Green Dino is a Wageningen University & Research (WUR) tech spin-off dedicated to developing and selling interactive simulations, games and trainings. 'Did you know that we were the very first WUR holding spin-off?' CEO Andrea Poelstra asks proudly.
'Our first project was to automate landscaping architecture, translating 2D drawings into a 3D environment. In those days, the computer required days to do the calculations’, she says, pointing at a framed, rather angular, 3D image of a park in Arnhem, hanging on the wall. ‘Our name refers to the first animated animals in the movie Jurassic Park, and Green represents our relationship with Wageningen, where we started. Our domain (information technology, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual reality) has developed extremely fast.'
'Green Dino was founded in 1994. Co-founder Jorrit Kuipers (CTO) and I both studied here and trained ourselves in business skills. That was before StartHub and StartLife existed. In our early days, we did projects for the Floriade and presented a game at the WUR stand there. That simulation programme showed how to operate a tomato-harvesting robot and what the robot does exactly.'
What precisely does Green Dino do, and for whom?
'The codeword has always been simulation, although it is now applied in many areas. Our core business is currently developing, producing and marketing software for adaptive learning systems, training systems with an incorporated instruction to learn particular procedures. This is also known as a virtual laboratory. This enables you to train in situations and procedures that are not trainable in real life because they are too dangerous or expensive to simulate. In our business, effect studies, scientific research on behaviour are very important. This enables us to investigate what added value a particular innovation may have. Customer contact is crucial. You must complement the knowledge the customer has. This is why we always involve our customers in our projects and product development from the design stage up to the testing stage.'
Could you give some concrete examples of your work?
'Triggered by the corona pandemic, we created a web version of a distillation process in collaboration with the Organic Chemistry group (WUR AFSG), enabling students to practice online at home. They create an experiment online, which is then assessed. This meant they did not have to come to the real lab during corona lockdowns. The exam is in a real lab, of course, but students have been able to practice their skills online.
Another example is a crossing game for young children that we developed in collaboration with Donders, a research institute at Radboud University. This helps children learn how to cross a road. We test and train the spatial awareness of young children in various situations. We are now working with Veilig Verkeer Nederland (Dutch Road Safety organisation) to bring the game to the market for use at home and possibly in the classroom. The game can be downloaded in the app stores.
We have also done a lot of work on virtual stores. For the Donro-project for example, that conducts nudging research on shopping customers. This study investigates how music, light or scents can be used to guide customers to certain products.'
How many and what kind of people work for you?
'There are currently 17 staff members. Mainly people with a background in information technology or arts. Programmers, for the interaction, and 3D artists to design simulation models. Our team translates procedures into code or images that are used to build virtual labs. We also have a service and support department. We mostly have our designs built in-house, driving simulators, for example. We aim to make our products accessible and affordable to as many people as possible. You could build extremely expensive simulators, but the key issue is what you can do with them and what you can learn from them. We are currently recruiting a project manager so that Jorrit and I can hit the road to see customers, as we did before corona.'
Speaking of corona, how did you get through the corona period?
'As a small business with sufficient room here in PlusUltra I, we were able to continue to work on location while keeping a safe distance. Testing equipment is not possible from home. Several labs and similar businesses had the same issue. As a business, we were affected by the stalled transportation and logistics sector. The first thing to be postponed is the acquisition of new devices and software. We still feel the effect of these postponed investments. This is why we must now focus even more on account management.'
Why are you located on Wageningen Campus?
'This is the result of our history. After our studies at WUR, we remained in Wageningen. Moreover, there are many links with WUR in the domain of food research. Computer technicians are underrepresented here, so we collaborate with other universities such as Delft (human-machine interaction), Enschede (robotics) and Eindhoven (automotive).
Despite the fact that we also focus on non-Wageningen domains, we stayed on the campus. The campus is a pleasant and dynamic environment with many young people located in the centre of the Netherlands. We value being around young people for interaction and inspiration.'
Are there advantages to being close to other budding businesses?
'We are located in PlusUltra I with other businesses. The idea of a collaboration with Organic Chemistry literally originated from a chat at the coffee machine. Proof that a shared business building works. It makes you part of a living ecosystem.'
Do you use the facilities/equipment on the campus?
'We have our own facilities and equipment. But the reverse applies: during the last WeDay (sports day), we made our driving simulators available. These are also available for hire. These sims enable you to train your driving skills under various circumstances; while being distracted (phone calls, adjusting the music, having a difficult discussion). The simulators are fed with the many data we have collected over the last decades.'
Do you miss anything on campus?
'Although there are many starting businesses on the campus, interaction is often a matter of chance. I attend as many lunch lectures as I can, as well as events such as the opening of the academic year to stay updated. But perhaps more events should be organised to facilitate a more structural interaction. Perhaps visits or meet and greets every half year? Or a project matching event to match with potential partners in projects. When seeking new partners to collaborate with, it is essential to search in your immediate environment. In this case, the campus.'
How do you envision your future on the campus?
'We will remain on the campus for at least the coming five years. Further into the future is hard to tell, particularly as we have no idea what the effects of corona may be. One of the reasons for us to remain on the campus is that we believe in collaboration and sharing knowledge. This is critical if you want to continue to innovate. Two know more than one, and open-source/shared source is the future.'