Brent Kok – CFO, Jelle Tiemensma – CTO and Roy Kok – CEO
We talked to Brent Kok, Co-founder, and CFO at Smart-Ship on how they make force-feedback controls for the maritime industry and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brent Kok: Luckily, everyone is healthy and safe, so that’s a big relief. Furthermore, like most people, we’ve found new ways to cope with the distance.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Smart-Ship.
Brent Kok: Not a very typical path to the maritime sector, I started studying Business & Economics in Amsterdam in 2015, after which I completed my bachelor’s in Economics of Taxation at the University of Amsterdam in 2018. Then I moved to Rotterdam for my master’s (Economics of Taxation) at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. During my master’s, my brother approached me with an idea to start a business and whether I knew someone that would be willing to join him with the tech he developed, at the time he was finishing his master’s in Biomechanical and Offshore Engineering, I instantly replied ‘me.’
How does Smart-Ship innovate?
Brent Kok: We implement force-feedback technology on traditional ship controls to create a sustainable future for maritime operations. This means that we link our levers (throttle, tiller, azimuth, joystick) with our haptic algorithm to transfer crucial information to operators through forces and/or vibrations during complex operations. This results in reduced fuel consumption and increased safety and efficiency through better situational awareness for the operators.
The combination of our software model and the levers allows for a single installation, after which any alterations or additional functionalities can be added/amended through our software (either on-site or remotely).
Instead of distractive information transfer through audio and visuals, which require the operator to constantly shift his attention, our technology enables intuitive fluent non-distractive information transfer using another sensory channel without requiring any visual feedback.
Our technology also allows for remote-controlled shipping of tug boats, small, fast ships, inland ships, etc., by transferring crucial information to the shore control center.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Brent Kok: For the most part, the pandemic slows us down. We’re somewhat in the middle between the paid pilot phase in simulators and our launching customer (on the water), making it difficult to take that leap during the pandemic. W.r.t. our finances, we were lucky enough to close around just before the pandemic began. So all in all, it slows us down in getting our paying customers aboard with a burn rate staying more or less the same.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Brent Kok: Yes, we’ve not been able to extend some of the contracts of promising interns (potential FTE’s) to keep our burn rate within bounds.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Brent Kok: On the one hand, it’s very easy to schedule quick introduction calls these days through Zoom or Teams, which is good to get new contacts. Unfortunately, all of the tradeshows have been canceled or moved online, which simply makes it more difficult for networking.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Brent Kok: Yes, but only from 2021 onwards. During 2020 we had revenue coming in, which did not make it necessary for us to apply for any of the grants.
Your final thoughts?
Brent Kok: It sometimes seems that established companies in the sector are hesitant to innovate (with new partners) in these times and to be honest, we can’t blame them.
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