Founded in 2008 ENS Technology is a family business, run by a mother and her four daughters. Together they have successfully developed a nano technology based air purifying system, which has revolutionised the way we clean air, and brought one of their products, Merlin, to the :agile family.
Who better to tell you about Merlin in their own words, than two of the founders - Lia van de Vorle – mother of five and biotechnologist, inventor of the technic of ENS technology, and her daughter, Esmee van de Vorle – public administration specialist working at ENS.
ENS Technology fights air pollution. How?
Lia: Our company provides an environmental nano solution. That means, we specialize in removing the finest and ultra-finest dust particles from the air. We make air purifying devices that are environmentally friendly because they don’t use filters or disposables and consume less energy.
Esmee: It is very important that we develop a technology that can be used in a number of different ways and in different locations: our goal is not only to clean the air in people’s homes, but also in public spaces.
How many products do you have already and what are they?
Lia: During the first year of launching the business, we worked on a number of prototypes. We also tackled legal issues such as licenses and patents. Now we have three products: Aufero, Titan and Merlin.
• Aufero is designed for indoor air treatment in industrial and commercial buildings
• Titan is designed for companies with high levels of dust emissions (most commonly used in the feed, food and agricultural sector).
• Merlin, with its compact design, is used in the domestic, small business and catering markets. It is also the product, we have brought to :agile accelerator.
There is a number of air purifying systems in the market. How do your products differ from them?
Esmee: We have removed the need for filters. Filters need to be cleaned and replaced, which is usually expensive and impacts the environment. Air purifiers with filters also have higher energy consumption, which leads to increased costs. Finally, and most importantly, other systems do not eliminate the fine dust – something that our products do.
Lia: Merlins particle filtering technology, not only clears the air, but also removes the bacteria and viruses that can cause illness, our systems reduce the risk to people’s health by preventing these particles from spreading.
You’ve recently started a project called ‘Lungs of the city’ with the city of Eindhoven - the project seeks to clean the air in public spaces. Where did the idea come from?
Esmee: Five years ago we installed two Aufero systems in a car park in Cuijk. The idea was conceived after receiving complaints about pollution in the commercial center. Polluted air from the car park was rising into the center, resulting in people suffering from headaches and nausea. To solve this problem, we installed an air purifying system in the parking area. Since then, 70 percent of the polluted air has been cleaned and we’ve received positive feedback from the people working there.
We started to consider – ‘Could this work on an even bigger scale?’ With the help of the University of Eindhoven, we started researching and testing how our systems could work in open spaces, where external influences such as wind would play a part. We started thinking about the potential of putting an air purifying system in the whole city? – the potential was massive.
Lia: The Aufero system in our Eindhoven open space project runs 24/7 and cleans up to 300 000 m3 of air in one hour, whilst using very little energy (360 Watts each hour to clean 10 000 m3 air). As the system is placed in an outside area, with the help of wind, clean air is spread around the city – hence the name “Lungs of the City”.
ENS Technology is run by a mother and her 4 daughters. Was running a family business something you all wanted to do?
Lia: To be honest, no (Lia laughs). We never expected any of our children to come and work in our family business, however, we always made them feel welcome. At the end of the day it has to be their decision.
Esmee: Yes. When we were younger, our parents worked 24/7. We lived next door to the company so for us it was very normal to see our parents all day, even when they were working. We really grew up in the company, but were never forced to join it, yet the four of us did.
What is the best thing about working for a family business?
Esmee: It’s the culture of the company. We have a flat hierarchy, which helps us all be honest with each other – everything is straight forward, even if it gets a little emotional sometimes.
Does working together have any drawbacks? Do you not tire of each other sometimes?
Esmee: That was something I was afraid of. Before joining the company, I was scared that I would not want to see my sisters at the weekends. These worries were unfounded. When I’m at work, my mind is focused on work, after work I find myself thinking ‘I need to visit my sister’s house and say hi to her’. Somehow it just works.
Lia: My daughters were always very close. However, if one of the girls wants to do something else, she is welcome to. They should always make their own decisions.
You started ENS Technology in 2008. Do you still consider yourself a startup?
Esmee: ENS Technology is a parent company broken down into different businesses, some of which are defined as startups e.g. Merlin or ENS Urban. With these businesses, you’re entering a whole new market with little to no budget, dealing with new partners and approaching new customers.
If there is one piece of advice you could give to all startups, what would it be?
Lia: Have a purpose or goal that you strongly believe in. Put that purpose at the heart of everything you do and always refer back to it when people tell you ‘it’s not going to work’. When we started in 2008, everyone was telling us that particles were not dangerous and that we were crazy. As you see now, air pollution is a massive global issue and we are playing our part in tackling it.
Esmee: Be brave and take risks. What we’ve learned is to have 10 business ideas that didn’t work allows you to learn from your mistakes before you find the big idea that does works.
Lia: One important thing is to recognize your failures, if you don’t, you’ll just make the same mistakes again and again.