Orbisk’s AI powered solution to food waste in the hospitality industry
We met with Olaf van der Veen, CEO and co-founder of Orbisk (previously Zero Food Waste), to discuss his experiences of building a start-up and the recent €1.2 million Eurostars win for the ‘FOOD FIGHT’ project, which will help propel Orbisk’s AI powered food waste monitor into the market.
↑ Orbisk CEO and founder Olaf van der Veen next to the AI powered food waste monitor
The work of Orbisk is concerned with reducing food waste, which amounts to over 1.3 billion tons of food annually, equal to 4.4 billion tons in CO2 emissions (8% of global CO2 emissions). Specifically, Orbisk are tackling waste in the hospitality industry, which accounts for 15% of all food waste worldwide – a whopping >150 million tons annually, and 10 million tons annually in the EU. Without impactful interventions, current food waste will grow to 2.1 billion tons by 2030, representing a major economic burden of €1.1 trillion on the hospitality sector and environmental burden on society. Co-founders Olaf van der Veen, Bart van Arnhem (CTO) and Richard Beks (CCO) wanted to create a product that could have real impact. With their zero food waste technology, they go a step further to creating a more sustainable food system.
The AI powered food waste monitor is a waste management system for the hospitality sector that tracks and predicts food waste and associated CO2 emissions. The technology is powered by a camera located above a waste bin, with AI technology that automatically recognizes which products are being thrown away. This data is compiled into actionable insights for the user, allowing them to identify exactly what is being wasted and how they can implement changes in portion sizes, stocking and planning. Resultantly, the food service companies can make significant monthly financial savings while reducing their food wastage.
Orbisk began in 2018, with Olaf and his first co-founder Bart, who came from a background in data consultancy and data engineering. Later, in 2019, Richard joined as a third co-founder. For them, becoming entrepreneurs was about creating something with real impact, “We wanted to see what our collaboration could be and make something spectacular.” Van der Veen says.
The early days of this exciting venture were special to Olaf and Bart, as they worked with no funds while still being employed in their previous jobs. When asked about the inception of Orbisk, Olaf reminisces on the first stages of prototyping the zero food waste technology: “We would spend evening and weekend hours crunching away. When we started prototyping, it was connecting a webcam to a wine case and just seeing what happens. I spent many hours next to a waste bin with a piece of paper, as I needed to find out if what we thought was a problem was actually true in real life.”
“Once we had validated the essentials, we started to optimize the product”
Leading up to their Eurostars application this year, Orbisk underwent rapid growth; in August 2019 they hired their first employee, and by March 2020 they had scaled up to 20 people. Today their diverse team includes employees specialized in machine learning, artificial intelligence and data science.
However, despite the rapid growth leading up to March this year, the hospitality industry suffered greatly at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic, sending Orbisk into hibernation.
“We managed to pull through based on external funds, investments and government support. Once the hospitality sector is able to function somewhat normally again, we will continue scaling up. By the end of 2021 we will have 500 kitchens outfitted with our AI powered food waste monitor.”
Winning Eurostars funding
A major boost to the continued growth of Orbisk came with the news that they had been awarded €1.2 million in Eurostars funding for their FOOD FIGHT project, starting September 2020. Orbisk partnered up with Catalyze to write their Eurostars application, aimed at bringing their product into the commercial marketplace. One thing Olaf mentions about this experience, was how their partners at Catalyze facilitated a lot of work that they simply would not have been able to do.
“Catalyze has a lot of knowledge about what a subsidy or proposal should be, they’ve got the writing skills and the patience that we don’t have! They aided us significantly.”
Leading the FOOD FIGHT project during unstable times
The FOOD FIGHT project will utilize the combined expertise of Orbisk, Aivero – live stream imaging experts, and Eaternity – experts in environmental impact analysis. With the Eurostars funding and this combined expertise, Orbisk gains invaluable support in an especially challenging time. We asked Olaf what will be most important to make the FOOD FIGHT project a success:
“Managing the uncertainty well, circumstances will always change. In any two-year period, the world will become a different place and definitely in these next two years!”
Olaf continues, “It is also an R&D subsidy, so we also need to be flexible and work together effectively within the consortium. A consortium can elevate all of the partners, but we must be invested in the collaboration to maximize its impact.”
Into a new phase of growth
The present focus at Orbisk is on establishing processes that ensure they continue to be ahead of their growth curve. As Olaf explained, this means they will remain well prepared to handle far beyond their present operating capacity.
“We currently have 40 machines live, but we are fit to run 200. When we have 200, we will be fit to run 500. We will always be ahead of the curve.”
Prior to massive expansion, Orbisk must prove the market actually works. Their persistent efforts have led to them securing major partnerships, including with seven of the ten biggest caterers in the Netherlands and Unilever Food Solutions. Once they are able to show them how much money the technology saves, they want to outfit all of their locations with the AI powered food waste monitor.
“Entrepreneurs pursue what others do not dare to.”
After such a whirlwind two years, Olaf highlighted some of the many things he has learned during the process of building Orbisk, “I learned to be agile, we needed to be very brave and proceed where others would have stopped. I also learned to listen to my clients and advisors and, occasionally, not to listen. You must harmonize their inputs into the best solution it can be, so you cannot always fulfill all desires.”
Looking forward, Orbisk are in an excellent position with their current funding and partnerships. Perhaps most importantly, they have the right people for the job. Olaf was quick to answer when we asked, ‘what is one thing you would tell people about Orbisk?’
“We kick ass!” he says, “But seriously, we are cut out of the right wood. We have the right people. As a young start-up now working predominately from home, there is a risk because the relationships between our people are still quite young. We do enjoy each others company very much, but moving online, we had to take an extra step and so far, we have done very well. We truly enjoy what we do.”
The agriculture, food and bioeconomy (AFB) team at Catalyze were thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Orbisk for their Eurostars application. Catalyze is proud to support innovative companies who are striving to create a more sustainable future.
Read more about Orbisk
Learn more about Eurostars
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