The i4Challenge announces the winners of 2021
The i4Challenge shines a light on companies and innovators who help to facilitate the industrial transformation. We present the winners of 2021.
The Synple team
The industrial transformation is a steady process that evolves around one core question:
How can we improve our value chain, services, and products for the client with the means of new technologies, teams and business models?
The answers to that question, however, are surprising in their variety. The i4Challenge has the goal to highlight the best solutions, products and services created in Switzerland and in the three-country region of the upper Rhine. In 2018, Sébastien Meunier, Director Industrial Transformation, and Albert Hilber, Manager Upper Rhine, Industrial Transformation with Basel Area Business & Innovation, launched the i4Challenge. They want to promote great ideas in the field of industry 4.0, connect innovators to potential customers and collaboration partners and give participants the opportunity to display and develop their projects.
This year, the jury of industry experts and universities explored many great solutions. The six best innovations in the SME and startups track won. Congratulations!
Let’s take a closer look at the winners.
The three winners of the new ideas track 2021
From time management to analytics in production to an AI platform: The jury picked three projects to win the new ideas track of the i4Challenge. They will get support to develop their ideas further.
The i4Challenge is a program dedicated to bringing solutions forward that contribute to the industrial transformation. There is one track for SMEs and startups and one for new ideas. The new ideas track aims to support people who have a great approach and who need some support to develop this idea into a product or a service. They will benefit from tailor-made coaching from industry experts and get access to the vast network of professionals in the Basel Area Business & Innovation network. Further, they can use the coworking space at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area site Jura which is located in Courroux.
WeconnectAI wants to help companies find suitable AI software solutions. Their platform also offers software providers to access the market and find customers. To help companies find their match, WeconnectAI analyzes their challenges using natural language processing algorithms to identify the best possible solution worldwide. In addition, they advise their clients on early verification of their AI maturity model using an automated machine learning algorithm. The project WeconnectAI was developed by Marc Gehring and Tobias Hetfleisch.
OCRA stands for One-Click Report Automation. The OCRA team believes the data analytics professionals should not waste their life on error-prone manual copy-pasting or tedious programming of report layout, format, and templates. With their proprietary patent-pending OCRA technology across different analytics platforms, the team created the first all-in-one industry solution solving multiple longstanding analytics pain points in one go. Their solution brings more efficiency and more fun for data analytics professionals, as well as higher throughput and lower costs for the analytics organizations. The project OCRA was developed by Ming Zou.
Evox is a complete suite of powerful and intuitive digital time management tools. It allows users to work time, file absences, or export team statistics quickly via computer or smartphone. Employees get their tasks done through a comprehensive self-service interface. The project Evox was developed by Ilgün Ilgün.
The six winners of the SME / Startup track 2021
Machine learning in recruiting: CM Profiling
Caroline Matteucci, CEO CM Profiling located in Muri (BE), presented the software Cryfe for authenticity analysis that is aimed at human resources in particular, bringing machine learning into the recruitment process. The software analyzes the signals emitted by an interlocutor on video, puts them in relation and notifies the HR responsible in case there are issues that should be revisited. “Today, businesses often fail to hire the right candidate simply because they misjudge people’s authenticity. They often hire a role instead of the personality – this results in losses for the company,” says Caroline Matteucci.
To her, winning the i4Challenge is mainly about recognition: “Our efforts are rewarded, and experts recognize us.” However, the feedback is important to her as well. “Some of the most valuable feedback we had was that we must be very careful to develop an ethical and transparent AI tool – which is what we are always striving for. Also, it is important to understand that the biggest risk of any startup is related to finances. The best way to mitigate the risk is to have customers who believe in us.”
Thanks to the i4Challenge, Caroline Matteucci hopes to meet more customers, to implement Cryfe in Switzerland and to show the great level of innovation. But this is not all. The CEO has big plans for her company: The growing team plans to attend in a Swissnex bootcamp in the USA to understand the market better. From 2022 onwards, the objective is to go to the European and the US market. But before that, Switzerland will be the main focus for Caroline Matteucci.
“I have learned that before deciding to expand internationally, we must first conquer the market closest to us. And for Cryfe, that is Switzerland. We already have a very good network and customers in the French and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland and we want to develop our network in the Basel and German-speaking regions, without forgetting that France is just next door.”
