From the fields to the stars: Design Terminal’s mission to help industry

Innovation

The simplest business ideas can be suitable for disrupting whole industries. For some years, Design Terminal has been looking for bright ideas from young entrepreneurs. Together with the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture (NAK), it created NAK TechLab to digitize the sector. After marvelous results in this area, the space industry is getting ready.

Design Terminal is Central Europe’s leading innovation agency and builds “Innovation Champions” through corporate partnerships and talent acceleration. From the very beginning, the agency has been working to ensure its programs have a tangible impact on the economy of Hungary and the region. Its industry programs can help this goal in the most practical way since they ensure that innovation in different areas enters an industry immediately.

Design Terminal’s two primary areas regarding this topic today are agriculture and space. Startup incubation programs connected to these industries have made a real difference and created strong examples for a few years now.

Although these may seem like two very different sectors, the transition between them can be straightforward. An innovation with a satellite image, for example, can immediately be applied to agriculture. Here, we look at concrete examples of programs DT and its partners have managed to launch and the results they have reached so far.

Digitalization of agriculture

NAK TechLab is the first Hungarian business development program to focus specifically on agricultural startups. One of the most effective responses to the challenges of agriculture, such as extreme weather, which is increasingly affecting farming, or the issue of generational change, is to increase the level of digitalization in the sector.

The program was launched in 2019 by NAK and DT to find the most innovative solutions in agriculture and the food industry, thus making them more competitive, sustainable, and greener. The main objective of this program is to optimize the competitiveness of domestic farmers in agriculture, enabling their long-term integration into the sector. In addition to startups, corporations, farmers, and investors are all eager to participate in this popular program. Young entrepreneurs and developers help big corporations, and through them the farmers, with innovative solutions, whereas big companies create opportunities for startups to enter the market easier.

NAK TechLab supports agtech startups through several programs. One of them is the three-month-long incubation program, where startups can boost their developments via business training, intensive workshops, and working with mentors. The program was held for the third time since 2019. Almost 100 consultations took place in the first phase between the participating startups and the prominent corporate players that joined.

The program also supports teams with legal and technological advice, as well as venture capital investment meetings that can help develop their solution from both a professional and commercial perspective. The startups receive professional guidance from agricultural and product development experts, thus preparing them for business meetings with representatives of AXIÁL Kft., Corteva Agriscience, Bonafarm Group, KITE Zrt., or the technology partner of the program, Vodafone Hungary.

Another NAK TechLab project invites young, innovative people into the sector from the universities. This was also organized for the third time since 2019. To give an idea of what type of solutions students came up with this year, one of the winners was Agrofly. They created an airship suitable for the observation of birds and other wild animals.

Countless students who are not from an agricultural major also see potential in finding a solution to the challenges of agriculture with their innovative ideas. Last year, the main prize went to team CowBaj, whose solution measured the various conditions of cows precisely by a digitized method to find any lameness in the animals.

Alumni success stories from TechLab

One of the stars of the NAK TechLab incubation program was the SMAPP Lab startup. Leading Hungarian agricultural company KITE saw immediate potential in the team, whose founder was an 18-year-old university student, and started to test the innovation right away. SMAPP invented a new digital pheromone trap for pests that can play an effective role in preventive plant protection. SMAPP’s solution is already being tested in Kenya, Africa.

France Gourmet Foods, a company that supplies Hungarian restaurants, cafes, and hotels with the highest quality food, recently established cooperation with one of the 2019 NAK TechLab incubation program teams. Bedrock farm grows chemical-free quality crops, leafy greens, herbs, micro-greens, and edible flowers at a fixed price in a downtown cellar in Budapest. They do this every day of the year, regardless of the season and weather. Crops can now be placed in the hands of top chefs in only 40 minutes, thanks to the cooperation.

Space industry is a great opportunity

The distance between space and our everyday lives – even, for example, agriculture – is much less than we might at first think. The most straightforward business ideas can conquer the galaxy. Do you ever feel “weightless” when you wear sneakers? The comfortable rubber in your shoes was first used for astronauts’ helmets; a space engineer later passed on the idea to one of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers.

Hungary has been a full member of the European Space Agency since 2015. The organization has been working actively for six years, together with Hungary, to develop Hungarian space activities. This collaboration is now entering new spheres: Design Terminal will take over the domestic representation of ESA’s space activities and lead the ESA Business Incubation Center Hungary Program, which will pave the way for Hungarian companies to enter the space industry.

Those businesses have a tremendous opportunity to develop because anyone can get involved in space research. Not just scientists, engineers, or physicists, but also economists, lawyers, and young entrepreneurs. The main goal of ESA BIC Hungary is to develop successful industry startups and create and strengthen a space industry community in Hungary. Startups in the program will receive EUR 50,000 incentive funding, reach national and global investors, and get business mentoring, technical and legal support.

ESA operates 22 incubation centers on the continent and has already supported more than 1,100 businesses. Several of these have now grown into global companies. Design Terminal will provide Hungarian companies with a high level of professional support. DT boasts similar numbers to ESA: the innovation agency’s incubation programs are organized in 12 countries and have already developed more than 1,000 companies. The 12-24 month incubation program is open to businesses whose products and services are based on a new technological invention or use an existing technology in a new way.

Two exciting examples show what types of solutions can be applied to the program. These companies are already part of the ESA BIC Hungary. Space Apps Ltd.’s Beebox Project is a smart beehive solution that helps beekeepers make the right decisions based on measurements in the hive and satellite data from the surrounding vegetation.

Meanwhile, the Aquanauta Center for Exploration aims to study the human factors relevant to space and underwater exploration. They intend to research and develop equipment, protocols, solutions, and technologies integral in these extreme and unusual environments.

The mentoring and business meetings kick off in January of 2022, while the application is permanently open, albeit with specific deadlines.

The article first appeared in this year's Invented in Hungary publication in November 2021.

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