Groningen startup Envitron gets more out of energy

Smarter use of energy. That’s what the Groningen startup Envitron does in a nutshell. To sum it up more accurately: Envitron is helping to accelerate the energy transition and to make the living environment more sustainable. Using a combination of hardware and software.

Rein Schuil (l) and Thijs de Jonge from Envitron

A box the size of a small biscuit tin. In a beautiful, blue design. Almost a shame to hang it in the meter cupboard, but that’s what’s the Envi.base is intended to do. The box is the node, the gateway that Envitron uses to bundle different data concerning energy flows. From there, the information finds its way to the, which is where the smart thinking takes place. The result: precise insight into how much which particular energy costs and suggestions for reducing the use or even fully automatic regulation of that energy use. Not bad for an idea that was born on a sailing boat five years ago.

“I see the Envi.base as a translation box”, says commercial director Rein Schuil. “You have to look at all the energy that flows in and out of a house. Gas pipes, power cables, your central heating boiler, a heat pump perhaps, a charging point for a car, solar panels, everything. All these currents speak their own language. In the Envi.base, we make one type of data that can be analysed in the cloud.”


From cloud to circuit board

Envitron displays all the insights obtained in this way clearly on a dashboard that was also built by Envitron itself. And so, you can see at a glance that the freezer eats up a lot of energy, or that the heating in a bedroom is on during the day, while nobody’s there. “This is on a private scale. We want to make big strides and that’s why we’re focusing first on housing corporations, technical service providers, energy consultants. But we can certainly imagine that it will soon be perfectly normal for everyone to have our little box installed at home.”


Envitron is a typical startup, continuously working on improving the product, the service, always fine-tuning and refining the business model. Yet Envitron is also different. A group of young people who want to do and make everything themselves. From the software in the cloud (literally floating a stone’s throw away) to the blue box. Even the printed circuit boards are designed by the Groningers themselves.

“This is a very conscious choice,” says Schuil. “It’s essentially our added value. We control everything ourselves. We can directly deliver what a customer is looking for. A personalised dashboard is no problem at all, additional sensors, what does and does not need to be measured, whether or not systems need to be controlled from the cloud: we can build it and arrange it instantly.”


From Groningen to Jordan

Envitron already has projects running in Groningen, Amsterdam, Brabant, Germany and Jordan. Always with the result: energy savings, ranging from a lot to a great deal. And this is precisely the company’s starting point. “It may sound a bit cheesy, but it really is the case. Everyone who works here is driven to contribute to a better world.”


And that sailing boat? It tells the story. Once upon a time there were four friends, all (former) students of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, who regularly helped their mate Niels with refurbishing his sailing boat. Doing odd jobs and having a few beers. Schuil: “We thought: why don’t we make it completely sustainable? We asked companies to sponsor us. We scavenged a windmill, a solar panel, a hob and an electric motor.”

But the question remained: does that make us self-sufficient? “We couldn’t measure that very well. So, Thijs built a device, actually the first Envi.base. Jacco made a dashboard. It worked. We could see how much energy we still had and how long we could move forward.” The start of Envitron, founded by Rein Schuil, Thijs de Jonge, Jacco Koning, Marro Mijnans and Niels Tammeling.


From hobby to business

The story spread through the harbours where the boat moored, until companies approached them directly to repeat this trick in buildings. The five of them put their heads together and decided to go for it. They took part in startup competitions, making some money which they immediately reinvested.

“It was only when we joined the VentureLab that our idea changed from a serious hobby to a real business. We learned to make a clear plan, started doing pitches to raise capital, signed up for subsidy schemes. That’s where it really started, only just two years ago. The future? Our dream is that we can analyse and adjust all energy flows at a higher level to achieve an optimal balance. Not just buildings, but entire districts, villages, cities and regions. This is perfectly possible with our software, which is completely scalable.”


VentureLab North

Helping new entrepreneurs and established companies to achieve their growth ambitions. This is what VentureLab North does. The one-year business development programme provides coaching, guidance, knowledge transfer, training, everything that’s needed to master every aspect of building a business. VentureLab is part of the University of Groningen Centre of Entrepreneurship.