Steinar's start-up tip
"If I’ve learned anything, it’s that a business needs different types of people, both farmers and hunters. It’s a real kick to bring home as many orders as possible, but things will quickly grind to a halt if you don’t have a strong team keeping the organisational engine running smoothly. That mix is essential.”
Steinar Henskes (26) showed entrepreneurial flair early on: he was already running web shops selling network equipment as an engineering student in Delft. And he had a hobby: laser technology. That background came in handy when he invented the Agrilaser®, an animal-friendly device that uses laser beams to drive away birds. Now, eight years later, his hobby has grown into an international business that employs 25 people, and he has been listed in Forbes 30 under 30.
“There weren’t many lasers on the market in 2009. When I added them to my online product range, my customers started asking me to help install them in their machinery. I got to learn more and more about the technology. And I also realised that certain types of lasers would be ideal for bird control, but no one had thought to use them that way yet! I asked myself who would benefit from this technology and quickly identified farmers as a target group. After all, big flocks of birds, especially geese, are an enormous problem for them. I started calling suppliers, making appointments and visiting farms. Turns out I had really hit the mark. The reception was enthusiastic and I made a lot of sales.
I then worked with two engineers who'd been involved since the beginning to develop an entire product line. We kept asking ourselves what other sectors would be troubled by birds: the fishing industry, industrial sites and plants, fauna management, and aviation – with airports being the biggest risk areas for bird strikes. At our first appointment at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, we found out that they were already using bird control technologies, but they weren’t familiar with the laser that I’d developed. The whole process was very different to what I’d experienced working with farmers. Suddenly we had to allow for all sorts of rules and stakeholders, and everything was a hundred times more complex. In the end, we worked very closely with the airport. They gave us data and input, and we developed the system and the prototypes for the Aerolaser®. Working with Schiphol challenged us to design automated systems instead of the handheld devices that we’d been using until then.
We now sell our lasers worldwide in more than 75 countries. We’ve become part of a larger network of resellers and installation firms, as well as ecological organisations. We do a lot of detective work and continue to add to our knowledge. When you start up a business, you spend the first few years taking on every challenge that comes your way. You’re constantly chasing after opportunities. And then you arrive at a point where you realise: this is what we're good at, this is what we should be doing! That’s the point we’ve reached now. We could make our exit by joining forces with a party that would increase its impact that way. But we could also achieve that expansion ourselves by working with an investor. All our options are still open.”