Coaching Corner with Aero Enterprise: Riding the winds of change
Often, we tell startups stories through the achievements: the disruptive innovations, the new funding rounds or international partnerships. To get there, innovators have a long journey to run, facing the challenges of an unknown market, conducting pilots and trying to find a place in the middle of the crowd. For the very first coaching corner episode, we bring together Peter Kurt Fromme-Knoch, CEO of the Austrian company Aero Enterprise and Andreas Preuß, the business coach that followed their two EIC-funded projects.
The company Aero Enterprise is specialised in automated inspection of wind turbines with drones. The wind farms constructed in bodies of water, usually in the ocean (offshore), are one the most promising sources of energy to accelerate the world’s transition to a fossil-free future. But the inefficient inspection methods for the rotor blades are one of the pain points of the offshore wind sector. When drones are not used, industrial climbers have to rappel down each blade to take pictures, performing a dangerous, time-consuming and imprecise inspection, sometimes positioned 100m above the sea.
To address these challenges, Aero Enterprise decided to expand its offer to the offshore wind industry with an in-house unmanned aerial vehicle. The A2MIRO helicopter autonomously inspects the offshore turbine, providing to costumers an in-depth knowledge about future maintenance needs. But how can this solution stand out in such a busy sky, full of drones? EIC Business Coach Andreas Preuß helped the CEO Peter Kurt Fromme-Knoch discover “where the real business is”.
A consumer-driven innovation
When Aero Enterprise received its Phase 1 Grant from the European Innovation Council, the company was looking for a coach with a specialisation in business development and with good experience on the wind branch market in Europe. After a couple of phone calls with different coaches, they realised that Andreas Preuß was the right contact In the very beginning, they put their focus and efforts on the consumers. “They had to get out of this technology focus and look at what the customers need. We did a lot of business modelling, and we tried to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and identify what the consumer wanted”, explained Andreas. “People don’t care if the product is green or red coloured. The main purpose of the solution is to deliver high-density data from the wind turbines, and, at the end of the day, the client just wants a report”, he added.
After exploring these market needs, the Austrian company decided to switch from a ‘drone-driven business’ to a ‘data-driven business’, introducing a data analysis software equipped with machine learning technology to provide customers with a deep digital report about future maintenance needs: “The biggest difference is that, with the drone that we invented, the inspection of wind turbines is fully automated and fully digital. Every customer gets digital information about the condition of their wind farm – with pictures, background images, and also with an Artificial Intelligence supported analysis”, mentioned Peter.
‘Reconnaissance’ of partners
After successfully concluding its first EIC-funded project, Aero Enterprise received a Phase 2 Grant from the European Innovation Council. Andreas Preuß also followed the company during this second step, identifying and addressing new challenges on their business growth journey. According to Peter, one of the main difficulties “was to reach the big international players on the market”. And even if they joined several international fairs from the wind sector, they didn’t manage to get closer to the decision-makers of the corporates. “One day we realised that we had more than 30 business cards from Siemens from the contacts of all our fairs, but we never got a follow-up from them”, noted.
To help face this challenge, Andreas used the example of the ‘reconnaissance’ strategy used on military operations: “I call it reconnaissance because we have a little bit the same goal: in the army, they need to find enemies and understand how strong they are. In the market, the companies need to find other players, the competitors, and also discover where the partners are”.
Aero Enterprise did a successful ‘reconnaissance’ process, and found a strategic partner in Germany, located in the North Sea region, right at the entrance of the offshore wind market: “During this coaching, we started the negotiation with the Buss Energy Group, and Andreas was also very helpful with this phase. Finding a strategic partner was part of this business development process. We are technology specialists, and the Buss Group has access to the big players in the branch. We can say now that our technology meets the market and that’s a very important step for us”, added Peter. The Buss Energy Group from Hamburg acquired 24,9% to foster their relationship and to integrate them into their service offerings.
Small steps to success
The story from A2MIRO is an example of how the right business development coaching can change the key to your growth, exploring small steps to success: “This coaching was also synchronised with the needs of the company. It’s like with babies. During some weeks they do things on their own, they start to crawl, to walk and talk, and sometimes they need attention and support. On these moments, you should be there as a coach”, Andreas concluded.