UrbanZee’s gamification stood out in the Hope Helsinki competition

As a young startup in Turku, UrbanZee focusses on the problem of measuring the air pollution of cities in detail and make it actionable. The goal is to help citizens in many cities around the world, to make better decisions and minimise their exposure to harmful air pollutants.

As any large city, Helsinki is also concerned about air quality, and started the Hope Helsinki initiative (Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone). This initiative is part of the EU Urban Innovative Action (UIA) programme to develop innovative and sustainable urban solutions. This EU programme allows municipalities to invest in ideas that might be otherwise seen as too risky or unproven. Forum Virium, Helsinki’s innovation company, developed a competition within Hope Helsinki to select the most novel concepts from the winning companies to be tested in Helsinki.

During Summer, the UrbanZee team applied to the Hope Helsinki competition. “Participating in Hope Helsinki helped us further develop our gamification concept”, said UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude, “the approach taken by Hope Helsinki had many parallels to our own concept, and through that lens we improved our own business ideas”.

UrbanZee applied in the cross-innovation track within the competition, and reached sixth place out of 26 competing companies. The top two submissions within the track were awarded prices, both had interesting innovation related to using a digital twin of the city to visualise not only air quality, but also other data and even aspects of urban planning.

“We received many high quality submissions to the competition, making it challenging for the panel of experts to select the winners”, explained UIA HOPE’s project manager Pekka Niskasaari from Forum Virium, “UrbanZee was one of the few to apply gamification, which was judged to be an interesting innovative approach and the most mature”.

The Hope Helsinki initiative aims to hold another competition next year, to which UrbanZee intends to apply. “We will continue to develop our business, so that by next year our offering will be even more competitive and hopefully we get to the top in the next competition“, concludes CEO van der Woude.

More information:

Hope Helsinki: https://forumvirium.fi/en/uia-hope/. (English version), https://forumvirium.fi/uia-hope-dataan-perustuvia-ilmanlaadun-parannustoimenpiteita/ (Finnish version), https://uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/helsinki

Forum Virium: http://forumvirium.fi/

UrbanZee: Aschwin van der Woude, , +358 50 567 6665, www.urbanzee.com

UrbanZee accepted into European Space Agency Business Incubator

UrbanZee is a startup focussed on measuring air quality of entire cities in detail, and helping people make decisions to optimise their health, such as which park to run in, or where to live in a city. In addition to using their own sensor, they also use government data and saw an opportunity to use data from satellites.

Space and related technologies are integral to our societies, and the European Space Agency not only develops these capabilities for Europe, but also ensure this technology benefits the citizens of Europe and the world. For instance, positioning technologies allows people to find their way in a city, and satellites provide weather information.

One highly successful business-related programme is the incubator programme organised within 20 of its Business Incubation Centres throughout Europe. Since its inception in 2003, more than 700 startups have been incubated, leading to a multitude of new services and thousands of jobs being created in Europe.

The Finnish Business Incubator Centre has been in operations since 2017, and is a collaboration between many local partners, including Business Finland, Aalto University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and Turku Business Region.

“When we first heard of ESA-BIC in 2018, we had not been aware of the potential of space data, including satellites measuring air pollutants”, explains UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude, “but in discussions with ESA-BIC representatives, it became clear that air quality related satellite data needed to be the corner-stone of our services”.

UrbanZee subsequently applied for the ESA-BIC programme, for which was initially rejected as the idea around the use of space data was underdeveloped. For that reason, UrbanZee joined AtmosHack in 2018 where it won the pitching competition and qualified for the Europe-wide 11-month long Copernicus accelerator programme during 2019. With these additional developments, UrbanZee applied again to the ESA-BIC programme in 2020, and succeeded.

“UrbanZee has certainly made clear progress since the first time they applied”, said Kimmo Isbjörnssund, ESA-BIC Finland’s manager, “we are excited to have them along with the other six participants in the fall 2020 programme”.

Now that UrbanZee is part of the ESA-BIC programme, they aim to integrate satellite data into its solutions with the help of experts in the ESA-BIC network, and launch a pilot in one major European city. “Being part of the ESA-BIC programme will help us further develop our capabilities and our business. It is exciting to be involved in space technologies”, concludes van der Woude.


