How Skoon accelerates the sustainable energy transition
Skoon provides sustainable and mobile energy solutions by offering batteries through a platform. The batteries can vary in size from portable models to batteries the size of a trailer or even a sea container. At first, they were mostly concerned with coming up with maritime applications and collaborated with Damen Shipyards to accelerate the energy transition in the shipping industry. When they had been working on their business a little longer and attracted new investors, they started to discover more industrial applications. They’re also not adverse to developing (more) consumer-centered solutions in the future. During CES in Las Vegas, Skoon was named Tech Trend to Watch. In the Netherlands, they earned a place on Quote’s list with the 25 most promising start-ups of 2020.
This means that it was time for a heart to heart with Peter Paul van Voorst tot Voorst, Skoon’s co-founder. For our podcast Innovative Leaders by INFO, we spoke with him about Skoon’s academic roots, their revenue model, Skoon’s role in the energy grid, investors, challenges, innovative business, and the decentralization of clean energy.
As befits technical academics
Van Voorst and his co-founder Daan Geldermans both studied Maritime Technique at the Technical University of Delft. Most of their classes were about diesel engines and how they could make sure that these engines could continue to vibrate and make noise without disturbing the rest of the ship. At first, they were mostly focused on making adjustments to the ship until they figured out that they could also tackle the problem at the source. They immediately knew that the alternative had to be electrical, because “electrification is the future, also for large outputs,” according to Van Voorst. They concluded pretty soon that mobile batteries could provide what they needed. Even though these batteries never became the norm with electrical cars, they were perfect for ships. Distribution channels for sea containers already existed and existing container terminals could double as exchange stations. And although they had a great idea that could be deployed pretty much immediately, other people had to point out to Van Voorst and Geldermans that this idea could be monetized: “As befits technical academics, we were only concerned with the technique,” he laughs.
Classic marketplace model
But how did they eventually start to make money then? Skoon’s revenue model is a “classic marketplace model,” Van Voorst explains. They receive a small margin for every booking that is made on their platform, which they use for the (further) development of the marketplace. They also offer their own Skoonbox batteries for hire, but this is meant to create traction in the market and to accelerate it, “so that more people will need and start using our software,” he explains.
Balancing out the net
Basically, Skoon is a marketplace where battery owners can offer their batteries but where Skoon really shines is that they also show which batteries are available to balance the energy network. Controlling this balance requires completely different software, and Skoon offers suppliers of such software access to a large fleet of batteries. Van Voorst gives an example: “Suppose that INFO would have ten batteries and isn’t using them, then they can be used for Tennet. Our platform automatically sends a Tennet or another party a message […] so that they know that these ten batteries are available and that they can add these to the buffer capacity in the Netherlands.” Electric cars are already doing this with vehicle to grid and can (eventually) also be done for the mobile batteries from his fleet, according to Van Voorst.
It’s all about timing
As Van Voorst already pointed out, investors have played an important part in the start and further development of Skoon. Their initial partnership with Damen Shipyard came about very organically, because they already knew people there from their time at the TU Delft. After working together for a while, Damen wanted to make their collaboration “a little more official” and invest. Van Voorst said that it wasn’t only a great honor “that such a big name wanted to invest in us”, but that it was also a “nice confirmation of the fact that we were headed in the right direction”. Moreover, Skoon was lucky with the timing of it all: “The moment that we needed investors coincided with the period that Damen was looking to make the company and their policy more sustainable.”
Last year, Skoon was added to the cleantech imperium of Kees Koolen who we know from Booking.com. Although there are many differences between the high-frequency B2C marketplaces that Koolen is used to working with and Skoon’s low-frequency B2B marketplace, there are also many similarities. Koolen mostly teaches them to make better choices based on numbers and the circumstances in the market.
Focus as main challenge
Focus is another thing that Skoon’s investors are helping the entrepreneurs with. Van Voorst and Geldermans’ biggest challenge (“for all young people actually”) is that they see opportunities everywhere. Van Voorst: “When we just started out, we did everything, from mobile batteries for super yachts to battery packs and developing our own products.” That’s why investors often asked them where their focus was. According to Van Voorst they really found that focus now, but it remains a challenge, “because we continue to see opportunities everywhere”, like making their platform more B2C-oriented. Another challenge that they are dealing with is to create the optimal balance within the marketplace between suppliers, demand and energy users.
The best ideas come from everyone
What Van Voorst has in common with many other innovative leaders that we interview for this podcast, is that he understands that “the best ideas come from everyone. This way, it’s nobody’s fault when something goes wrong and other people won’t feel bad because they didn’t come up with an idea,” says Van Voorst. To guarantee innovation within the company’s culture, Van Voorst doesn’t “do” idea ownership but that’s not all. What Van Voorst also does – this is also his tip for other innovative leaders – is listen; ask the right questions and take the time to listen to the answers. Just to be clear: Van Voorst doesn’t mean that you mindlessly do whatever somebody tells you to, but that you have to “think about how we can apply this answer to our situation with the knowledge that we have”. Because of this, he listens extremely well to all the advice that different experts are giving him: “Our advantage as a couple of young dudes is that we don’t know that much yet, so we can ask lots of questions, listen and learn,” he laughs.
Decentralisatie van schone energie
When we ask Van Voorst about where Skoon and he will be in five years, he says that “Skoon will [then play] an important role in the decentralization of clean energy and will focus on the mobile option, and the software that is needed to organize the distribution of these mobile options”. He hopes that by that time, they gained some traction abroad as well, “maybe even worldwide”. In addition, he thinks that, next to batteries, they will offer other forms of mobile energy. He envisions a situation in which they combine molecular energy carriers and carriers with electrons, using ammonia, hydrogen and other forms of storage that have a higher capacity than batteries. Even though this will come into play later on, they are already preparing their software.
If you would like to know what Van Voorst had to say about replacing diesel generators, what more they help Damen Shipyard with, and who he himself admires, listen to our podcast Innovative Leaders by INFO here.
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