As for the software, progress can be seen there, too, with several proofs of concepts in areas other than human resources, like analyzing your impact when you make a pitch. “As Cryfe is based on machine learning, the next steps are to strengthen our dataset, to continue to improve our algorithms and to always be up to date on the latest technologies. We are also developing a complete e-learning course to make the most of the software.”
Check out the website so you don’t miss the launch of the alpha-version of Cryfe for early adopters.
Automation in chemistry: Synple Chem AG
Synple was founded in 2016 as an ETH spin-off. The company based in Kemptthal produces laboratory devices that help discovery chemists with fully automated, capsule-based synthesis. Customers in pharma, agrochem and in CROs appreciate the opportunity to cut costs for the key component of discovery research while enhancing productivity and accelerating scientific discoveries. One of the Synple promises: adoption of new equipment without the pain. Only very little training, no programming, and very minimal exposure to chemicals are required to use the Synple products. In fact, the script for one reaction sequence combines multiple steps, providing a hand-free approach to preparing organic compounds for drug discovery.
“We envision that this system will serve as a console for developers to provide synthetic methods as integrated, user-friendly packages for conducting organic synthesis in a safe and convenient fashion,” the authors of the latest Synple study write-in issue 20 of “Chemical science”.
Dr. Paula Nichols, one of the co-founders, is pleased about winning the i4Challenge but points out that the acknowledgment and the feedback from the jury were just as welcome. “Although we were delighted with all the positive feedback that we received, perhaps the most valuable feedback for us was that in which the jury highlighted potential weaknesses or lack of clarity.” To Synple, this kind of feedback is very useful as it enables them to refine their message and ensure they can address any such points in the future. “In addition, the coaching and the opportunity to participate at the trade fair BE 4.0 Mulhouse is invaluable to us.”
Synple applied to take part in the i4Challenge because they value a well-connected network. “The fact that winners would gain increased exposure in the Basel Area and have access to the area’s wealth of expertise and experience, is what first attracted us to this competition,” says Dr. Paula Nichols.
The next steps for Synple include rolling out their technology into new global markets. “We are also planning further developments of the technology, including new hardware and the integration of our existing technology with other innovative, enabling AI and machine learning-based technologies. This will enable us to work with partners towards the establishment of a new, integrated discovery platform,” says Dr. Paula Nichols.
Personalized Medicine: PMP Personalized Medical Products SA
To Fritz Bircher, co-founder of PMP based in Courroux (JU), medicine needs to cater to the needs of the people it should serve. “The large-scale and centralized manufacturing in a one size fits all approach does not meet the patient’s needs for pharmaceutical products,” he says. Instead, it results in more side effects, more toxicity or less efficacy.
Together with his co-founders Stefan Stübinger, Hendrik Holsboer and Hans-Florian Zeilhofer, he wants to develop a pharmaceutical manufacturing technology, which is able to deliver small batches suitable for the personalized need of the patient. Potential customers are Swiss hospitals and pharmacies. “We will help hospital and community pharmacies to evolve from a manual manufacturing process to a highly accurate automated and fully customizable process with good productivity and traceability.”
Being selected as a winner, is a welcome confirmation of the proposed business case and strongly supports the team motivation, Fritz Bircher says. “Additionally, I am an ambitious person in all I do – so I am very enthusiastic about this success.”
He particularly appreciated the questions and input from the i4Challenge jury concerning market access and regulation. Regulation is something that needs to be taken seriously in any case, but that is not to be underestimated especially for medicinal products.
For PMP, the next steps include the definition of the cooperation with the manufacturer. Further, they need to focus on research funding for the first active material developments, build and test the prototype (which is in design phase as of the participation in the i4Challenge) and insure the next financing round.
PMP is a tenant at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, site Jura. “It offers a great environment and the contact to the authorities in the canton of Jura and their support is very helpful,” says Fritz Bircher.
Safety in mobility: Fastree3D SA
In 2020, nearly 17’000 accidents were counted in Swiss traffic. Fastree3D SA in Ecublens (VD), a spin-off from the EPFL and the TU Delft, has developed a camera module that enables safer driving: The single-chip flash laser imaging provides a fast and affordable 3D sensing to complement cameras and radars in detecting pedestrians and cyclists and avoid collisions. “The technology enables new autonomous mobility,” says Claude Florin, CEO and co-founder of Fastree3D. His co-founder and CSO is the EPFL professor Edoardo Charbon.