ESA-BIC, https://esabic.fi

Aschwin van der Woude, , +358 50 567 6665, www.urbanzee.com

Finnish air quality startup applies for EU Copernicus Masters programme

As “Europe’s eyes on Earth”, the EU’s Copernicus satellite programme monitors the global environment, including the air we all breathe. To encourage innovation around space data and space technology, the Copernicus programme has a Europe-wide Accelerator and Masters programme. Startups and businesses accepted onto these programmes receive additional support to take their ideas forward.

“We are always looking for applicants with innovative ideas to participate in the Copernicus Masters programme,” explains Monika Mayr, one of the organisers of the programme.

The programme has been running since 2011 and has seen almost 3,300 applicants, with over 100 winners in various challenges. “UrbanZee took part in the Copernicus Accelerator programme in 2018–2019 and was one of the winners of the four pitching competitions. We are happy to see their application for our Masters programme”, Mayr added.

“During our time in the Copernicus Accelerator, I saw our ideas continually develop,” UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude said, “not only did we get the support we needed to further understand the satellite data, our designated mentor played a vital role in developing our current business model.”

In 2017, the Sentinel-5P was launched, which was the first Copernicus satellite dedicated to monitoring air pollution. Using data from this satellite in combination with its own sensor data, UrbanZee aims to provide street-level air quality maps of individual cities around the world, allowing citizens to make the best short- and long-term health decisions.

“Participating in the Copernicus Masters programme is the next logical step as its Environment, Energy & Health challenge is very much about societal and health impact, which is at the core of our goals”, van der Woude continued. “Air pollution is shown to have a serious negative impact on the health of individuals, leading to a greater burden on our local healthcare systems and a less productive workforce for companies overall.”

“With our approach, we try to engage citizens as city-wide communities, and encourage them to collaborate with local governments and organisations to create both short-term and long-term impacts,” van der Woude concluded. “Taking part in this Copernicus Masters challenge will greatly enhance our capability to reach this vision.”

More information,

Aschwin van der Woude, , +358 50 567 6665, www.urbanzee.com

UrbanZee hires its Chief Technology Officer

UrbanZee is an exciting young startup focussing on making air quality measuring more widely available in cities around the world. It has developed several services to measure air quality of entire cites in detail and meaningfully involve citizens in a dialogue with governments to find immediate and long-term solutions.

It’s CEO, Aschwin van der Woude, explains: “we are ready to expand to and test other markets, and while working on closing our current funding round to achieve this, it became clear that we needed to expand our team and therefore decided to look for a CTO”.

Due to the corona period of self-isolation, finding and interviewing candidates was challenging and took a longer amount of time, but the UrbanZee team eventually narrowed down its candidates and decided to hire Dr. rer. nat. Joseph Pagaran, a multi-disciplined holistic thinker with a background in environmental physics and atmospheric science, with an avid interest in software engineering and using the latest tools to solve problems, such as using artificial intelligence.

“I first came across the UrbanZee team at Atmoshack at the end of 2018”, explains Dr. Pagaran, “they caught my eye not only because they won the pitching competition, but also because I recognised several shared interests”.

UrbanZee’s victory during AtmosHack qualified them for a ten month journey through the EU Copernicus accelerator programme, which further developed the ideas by using Space Data and the help of an experienced mentor. This programme prepared UrbanZee for its next steps.

“UrbanZee is an exciting young startup”, continues Dr. Pagaran, “I will be able to combine many of my skills in mathematics, data analysis, software development and data visualisation, but what gets me even more excited is that I can also execute many of my ideas, for instance, in predictive modelling of air quality, which I’d like to call chemical weather”.

The aim for UrbanZee is to close its current funding round by the end of Summer, and with this new addition to the team, UrbanZee aims to accelerate its development. “I always set my bar high filling any C-level positions and require a creative problem-solving mindset combined with a multi-disciplinary skill-set that is not easily found.”, explains CEO van der Woude with a serious tone, but then smiles broadly and concludes: “our new CTO hire positively surprised me in exceeding that expectation, and I look forward to working closely together in achieving our expansion goals”.

