Back in 2017, Biotechnology and Chemical engineering students Emil Jakobsen, Johan Egsgaard Thomsen and Søren Jessen Kjær joined forces to form the student startup, Consibio. Even though it seems like a lot of work to run a startup alongside full-time studies, the three founders agree: if you are planning to become an entrepreneur, do it while you are studying – the earlier, the better!
Filling a gap in the market
The idea to start Consibio came when Johan did his internship at Aarhus School of Engineering in 2015. For the tasks he had to perform, he could have used what has now become Consibio’s bread and butter: a plug-and-play platform for monitoring and controlling biological processes. There were solutions on the market but they were either very expensive or very difficult to customize.
The following semester, Emil and Søren also did their internship at Aarhus School of Engineering and faced the same challenge. This was when the three got together and decided to build a student startup and try to fill that gap in the market for a user-friendly, cost-effective and scalable solution that would be easy to customize and able to monitor and control various biological processes.
Building a platform from scratch
With a clear vision in mind, the three co-founders set out to build their platform, Monesco, which is an abbreviation of Monitor, Estimate and Control. They wanted a simple platform – simple enough for everyone to use but built on a solid foundation of complex knowledge.
Having only “maker” experience in hardware and software, the learning curve was relatively steep for the three co-founders. They found help in ORBIT Lab, where they could borrow sensors and actuator modules to build prototypes and get feedback on software development. They were also offered a place in ORBIT Lab’s incubator space, where they still reside today.
Gradually, the platform took shape. Determined, the team involved themselves in development projects right from the get-go, which enabled them to develop their product simultaneously. This way, they were able to test new features in real-world applications and get instant feedback from real customers. A major advantage from a product development point of view: “Because we have developed our platform to meet the needs of the projects we were involved in, we were able to continuously refine our platform and develop it a lot quicker than expected”, Johan explains.
As a result, the team now has a generic platform that can easily be configured and can deliver real-time readings and control of any biological process connected to it.
The platform consists of a Gateway Module that is basically a casing unit with a Linux-based computer inside. This can be connected to sensor modules that – depending on the project – measures anything, such as temperature, humidity, pH value, light intensity, CO2 density, conductivity, and actuator modules to affect and control various processes. Using Google’s Firebase and other cloud-based technologies, the team can quickly configure the unit to the customer’s demand and get it out on-site to conduct tests and collect the desired data.
As it turns out, Consibio’s platform is highly suitable for projects that somehow revolve around sustainable production. With the current focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, there is a high demand for solutions that can contribute to a sustainable future and this is something that the team has benefitted from: “Since we started out, we have been fortunate to participate in a number of very different projects, however, all of them somehow in the field of sustainable production methods”, Emil says.
So far, the team has been involved in fx optimization of insect production, urban farming, building a simulation of the human intestines and creating an integrated household and food production system. Often a lot of participants are involved, and Consibio’s role is to supply monitoring and control via their Monesco platform and based on that, help to interpret data and convert them into biological insights that can be used to optimize the client’s production. The learnings from these processes are used to continuously refine the platform and expand features. Furthermore, Consibio is working on providing advanced data analytics in real-time, so much more valuable information can be provided to the client as a service. Thus, appropriate action can be taken immediately, when sub-optimal conditions exist.
Student entrepreneurs: Twice the workload, twice the reward, twice the help
According to the three founders, there is no end to the advantages of starting a company while still studying. First and foremost, founding Consibio has given them a clear path to design their studies around and a real-life case to incorporate in their study projects as well. Of course, it has been challenging at times when there haven’t been enough hours in the day. But the upsides, as described here by Søren, by far outweigh the downsides: “When you start your own company alongside your studies, there is a whole support system of initiatives and people just waiting to help you out with all the things that come with being an entrepreneur”.
He adds: “being part of the ecosystem here at ORBIT Lab, has also been great, both in terms of the community of like-minded people that come here to work on their projects, but also because of the fact that a great portion of our projects have materialized as a result of someone we have met here – people that have participated in ORBIT Lab tech events, The Orbies or in other ways have paid ORBIT Lab a visit.”
Planning for the future
What lies ahead for the company is a good mix of product and business development. On the tech side of things, the Monesco Cloud is still being tested and refined, while the business is running simultaneously. Upcoming customer projects include everything from sustainable food production in Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as aquaculture, biological air cleaning and smart greenhouses in China.
Johan Egsgaard Thomsen has recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Biotechnology and Chemical Engineering and is now working full-time, while Søren and Emil are working on their master thesis.
Article about Consibio in Stiften.
Consibio has won several Orbie awards at ORBIT Lab’s The Orbies, which takes place at the beginning of each semester. In September, they won Best Video and the Audience Award.