Freshly selected for the StartupsVsCovid19 hackathon launched by the Ministry of Economy and Luxinnovation, some of the fifteen selected entrepreneurs shared their reactions with me.
by: Charles-Louis Machuron
featured: Pierre V. Pereira da Silva, CEO of Grouplunch is launching Foozo
This is the call for projects that has aroused the most interest in recent weeks in Luxembourg – in addition to the virtual hackathon Hack The Crisis – and has kept many entrepreneurs and their teams busy presenting their best ideas.
It should be said that the Ministry of Economy and Luxinnovation had put the package together by offering 150,000 euros in cash (75% of which was paid to the selection) for the selected projects. Some even wanted to maximise their chances by proposing several projects. In the end, several well-known startups and a few new faces are among the fifteen lucky ones.
The first one I was able to talk to was Peter V. Pereira da Silva, the CEO of Grouplunch, a meal delivery company whose crisis has brought almost all its activity and its thirty or so delivery staff to a standstill. He had shared his doubts and ideas to overcome this economic crisis exclusively on Silicon Luxembourg two months ago. His past as an economist resurfaced from the very first moments of the crisis.
“We need a new revenue stream and that’s why we proposed our new idea in the StartupsVsCovid19 call for projects.”
Over the last two months he has been able to maintain 30 to 40% of his offer but has seen his sales fall by almost 85%. A significant part of his staff has been placed on short-time working as the activity resumes more significantly. “Our main activity is the delivery of meals to companies. Over the last few weeks we have been testing the delivery of meals to individuals, mainly those located in or near business areas because we operate mainly by economic clusters or geographical areas,” Pierre explains. “The tool was not adapted, but the market was there.”
During our discussion he reminded me of the fact that, for the time being, he has not been able to benefit from any of the announced aid despite positive equity capital, steady growth year after year and a turnover of almost EUR 3 million last year. “We are still trying to obtain a state-guaranteed loan. There is a lot of friction and time wasted, and we see that the banks are not armed in the same way. Our case is still being analysed at the moment and we expect answers within the next week. But the pressure is mounting on our side, and we can’t wait until the bank entity is ready. We need a new revenue stream and that’s why we proposed our new idea in the StartupsVsCovid19 call for projects.”
“We are really thrilled to have been selected. It confirms that we are on the right track and that the choices we have made in terms of the group’s strategic direction are paying off. Second, it gives us a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. We are a young and optimistic company, and this is very much engrained in our culture. But I must admit that lately it has not been easy to unite the troops, motivate them and reassure them, too,” Pierre confides.
“I think that our ability to rapidly deploy a technological and physical solution thanks to an existing team and fleet worked in our favour.”
Among the fifteen projects selected, he is the only one to have a so-called physical operational activity with a fleet of vehicles and around forty collaborators in the field. “I think that our ability to rapidly deploy a technological and physical solution thanks to an existing team and fleet worked in our favour. Our track-record in intelligent data analysis and in the development of sophisticated logistics technologies also helped. After all, everything is done in-house at our company. Our experience now enables us to anticipate orders, optimise our routes and this digital and physical combination is one of our strengths.”
I understand from our discussion that a great deal of effort has been made to propose the best possible project to the jury. As such, he confided to me that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the quality of the jury and the relevance of the questions, particularly those of Nasir Zubairi, the director of LHoFT, the country’s fintech incubator! “He analysed our 2018 annual accounts and compared them with the 2020 forecasts of the project presented to challenge us on the level of our economics units. It was really interesting to be able to demonstrate our potential to such experienced and attentive people. Between the sharp questions we had about the competition and the challenges of our business model, I can assure you that it wasn’t just blah blah blah. »
As for the project itself, I’m unveiling its new name: Foozo. In a few weeks, three if all goes well, the new delivery platform for individuals will be available. “We’re developing a new platform from scratch (technically speaking),” says Pierre. “Foozo is a new platform that will help deliver groceries and support small local businesses. We we will also use it to deliver restaurant food, this time to individuals, in a proper way.”
“We weren’t really expecting it. The whole team is super happy that our idea was selected.”
In recent weeks, many platforms have been created in Luxembourg to reference and promote local shops and restaurants. The strength of Grouplunch with this new platform is its ability to restart its vehicles and deliver to cover a larger volume of orders. “Contrary to what is done in the sector, our delivery drivers are on our payroll and are not paid by order or commission. They are therefore very happy to have more working hours, and that is also our strength, because we already have the entire logistics infrastructure and a now extra-motivated team in place.”
The six-month timing imposed by the Ministry of Economy and Luxinnovation for the launch of this new project seems quite feasible for Pierre and his team. “The front-end (user interface) part of the new site will be launched at the beginning of June. Then, we will have a second phase of migration and transformation of our technology that will last about three months. In parallel during these three months we will integrate a maximum of renowned stores and quality restaurants into our platform. This will allow us to be fully operational, with a complete product at the beginning of September,” concludes Pierre.
The same enthusiasm and willingness to launch a technological project with a strong social impact on the side of a creative studio specializing in virtual reality is Virtual Rangers. “We weren’t really expecting it. The whole team is super happy that our idea was selected,” admits Matthieu Bracchetti, the startup’s founder.
“We want to develop a simulation of the management of a patient with Covid-19.”
A familiar face in the Luxembourgish tech scene, he makes no secret of the fact that this selection will be an additional lever to accelerate the development of his company. “There are six of us today, but we are going to open several new positions for 3D developers and graphic designers very soon”. It must be said that the startup develops almost all of its projects in Luxembourg and only subcontracts, if necessary.
Virtual Rangers is currently launching its services in four areas. Firstly, it has launched training in the hospital and industrial sectors, on subjects as varied as fire evacuation, syringe pumps, and the simulation of overhead cranes with Arcelor Mittal, in this case integrating a virtual reality layer. Secondly, entertainment. “At the last CES in Las Vegas, we announced the launch of a solution for children hospitalized in oncology and pediatrics departments so that our program can relieve their daily lives,” he explains. The program is currently under development and will soon be used by the CHL in Luxembourg. The third pillar is based on culture. Last but not least, the fourth pillar is construction, for which Virtual Rangers have developed virtual reality solutions for the visualization of buildings before they are even built, thus allowing several people to hold construction site meetings virtually.
Times are tough for companies that have made virtual reality their core business. “There has been a real change in this sector during the crisis. Indeed, how can we place a VR helmet on the head of a user and make the necessary adjustments when we have to maintain a certain distance between us?” says Matthieu. This doesn’t seem to interfere with his plans since virtual reality only concerns a part of his business and his main development focus is the creation of virtual environments that can be quickly launched on computers, mobiles and tablets.
“We need to take stock of all the work done in hospitals so far so that we can develop the most realistic virtual experience possible.”
In the context of the current health crisis and the state of emergency in healthcare institutions, Matthieu and the Virtual Rangers team plan to set up a training scenario for medical staff so that they can better manage coronavirus patients. “Doctors and nurses must identify patients, not panic, interact with them and take the right actions. Many caregivers were called in for support during this crisis and had to respond on the job. “We want to develop a simulation of the management of a patient with Covid-19. In this scenario the nursing/medical staff will be able to find themselves virtually in front of a patient and will have to adapt the same gestures as in reality. To do this, we need to take stock of all the work done in hospitals so far so that we can develop the most realistic virtual experience possible,” concludes Matthieu.
Matthieu and Pierre now have six months to implement their respective projects and prove that their solutions are effective in fighting Covid-19. With the support of the Ministry of Economy and Luxinnovation they have all the cards in hand to save businesses, companies and lives.