More information,

Aschwin van der Woude, , +358 50 567 6665, www.urbanzee.com

UrbanZee finds its chairman

UrbanZee is an exciting young startup focussing on making air quality measuring more widely available in cities around the world. It has developed several services to measure air quality of entire cites in detail and meaningfully involve citizens in a dialogue with governments to find immediate and long-term solutions.

As the company is current working on closing its first round of funding, it needed an experienced entrepreneur to guide the company through the next founding rounds. CEO Aschwin van der Woude and majority shareholder asked Kalle Koskela, a local serial entrepreneur, to fulfil the role of chairman of the board.

“Since meeting entrepreneur Koskela in the SparkUp startup community in Turku, we have been sharing thoughts and ideas not only about our own business ideas but also others”, explains CEO van der Woude, “this leads to mutually benefiting from these discussions and actively helping each others startups”.

Entrepreur Koskela’s startup, focussed on e-sports, came out of the BusinessUp accelerator the year before UrbanZee entered. His e-sports startup quickly acquired its first funding round, using his experience in two earlier startups. “After being introduced to the UrbanZee concept, I got intrigued as it had potential although it was still a raw idea initially”, remembered entrepreneur Koskela, “over time I saw the idea grow and the company is currently on the brink of growth and that is always exciting to be a part of”.

Since the BusinessUp accelerator, UrbanZee’s concept continued to evolve based on feedback from advisors, including from Entrepreneur Koskela, the AtmostHack hackathon, and during the EU Copernicus accelerator.

“The support and advice I have received from Mr. Koskela has been invaluable, not only to the business but also in the personal support an early stage entrepreneur requires”, concludes CEO van der Woude, “now that we are reading our first funding round, it was only natural to ask him to become UrbanZee’s chairman of the board”.

UrbanZee gets involved with research on active 3D-printed nanomaterials that reduces air pollution

3d printed material

During the last decade, 3D-printing has become available to consumers. This technique, also called additive manufacturing, has already been used for many decades in various industries to produce complex products or product parts that cannot be manufactured in any other way.

Consumer-level 3D printers only use plastics, but industrial 3D printers are capable of using other materials, including metals and materials such as ceramics that are stronger than steel. Some of these printers use laser-based systems to produce materials with very fine details.

The ceramic materials research group, lead by Professor Erkki Levänen at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, is taking these 3D-printed materials to the next level by incorporating active compounds that can perform chemistry in air and liquids. Applications include high efficiency catalytic convertors in buildings or on top of chimneys to reduce pollutants.

During the Tampere Sustainability Startup weekend organised by the American TechStars seed accelerator, UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude participated as a mentor, and met Setareh Zakari, one of Professor Levänen’s doctoral students. “When I talked with Setareh about her research, the huge potential of active 3D nanomaterials on air quality were immediate clear”, explained van der Woude, “as her research showed that active materials can be incorporated, such as those reducing Nitrogen dioxide, I understood 3D-printed materials can potentially improve efficiency by several magnitudes”.

After the event discussions continued, and professor Levänen concluded: “as our research is at an exciting cross-roads of ceramic nanomaterials, chemistry and environmental engineering, and we always look for commercial partners, it became clear the approach taken by UrbanZee is a good fit with our focus”.

UrbanZee and Professor Levänen’s research group started a preliminary study on the viability of some initial product ideas that could become part of UrbanZee’s offering in the future. As the research continues, the business potential will become more clear, which might include adding additional business partners to the project.

Air quality startup, UrbanZee, finalises EU Copernicus Accelerator programme

Last year, UrbanZee was qualified for the EU Copernicus Accelerator programme when its team won the main price at the AtmosHack hackathon in Helsinki.

The Copernicus programme is one of the two major satellite programmes run by the European Commission, its Galileo programme providing the next generation global position alike GPS, and its Copernicus programme consisting of various Earth observation satellites.

As all the satellite data is freely available and to get the maximum benefit out of these satellites, the Copernicus accelerator programme is an annual programme facilitating start-ups to develop new services using satellite data. UrbanZee was one among the best 50 start-ups from across Europe to qualify for the 2018-2019 programme.

