

If you ask Petra what she’s really looking forward to, it would be scaling bigger and better green technologies in a faster, smarter and more effective way than ever before. She and her team are committed to doing just that and they cannot wait to make it happen.

More info: transitionhero.nl

Illustrations: Janneke Wing

Author: Mina Nacheva

The Work Rotterdam Europe