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.

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.


European Copernicus accelerator pitching competition won by start-up in Finland

The Copernicus accelerator is an initiative by the European union to accelerate the use of earth observation satellites launched by the EU. The accelerator hosts fifty teams from countries across Europe. Each team either won a Hackathon, got selected based on a open call or won a challenge in the Copernicus masters programme.

This ten month mentoring programme was kicked off during a boot camp in Marseille, France on the third and fourth of December. Each of the teams was paired up with a mentor who had previously been through the same programme and now have successful businesses. The teams will be mentored for ten months with another camp at the end of the programme.

After winning AtmosHack in Helsinki, UrbanZee, a small air-quality related start-up in Finland, qualified for the Copernicus accelerator programme. They were paired up with Hans van ‘t Woud, who is a past Copernicus overall winner and the founding director of BlackShore. His business is successfully using the power of the crowds to analyse satellite imagery.

“Our ideas use a crowd-based approached to create impact on the air quality in cities”, says Aschwin van der Woude, CEO of UrbanZee, “so I am excited to work with Hans, especially as we have already evolved our initial ideas to the next level during the boot camp. The next ten months in the programme promises to be interesting”.

“I have mentored several other teams in the Copernicus accelerator programme, after my own successes”, explains mentor van ‘t Woud, “as a conceptual designer, I always look for ways to integrate and innovate ideas. And as an entrepreneur, I seek to create a positive impact in the world. UrbanZee’s ideas are very interesting and I am keen to help them succeed”.

During the second day of the Copernicus accelerator boot camp all fifty teams had the opportunity to pitch their business ideas within one and a half minute. The teams were spread over four separate pitching sessions with different juries. UrbanZee became the winner in one of these sessions, earning them an opportunity to pitch at another European start-up/investor event.

“AtmosHack and the Copernicus accelerator boot camp provided us not only with some validation on our direction by the judges, but we also gained access to a wider range of experts to help us succeed”, concludes van der Woude, “we’ll continue going forward to impact the air quality of cities around the world”.

Turku-based startup UrbanZee wins Copernicus AtmosHack

Last weekend ten teams competed in the Copernicus AtmosHack, where they came up with innovative ways to use and visualise Copernicus satellite data on air quality. UrbanZee, a Turku-based start-up, won the challenge with their real-estate service.

The teams were selected out of 35 project applications and competed for prizes worth 30.000€, with the top price including entry into the European Copernicus Accelerator programme. Other prices awarded to the top six teams included tickets to Slush and continued access to the WEkEO satellite data platform so teams could continue developing their ideas.

“We, and other teams, faced many challenges during AtmosHack working with satellite data for the first time”, remarked UrbanZee CEO Aschwin van der Woude. Aschwin continued: “we were fortunate enough to have domain experts available from the sponsoring organisation to help us overcome these challenges”.

UrbanZee had developed their real-estate service prior to AtmosHack and sought to improve the service by combining open data from satellites and ground stations with data from UrbanZee’s own devices.

“I believe that UrbanZee had the best business plan, that made innovative use of satellite data by merging them with ground-based air quality observations and data from hand-held sensors. They were a great team, combining business acumen with expertise in web design and statistics” said Johannes Flemming, Principal Scientist at ECMWF.

AtmosHack was arranged by Ultrahack, an expert organisation focusing on encouraging innovation through Hackathons.  “I have seen Aschwin compete in other Ultrahack events and he was even elected best mentor in one of the events we organised in Turku last year”, noted CEO and co-founder of Ultrahack Mikko Järvilehto, “it is a pleasure to see him succeed in AtmosHack, especially as the topic relates to his Startup business”.

As the winning team, UrbanZee will participate in a bootcamp in December, which is the start of the ten month intensive Copernicus Accelerator programme. “We are very excited to enter the Copernicus Accelerator and join the other 50 teams from across Europe”, says Aschwin van der Woude energetically. “We hope not only to use satellite data to develop and implement our ideas, but also gain some visibility to help the success of our business. Our aim is to reduce pollution world-wide through a platform of economies connecting all the necessary actors, and we will need all the help we can get to succeed”.

Air quality startup starts pilot in Salo

The City of Salo and UrbanZee have agreed on a pilot during summer 2018. Specific areas in Salo will be measured twice a week, such as the centre area, Halikko, Tupuri, Viitanummi and Vanutehtaanmäki. A mobile app will be released later to provide citizens with access to this information.

Salo is one of the most active cities in south-west Finland. It is continuously evolving and is somewhat unique in that it is developing excellent facilities from former Nokia factory and R&D center, into the Salo IoT Campus. Not only does this provide companies with excellent infrastructure; but highly skilled engineering workforce also provides unique opportunities. Not surprising, Salo is quickly rediscovering itself as an innovative city, attracting both startups and growth companies, and even initiatives such as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.

Additionally, Salo as a smaller city has very clean air. While Finland itself is in the top 10 of countries in the world with the cleanest air, there are benefits to living in a city, such as Salo, with even less pollution than larger Finnish cities.

“Salo wants to be attractive to startups so when we talked with UrbanZee we saw opportunities to work together” said special advisor Peter Nisula from the City of Salo, “UrbanZee is a smartcity company, which made it even more interesting to Salo”.

Earlier this spring performed a pilot on measuring the air quality within Salo to show UrbanZee’s capability. These initial measurements were only snapshots, but showed clean air overall.

UrbanZee is a startup aiming to measure the air quality of entire cities in hyper-local detail. Its services include access to air quality information and measuring areas in detail and a platform for people to participate in making a lasting change. “Salo as a city is interesting for us, because an early small-scale survey showed that even in a city like Salo people are concerned about air quality” explains UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude, “This is not entirely surprising as air quality can on average be good, but in some specific areas of a city one might find elevated levels of pollution, such as next to a busy road”.

“Salo has not been actively measuring air quality as it has not been needed nor required”, says director of environmental protection Pirkko Paranko from the City of Salo, “We are nevertheless curious about some areas that are under development and look forward to seeing the effects of, for example, the power plant might have on pollution levels in some areas of Salo”. UrbanZee is closely collaborating with Salo city to ensure the data produced can provide meaningful conclusions.

During the pilot, UrbanZee will also conduct several surveys to further measure concern among citizens, and allow people to sign up for early access to the mobile app.