Due to climate change, people all over the world are experiencing more natural disasters than ever before. The weather is becoming more extreme: in addition to droughts, extreme floods and water shortages are also occurring, as well as algal blooms. WAMO is a space-based real-time surface water assessment platform for flood warnings and algal monitoring and control.
Ke Ni (KN) interviews Fabian Rolando Suarez Quevedo (FS), Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of e.Ray Europe GmbH.
KN: Please give us a sneak peek of your product and the team behind it.
FS: WAMO is designed to prevent disasters such as floods, water shortages or algal blooms. It is a floating platform that uses satellite navigation to provide precise information about the water level – at all times, but also in the case of disasters. In addition to that, other sensors are integrated as well as a low-power ultrasonic device to stop algae growth without harming aquatic life. We are an international, enthusiastic, intrinsically motivated team that has been working on building the company for more than 6 years (there are currently 7 people in the e.Ray team). And we are the Galileo Masters 2021 overall winner and were also awarded the MIT Innovator Award.
KN: What has been your company’s biggest challenge so far?
FS: When we started with our solution, we were aware of the challenge of bringing an innovative product onto the market, especially in a very classic market, such as the water resources management market. As is well known, innovation brings with it a lot of questions and uncertainties in general. Finding an effective method of communication was important. Besides that, an innovative solution takes time, even more so when hardware is being developed as well. With these aspects in mind, the survival of the company in economic terms became the most challenging aspect. We knew and understood very well the potential of our solution and how disruptive it could be, but we had to iterate and take time to conduct research, development, and piloting in order to be successful. We created parallel revenues and managed resources very effectively for this.
KN: Can you explain the three main ingredients of your recipe for success?
FS: The main ingredient is the team. Having people who share the vision of a world with a balanced ecosystem has been the driving force behind our team. This has led us to overcome economic, technological, and other challenges. A diverse team with different perspectives has been the key to understanding problems from different angles, always enriching our solution. The second ingredient is related to the team and is the purpose of our solution. We firmly believe that new technological solutions need to have a highly sustainable component, they have to tackle the most urgent problems faced by humanity as well as by our planet. And, as the last ingredient, I see the satellite integration component that is part of our solution. Aerospace applications have endless advantages, and this – added to the excellent support we have received from the European Space Agency – has been a key factor in our success.
KN: What did you expect from WAMO winning the Galileo Masters Regional Prize Hesse and how do you think the competition and its network have helped you to kick-start your business case?
FS: We knew the importance of this award for companies using aerospace applications. Among all the benefits, visibility has certainly been a key factor in boosting the reputation of our WAMO solution. It also helped to demonstrate within our region how innovative solutions using aerospace technology are and what a great impact they can have in the world. This award, supported by the name of all our partners, has positioned us as a disruptive company in the water management sector. It has also opened the door to further cooperation, establishing possible joint work with partners and participants from the Galileo Masters network.
KN: How and when did the idea for WAMO emerge?
FS: We started by developing a river turbine. To install the turbine, we needed information about the rivers. We were faced with the challenge that there is little information available. And, moreover, little information in real time. So, we started to develop a monitoring system, which we integrated into the turbine. As part of that, we came up with the idea of using satellite navigation to measure the water level. So, we decided to present the idea to the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Center (ESA BIC) in Hesse. During the incubator programme, we developed our first functional prototype and the first market study for the commercialisation of this service. After the successful incubator programme, we were selected by ESA to carry out a feasibility study to introduce hydrological services based on satellite navigation. This led us to realise the disruptive potential of this solution and we started to focus on this solution.
KN: What were the main reasons to participate in the Galileo Masters Competition?
FS: During the incubation at the ESA BIC, we heard about the Galileo Masters and how important it was for companies working with aerospace applications, especially with satellite navigation. The competition has a network of key partners and collaborators in the aerospace ecosystem. This was one of the main motivations for us to participate. This way, we would increase the visibility of our solution, and we could have all the support we needed to take our solution to the next level. Furthermore, climate change is one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity today, and we are aware that our solution provides tools to tackle it, so we knew it was the right time to leverage the good name of the competition to accelerate the implementation of our solution.
KN: What convinced you to enter the Galileo Masters Regional Prize Hesse with your business idea?
FS: Hesse is the state where we are most active and, what’s more, it is currently our target market. So, we knew we had to increase our visibility in the region, and what better way is there to show how disruptive the solution is than by winning a renowned award in this region? Besides, the support we received from the Centre for Satellite Navigation Hesse (cesah) has always been a fundamental part of our development process.
KN: How did you benefit from the Galileo Masters Regional Prize Hesse Partner’s support?
FS: The ESA BIC and cesah in Hesse have a very good reputation. In addition to this, the state of Hesse is a very competitive region for companies with aerospace applications, as well as innovative IT companies. The knowledge provided by the network of experts in different areas is one of the most attractive elements of the support gained through this award, but especially the expertise offered by the cesah team in business develop and technical development for start-ups developing satellite navigation-based solutions. The award also helped us financially in carrying out some implementations.
KN: Let’s reach for the stars – what is going to happen in WAMO’s future?
FS: After successfully concluding our pilot project with the utility HEAG Holding AG, one of the largest in Germany, we want to accelerate our market penetration and also involve the community that understands and wants to support businesses with a big impact and disruptive solutions. That’s why we are launching a crowdfunding campaign in September, so that people can invest from 100 euros upwards. This campaign will be launched on the FunderNation platform and we would like to invite all those interested to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We are also offering a better term to early birds. Don’t hesitate to contact us, we would love to answer all your questions and provide more information.