“Many accelerator programmes have similar content, but what made this accelerator unique is that they paired us up with our own personal mentor”, explained Aschwin van der Woude, CEO of UrbanZee. “Our mentor, was crucial to UrbanZee as his expertise in building communities around satellite data help us develop the right business models”, continued van der Woude.

UrbanZee’s mentor, Hans van ‘t Woud is an experienced entrepreneur with a successful company using satellite data and the power of crowds to identify features on maps, which can help disaster relief or detect illegal rainforest cuts. “As a an entrepreneur I endured ample failure while success is rare but worthwhile. Hence, it has taken me a lot of willpower and a blind belief in my concept to be able to keep up”, says mentor van ‘t Woud, “and I see similar characteristic skills in Aschwin, and he has what it takes to see his platform to come alive”.

Within the start-up industry it widely known that failure rates are high, and while there are many reasons for failure, often it is because a new product or services has no market or the market is not ready to adopt novel innovations yet. “Connecting the crowd to space assets and providing them with tools to do something about our environment is just one of these things that must succeed. This, along with sellable data, in the end makes it a perfect combination”, concludes mentor van ‘t Woud.

UrbanZee is developing several services with business models that fit with the costs of measuring cities in fine detail. Building communities that have a measuring capability is one such business model, and satellite data provides the initial data to identify where in a city detailed measuring should take place. “It is for innovative ideas such as those developed by UrbanZee that the Copernicus programme needs to exist”, explains programme coordinator Tamara Naydenova, “as it is not just about using satellite data but it is also about creating meaningful impact in our lives”.

UrbanZee’s next steps are to test the concepts developed during the accelerator programme. Even though the programme has ended, CEO van der Woude and mentor van ‘t Woud intend to continue to work together, and that in itself has been the biggest success of the programme for UrbanZee.

UN SDSN Northern Europe selects UrbanZee into its air solutions report

The United Nations has set 17 goals to address global sustainability. These goals include Climate action, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, affordable and clear energy; and also sustainable cities and communities.

UrbanZee, a small startup from Turku, focusses on measuring the air quality of entire cities and involving all stakeholders in finding lasting solutions. Its services are very much aligned with the sustainability goals set out by the UN. Sustainable cities can only be created by working together between citizens, companies and local governments. UrbanZee aims to initiate communities of concerned citizens around air pollution and detailed measurements, and facilitate discussions between all the stakeholders to create impact.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) initiative was launched in 2012 to support the sustainability goals by mobilizing scientific and technical expertise. Within the Nordics, SDSN Northern Europe created several themed Solution Initiative Forums, and within 2019 the focus was on Air.

UrbanZee was approached, among many other companies, to perform a self-assessment and be evaluated by initiative’s expert panel. From all these companies, UrbanZee was selected to be a part of the 20 companies included in the final Air Solutions Report published in August during the Solution Initiative Forum event.

UrbanZee was assessed to contribute indirectly to nine of the 17 sustainability goals as defined by the United Nations.

More information,

The Air Solutions Report is available from the UN SDSN Northern Europe website.

For more information on UrbanZee, please contact Aschwin van der Woude, , +358 50 567 6665, www.urbanzee.com

Salo air quality Summer 2018 report published

During Summer last year, in 2018, UrbanZee measured specific areas of Salo for nine weeks, which included Tupuri, Halikko, Viitannummi, Vanutehtaanmäki and the centre area.

Salo requested to measure pollution in these areas for two reasons. The centre, Tupuri and Halikko were known to contain larger amounts of traffic than other areas. And the second reason was Viitanummi, which houses the powerplant and it was expected that under common wind conditions its pollution would descent in or near Viittanummi.

Furthermore, Salo city was interested in measuring the difference between week- and weekend days, and patterns within data taken in the morning, noon and afternoon. Based on these requirements, UrbanZee planned a standard route to visit each area with its mobile sensor over the nine weeks of the project.

The data found that the areas with busier streets did some some observable somewhat elevated patterns of air pollution for some days, specifically Nitrogen Dioxide, but in most cases air quality was good. As for the power plant no clear air pollution patterns were found near the power plant nor in the areas were pollution would descent.

The full report is available, free of charge, which you can receive by filling in the form below. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose then communicating our progress.