The key application for the technology is the automotive city-range safety. The Flash LiDAR would reduce false positives and false negatives indoors as well as outdoors. It performs real-time quality control on every pixel, using a laser to illuminate the scene and a single photon detector to capture a 2D intensity image and check 3D distance for each pixel.
Claude Florin and his team participated in the i4Challenge to get further advice from experts. “We are also interested to gain some regional partnerships from France and Germany at BE 4.0 Mulhouse. And we are seeking strategic investors who can bring domain expertise and in-kind contributions.” The founders appreciated the independent feedback on the potential of their 3D sensors in manufacturing and logistics – areas they want to explore further.
The plan is to go to the market with a viable product next year. Fastree3D was particularly interested in learning more about the approach and the roadmap to achieve that goal from the jury. “The pandemic delays the sourcing of critical electronic components in our development kit by six months,” says Claude Florin. “But we keep the launch schedule for a unique single chip flash Lidar, providing fast motion detection at affordable prices by mid next year.”
Predictive maintenance: Mechmine GmbH
Mechmine is a company located in Azmoos in the canton St. Gallen. Their technology is aimed at predictive maintenance, avoiding repair costs and increasing productivity. The team around Rudolf and Christine Tanner and Peter Frei are experts in data-mining, algorithm design and data transfer of any type of sensor data. Taking part in the i4Challenge was a way to get feedback from others in the industry and gain publicity.
While winning the i4Challenge signifies the recognition of the work the team has put in so far, the critical feedback from the jury is just as important. The most valuable feedback for Mechmine were questions regarding the company’s representation with their website: “We updated the webpage in 2020 working with marketing experts, and now we were told that our unique selling points are not obvious.”
Mechmine will soon finish their development of a small wireless sensor. Next up: “We want to find an external investor,” says Rudolf Tanner.
Digitalization in the clothing industry: BeAwear AG
BeAwear from Kreuzlingen (TG) wants to transform the online shopping experience: instead of buying a standard fit, customers can adapt their clothes according to their body. In phase 1, BeAwear empowers a first- and secondhand marketplace of API-connected shops, but also items of unwanted clothing can enjoy a second life. “This fashion evolution is necessary if we want to change the fashion industry towards a sustainable industry,” says Verena Ziegler, CEO and co-founder of BeAwear. “As fashion is the second highest polluter worldwide, sustainability is a question of survival for the industry and for humanity.”
Verena Ziegler took part in the last years’ i4Challenge and was one of the winners of the new ideas track. This time around, Verena Ziegler and her co-founder.
Knowing their way around the i4Challenge Accelerator Program and the coaching involved, the team had a clear goal and an understanding of their own deficits. This time around, Verena Ziegler and her co-founder Dr. Frauke Link adapted their original idea to develop cutting patterns for customers into a SaaS model for business customers
Knowing their way around the i4Challenge Accelerator Program and the coaching involved, the team had a clear goal and an understanding of their own deficits. The biggest challenge for Verena Ziegler during the past year: “Writing business, financial and liquidity plans is entirely different from giving scientific lectures. We had to learn a new language and focus on other things – something we were not used to do as researchers.”
In 2021, different fashion software tech packages will be released in the area of B2B e-commerce. In October, the first software solution will be ready for market release, as Verena Ziegler says. “We want to release in Germany and Switzerland first, and then scale up our software solution in the DACH-regions and Europe. Our investor invested in a big player on the market so let’s see what happens there.” The startup is also involved with the ZIM network “Kleidung 4.0” to build micro factories in Europe.
Verena Ziegler was also featured in the list of Digital Shapers of 2021 in the category “The Robot Masters” by business magazine “Bilanz”.
Industrial transformation is the key issue of the present and the future for the production industry: Connected machines, products, services, companies and people are at the core of the Industry 4.0. Switzerland ranks 6th in the Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2020 by the Institute for Management Development (IMD), and excels with its talent and the knowledge. However, there are opportunities to be gained. Basel Area Business & Innovation launched the i4Challenge to put industrial transformation on the roadmap of the many industry companies in Switzerland and especially in the three-country region around Basel. Cyrille Monnin, jury member and CEO Productec SA, says: “Every day and every night, people work in digitalization. This does not only happen in the Silicon Valley, it also happens here.”