We’re discerning when it comes to applying for grants and funding’
After toying with the idea for years, in 2014 entrepreneurial couple Ad Vermeer and Thérèse van Vinken finally took the plunge and set up a business to develop a single, innovative machine. Their company Cerescon is developing an automatic, selective asparagus harvesting machine. The alpha version has now been extensively tested. Next year a handful of asparagus growers will test the beta version. Innovation is very expensive, so the entrepreneurs started looking for sources of funding. Their collaboration with ABAB Accountants and Consultants worked out well.
Mechanical engineer Ad Vermeer got the initial idea from his brother who grew asparagus. His brother said how inefficient it was to harvest asparagus by hand and how helpful it would be if the white asparagus could be detected beneath the ground. This would improve the quality and quantity of the harvest. Ad started looking into it and discovered that such machines did exist. But they relied on visual detection with a camera. He didn’t think this was such a good idea for white asparagus: if you wait to detect the asparagus until it is growing above the ground it’s too late. So he came up with a better concept. His machine is equipped with sensors that can see underground and tell whether an asparagus spear is ready to harvest before an integrated robot picks it. This all happens at a constant speed of 0.5 metres per second. The machine is driven by a tractor. Cerescon has now been operating for several years and the beta version of its asparagus harvesting machine is in development.
Innovation is very expensive, so the entrepreneurs started looking for funding opportunities. One of the programmes they looked at was the MIT scheme, which provides innovation credit for SMEs in regional and top sectors. They also sought to partner with Wageningen University and Research. Thérèse: “We decided to set up a user group of innovative large asparagus growers. The five growers in the group and a contract worker are testing the machine and showing us their business figures. Through our network, we found a private investor. We were also put in touch with Roy Hoven at Subsidiefocus, which is part of ABAB. We were aware of several funding programmes, such as the Innovation Credit scheme, but we needed help with the application. Roy advised us to apply for Innovation Credit and said he and Jurgen Herremans, a corporate finance advisor at ABAB, would help.”
The entrepreneurs liked the sound of this. Thérèse: “We’re discerning when it comes to applying for grants and funding. The amount we stand to gain has to bear some relation to the work involved in applying for it. If we’re going to take a shot at something, we choose our target carefully. We don’t apply to programmes that allocate funding by drawing lots.”
The Innovation Credit scheme met the entrepreneurs’ requirements: it was a substantial amount of money and applications were assessed on content. ABAB Corporate Finance and Subsidiefocus worked together on the application. Thérèse: “Jurgen guided us through the process. First, he looked at the best way to present the application. Then we wrote the descriptions in consultation with him, while he studied the figures. He did a great job of converting our figures into the format we needed for the Innovation Credit. Roy coordinated the application and liaised with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). We were ultimately awarded more than € 2 million in Innovation Credit. The eligibility rules are very strict. Together with ABAB and Subsidiefocus we managed to submit a successful application.”
The entrepreneurs are very pleased with the collaboration and plan to continue with it. Subsidiefocus is currently handling several applications for Cerescon. “We are submitting applications to the European Social Fund, which promotes the EU's employment objectives, and Horizon 2020, among others. The consultants proactively advise us of relevant opportunities and are honest and realistic about our chances.”
The company’s is now in a strong position in terms of funding. The entrepreneurs have big plans. “During the next asparagus season, we will test the first beta version of the machine. After evaluating the results, we hope to receive the first prototype orders in the autumn of 2017 and will fulfil those orders in 2018. The machine has a modular construction, so asparagus growers can choose different options. We can help each customer work out what they want. Ultimately we hope to sell sixty asparagus harvesting machines a year.”
To find out more about Subsidiefocus, email Roy Hoven or call him on +31 (0)73 646 5475.f