- Just like many other organizations, it is a challenge for Grootgroener to find new talent.
- Grootgroener has an innovation: the Weedaway. This innovative machine is able to detect and remove weeds on sports fields, without the use of chemicals.
Grootgroener faces the challenge of attracting new talent, like many other organisations. Especially when it comes to young, highly educated people. André Trip is convinced that his company has a lot to offer this group. “Our connection to the University of Twente and Saxion University of Applied Sciences is improving. We show that new technologies can also play a major role in a green space company, which is very appealing. A mechanical engineering student from the UT is graduating with us right now. He is very enthusiastic, and we are happy with his fresh perspectives. He is helping us to professionalise the prototype of the Weedaway and is doing research for the next version. As a 55-year-old, I need young guys like that with broad horizons to keep me sharp.”
Trip was working for a large waste collection company in Twente eleven years ago when he wanted a change. He wanted to start his own business and saw an opportunity: to control the oak processionary caterpillar, which was already causing trouble at the time. So that is exactly what happened. Grootgroener grew and now has 45 employees. “I started working from a converted bedroom and soon needed employees. The main objective at the time was to eradicate the oak processionary caterpillars as drastically as possible. So we used pesticides to control them, but that was not without risk. Especially not near places like daycares or homes for the elderly. We decided to start using big data early on. Keeping track of nests, making maps, predicting pest pressure, you name it. We determine how and where to introduce natural enemies such as butterflies based on this, or we use so-called sticky traps. We offer a complete plan for municipalities, which has now become the standard."
Grootgroener also has a new gem: the Weedaway. An innovative machine that detects and removes weeds on sports fields without using chemicals. This means there is no more danger to nature or people. The first demonstrations took place recently. Trip: “Ideally, we would all like to play sports on a grass field without pesticides. We are constantly looking for solutions to make green space maintenance fast and welfare-friendly. That’s part of being a good employer, if you ask me. People that worked in this sector in the past often did not reach retirement age because of physical issues. We can now reduce the physical strain thanks to technical solutions. We are constantly looking for such innovations.”
‘Everyone sees the necessity of weed control without chemicals’
The green space management company greatly values working in an environmentally responsible way. Trip: “We use biological solutions, nematodes and bacteria for controlling the oak processionary caterpillar, for example.” Grootgroener started a pilot with the municipality of Wierden a few years ago, to see how they can keep sports fields free of weeds without using chemicals. This innovation was also prompted by changing regulations. Pesticides may no longer be used on sports fields from 2022 onwards. “We are technically able to do this”, says Trip. “By digging out the weeds instead of spraying them do death, but how do you make sure that doesn’t cost too much manpower and hours? We started looking for suitable partners and additional expertise to further develop our idea.”
Trip and his colleagues felt the need to bring clarity amidst all the opportunities and questions that arose around green space management projects. Novel-T’s Innovate GO programme turned out to be the solution. Job Dekker, manager at Grootgroener: “It is easy to be overwhelmed by the issues of the day as a contractor. We work on our innovation every Tuesday and receive great coaching as part of this programme.” Grootgroener is working on two things: how do we get a working machine, and what will our business model be? “We realised that we would not only have a machine, we would also have a lot of data. We are now including the use of that data in our business model."
The team sees plenty of market opportunities for their innovation. Trip: “Chemical-free control is valuable to society as a whole, and the Weedaway can be used in any place with natural grass. This includes parks and golf courses, for example.” The team will continue using the Innovate GO approach. “Making time for innovating is incredibly important”, says Dekker. “That is why we will continue using the programme’s working method.” When asked what Grootgroener's next innovation will be, Trip answers with a smile: "Strictly confidential. We have more ideas than time to work on them. Still, this innovation is already a wonderful milestone in my experience. My dream is to have completely chemical-free management of natural grass sports fields in the Netherlands. We have taken a step in the right direction.”
Grootgroener worked out the first sketches and built prototypes together with machine builder Gebroeders Ezendam from Borne. That is how the Weedaway came into being: a machine that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect and cut the most common weeds. “We started small but kept increasing the size and assembled test pieces. Lots of pieces ended up in the scrap yard, but we kept making improvements", explains Trip. “In the end, we now have a machine that can be tested and used. We are now giving the first demonstrations of the Weedaway together with Sportaal, the sports company of the municipality of Enschede. The machine will soon be used there. We have already run successful pilots in Wierden and Raalte.”
Trip recently organised a ‘Grass Experience Day’, a day on which business relations and customers were invited to see the Weedaway at work with their own eyes. Trip: “A lot of board members and volunteers from sports clubs showed up. You notice that the group cares about this. Everyone sees the necessity of weed control without chemicals. Their enthusiasm was incredible, and that strengthened us considerably.”
Date: 28 June 2022 |
Source of tekst: INN'twente |
Author: Jochem Vreeman