StartLife has a large network of startups. These startups have inspiring founders who are willing to share their tips & tricks with other entrepreneurs. This Founder Story is an interview with Thérèse van Vinken, one of the co-founders of Cerescon.
It all started in the province of Brabant, 17 years ago. Thérèse and Ad van Vinken and Marc Vermeer decided to do something about the issues with foreign workers in the asparagus sector. Marc was an asparagus farmer and Ad, Thérèse’s husband, had over 30 years’ of experience in machine development and was a co-founder of SoleyTec, another successful high tech startup. Thérèse had studied maths, chemistry, marketing and marketing communications. Ad and Thérèse had always dreamed of starting a business together. Building an automatic selective asparagus harvesting machine with this team was the opportunity they were looking for. It turned out to be a difficult quest but they received a lot of help, in prime part thanks to StartLife.
Several companies had already tried to develop an automatic selective asparagus harvesting machine but they were all unsuccessful and therefore, until recently, asparagus was always harvested manually. Cerescon tried harvesting using different techniques such as radio frequency and radar but they weren’t successful. Finally, in 2014, they had a breakthrough with a capacitive sensor which could measure moisture. Asparagus contains 97% moisture in comparison to soil which only contains 8-12% moisture. This technique enabled the harvesting machine to detect the asparagus’ subsurface and subsequently harvest them before they appeared above ground. Therefore increasing both yield and quality of the asparagus, thus resulting in a higher turnover for the farmer.
Even with the idea, that is just the start of building a business. The team then had to make the technique applicable for farmers by building a reliable machine. They participated in several programmes in an attempt to raise money and subsequently found a private investor. By the end of 2014, when the team had almost given rise to the last sub company, something terrible happened: Marc Vermeer fell severely ill and sadly passed away.
The loss of Marc had a huge impact on Thérèse and Ad. After they had gone through a very difficult period, they decided to fulfil the Marc’s dream and make Cerescon a successful company. Thérèse and Ad realized that with Marc’s death their business has lost their connection to the farming network. Thérèse decided to contact the most innovative and open-minded farmer she could find and pitched their business-proposition like she had never pitched before. Ron Martens, the farmer in question, had seen the failures of other automatic asparagus machines. When asked if he would like to test the Cerescon machine and become the first member of a Cerescon User Group he said: “Mwah” (which meant “yes” in this case). After Ron’s cautious commitment, Cerescon started to expand their User Group. This was of the utmost importance, as they needed a continuous source of user-information.
In the spring of 2015, Cerescon contacted StartLife and joined the Stage Gate Incubation Program. Their coach, Frans Kampers, did entice them with many critical but necessary questions. The “StartLife Personal And Team Assessment (PATA) module” was useful, since it confirmed the balanced composition or their team. “Success within the program was essential for our startup”, Thérèse says, “because it convinced investors”. A tip Thérèse has for startups, is to focus earlier on developing a solid financial plan. “There is even subsidies available for advice on building a financial plan”, she adds. Next to that Cerescon thinks it is important not to give shares away too easily in the beginning as you need the shares in a later stage of your establishment to acquire interest of large investors.
“Cerescon is a professional startup, that finished the Stage Gate Program in a record time”, adds Frans Kampers.
More and more asparagus growers have joined the Cerescon User Group. Now, even the biggest German growers are showing commitment. Cerescon expects to bring the first commercial machine on the market in 2018. Soon, asparagus will be harvested automatically!