On the bulletin board of Jan Harmen Wiebenga in his former room in the UT De Horst building there was once a poster listing 20 reasons why spin-off companies fail. No. 1: "No market demand for the product". A few years later, now with a doctorate and several grants in his pocket, Wiebenga and his companion Johan Hol conclude that the demand for their product is overwhelming.
Wiebenga and Hol with their spin-off Triboform Engineering, which develops software packages in the field of friction modelling, have now landed in The Gallery at incubator Kennispark Twente. A deep-seated fascination with engineering and science is strong in both men. Even after their doctoral research they maintain close contact with research groups, other companies and, of course, their customers.
"As researchers we believed that it was extremely important to know what is happening in the market, to 'sell' our own research and demonstrate social relevance. I think we have succeeded in this”, says Jan Harmen Wiebenga.
Road to success
Like so many before them, the duo did not immediately find the right path. Johan Hol: "We started with the development of software of which we believed: this is it. We initially focused on the optimization of transformation processes in metal. Still fresh in my memory is the time that we arrived at a large company and gave a presentation with 45 slides, 40 of which were about that original idea. Only at the end did we say anything about predicting tribological behaviour; the reactions were very enthusiastic. And we experienced this a few more times. We increasingly realized that we had found a gap in the market and have therefore made that shift."
The pair are focusing on the development of a software package for predicting tribological behaviour. This is a branch of mechanical engineering that investigates the effects of contact between materials under various circumstances. During their PhD defence they acquired a wealth of scientific knowledge, published a lot in relevant journals and are now translating this into their current product. Triboform, helped a lot during the start-up by the UT, Tata Steel and the Materials innovation institute (M2i), is growing rapidly and is part of Kennispark Twente's TOP scheme. In 2014, the spin-off received a commercial knowledge transfer grant (200,000 euros) from technology foundation STW.
Lots of interest from the automobile industry
Wiebenga and Hol can count on a lot of interest from the market for their product. Their software package is mostly used in the automobile industry to accurately predict the tribological behaviour and the friction in the production processes for new parts, such car bonnets or doors.
The pair obtained their doctoral degree within the Applied Mechanics department (Prof. Ton van den Boogaard) of the Faculty of Engineering Technology and still maintain close contact with the department. They have even filed joint applications for European projects. This also applies to the department of Dik Schipper.
When asked what turns a good scientist into a good entrepreneur, Jan Harmen doesn't have to think for long. "That's easy: obviously a good idea, support from the people around you, will-power and making the right choices." For these two men, these ingredients are linked to a strong passion for technology and engineering. Jan Harmen: "I used to have all kinds of disassembled radios under my bed. That's how it all started. In Twente, I was able to put this interest to use during my master's degree in mechanical engineering. I wanted something that is widely used in engineering and technology, and dreamed of starting my own business. I have succeeded!"
Based on his engineering background and specialization in the transformation of metal, Johan Hol, originally from Rotterdam, wanted to focus more on the numeric field of mechanics-related problems. "After my final thesis project at Stork Fokker, I received the offer from the department to obtain a doctoral degree. To then develop your entrepreneurship on the basis of a scientific approach, is fantastic."