Last month, the CE-Line team successfully completed a financing round. The funding from the Netherlands Enabling Water Technology (NEW) fund should help the young company make its measuring system truly ready for greenhouse horticulture. CE-Line director Wilco Dijkstra: "The financing from the NEW fund is crucial support to make our measuring system fully ready for the market."
After trials, CE-Line now wants to make its concept ready for sale, with one last important addition, says the director. "In addition to the ten nutrient macroelements - such as phosphate, potassium and sulphate - our system will also be able to measure six specific trace elements. Much lower concentrations of these are needed, but they are essential for growth, which is why growers are keen to have insight into these as well."
Wilco at GreenTech 2019
According to Wilco, the horticultural sector is waiting for their innovation. "After successful trials at a test location of Wageningen University & Research, last year's practical trials at a large tomato cultivation company (read more about it on Glastuinbouw Waterproof) also proved promising. Whereas growers currently have an external laboratory test the irrigation water for their plants every week or two weeks, with our measuring system they can measure the various nutrients in the water in real time."
By integrating CE-Line's technology into the greenhouses' water system, up-to-date data is continuously collected. This helps growers to easily and quickly adjust the required nutrient concentrations. "In this way, they can achieve optimum nutrient water for their plants under all conditions," Wilco explains. "Apart from the fact that the measuring system fits in well with the increasing digitalisation in high-tech greenhouses, the controllability and stability of the nutrient water ensures more yields and a better quality of crops and fruit. Working with a more sophisticated feed water on a daily basis also reduces the consumption of fertilisers and water."
Set-up at Royal Pride. Photo: Glastuinbouw Waterproof
Primed for breakthrough
These sustainability advantages are an essential factor for the NEW fund. Due to the high dependence on water in almost all sectors - from agriculture and horticulture to chemistry - NEW wants to contribute to water technology solutions for circular production. The strength of the fund lies in the involvement of the knowledge institutions Wetsus, Deltares and RUG. "They can make a good assessment of which innovations in water technology can make a real difference and are primed for a breakthrough," says investment manager Allard van der Horst of NOM. "Thus the NEW consortium not only supports the knowledge starters, but also the investment committee of the fund in making informed choices."
The NEW consortium acts as a kind of filter: promising knowledge start-ups - such as CE-Line - are first 'weighed' by the knowledge institutions involved. "A valuable process," says Wilco. "Sparring about the content helped to further sharpen our approach and product. The next step was to pitch before the investment committee of NEW. Also a very instructive process, as you talk about your proposition in a different way with financial people than with techies. Good questions are just as important as good answers; it is precisely in a critical discussion that a start-up discovers where it stands in entrepreneurship. CE-Line is on the right track and we are happy that this NEW financing gives us the opportunity to advance to the market."
The innovative measuring system has already received positive attention during the development phase: in 2020, CE-Line's technology won the GreenTech Innovation Concept Award and last autumn the start-up was included in the HillenraadTECH50, as one of the most promising companies contributing to the future of greenhouse horticulture. "The most important thing are the positive signals from our potential customers," emphasises the company's managing director. "Growers are enthusiastic, we already have concrete intentions from the market. All the signals are green, now it's a matter of refining our prototype and getting the system ready for sale."
"In doing so, we are realising one last important addition," says the director. "Besides the ten nutrient macroelements - such as phosphate, potassium and sulphate - our system will also be able to measure six specific trace elements. Much lower concentrations of these are required, but they are essential for growth, which is why growers want to have insight into them."
CE-Line focuses primarily on growers of fruit vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and courgettes. "Tomatoes in particular benefit from an optimum composition of the nutrient water," Wilco knows. "That is why precision fertilisation is in demand in this market and why we focus on it first. However, this innovative system is interesting for all crops grown in greenhouses."