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From EU-hackathon to the US, in 3 months. Meet Belgian Social Distancing Startup Maggy.

The time is now, Ruben Miessen thought on the night he co-founded Maggy, in the midst of the corona crisis, April 2020. Ruben is a young, energetic entrepreneur, and co-founder of the Antwerp-based startup Maggy. Thanks to fast-paced entrepreneurship, a solid team, a pan-European hackathon and continuous feedback loops, the idea of creating a social distancing device quickly grew into a real-life prototype and subsequent mass product. In only 3 months.
We had a cosy, virtual chat with Ruben about his successful, brand-new startup journey: from winning an international hackathon to getting the attention of a US listed Bluetooth® company. Furthermore, having a background in serial entrepreneurship, he gladly shared a few tips for negotiating with investors as a startup.

Ruben shows Maggy during his virtual interview with EY, The Factory.

1. Lean Startup. 

Maggy is a small portable device, easily clippable on your vest or company lanyard. Using the latest Bluetooth® Technology, Maggy aims to respect social distancing measurements in order to keep you safe during work and daily life. The wearable sends out sound and vibrations the moment you’re standing too close to your friends and colleagues. Since Maggy is the only social distancing device that is designed only to serve social distancing, the cost is only 40 euro excl TAX. “We have a lower R&D cost, and we don’t have features such as a heartrate monitor. Also, we are using the newest Bluetooth® chips, which are less expensive to produce on a larger scale. Lastly, we went into mass production very fast”, Ruben Miessen explains.

Ruben remembers the day he founded the company very well: “On a Friday night, the 17th of April, I got a call from my co-founder, Alan Segebarth. The corona crisis wouldn’t get any better soon. A lot of companies and their employees are profoundly impacted by it. That same night, we met up and agreed upon the idea of developing a social distancing device. Alan and I form the perfect mix of business and technology. We go fast and work in a lean way. Through my other project, ZetaPulse, I got to know Gumption Group, a small consortium of companies specialized in tech such as Bluetooth®, IOT etc. In this group, we found the right profiles for our team. Additionally, we looked into our own freelancer network. I think every entrepreneur will agree that once you have a solid team, you’re good to go.”

The exact same night, April 17th, the two founders received an invite for the EUvsVirus Hackathon. “This was the ultimate push for us to go for it”, Ruben affirms.

Ruben’s team won the EUvsVirus Hackathon issued by the European Commission.

Hackathon Fast Lane.  

The European Commission – in close collaboration with EU member states – hosted a pan-European hackathon to connect civil society, innovators, partners and buyers across Europe to develop innovative solutions for the corona crisis. The #EUvsVirus Hackathon took place on 24, 25 and 26 April and addressed approximately 20 imminent coronavirus challenges (e.g. fast production of equipment, scaling up production capabilities, knowledge and solutions transfer from one country to another), to be quickly developed and deployed across the EU Single Market. 2,160 candidates from all over Europe participated. Ruben’s team won in the category ‘Business Continuity, Protecting Employees’.

Ruben: “Alan and I decided to pinpoint our focus entirely on the hackathon. The jump from one-week-ideation to business modelling and pitching on the hackathon was pretty chaotic. We had to tighten up our focus, deepen the idea, define what’s important, get the design right, make sure all technical aspects are fixed, the platform, the app, and so much more. Every aspect had to be linked to our business model, which was important for our pitch to the European commission.”

Maggy’s team got help from a few coaches, including two people from Gumption Group and two people from EY. Johnny Waterschoot, Senior Manager & Innovation Enabler at EY Belgium, was one of them. “Johnny advised us in shaping the product’s business model, finetuned our investment pitch, gave continuous feedback and explained his views upon our customer’s needs.”

Frequent feedback loops were crucial for the fast-paced market launch of Maggy. “As we wanted to launch our prototype as fast as possible, we highly needed user feedback. Our hackathon coaches helped to speed up this feedback loop. Undoubtedly, the hackathon moved us up a few gears, since it allowed us to better define the market’s needs and challenges.”

100 Days.

“From mid-April until today, we’ve been working nonstop, 7/7″, Ruben says. “The solution had to be built, the crisis is happening now! By the end of April, the demand was huge. We had requests of 26.000 devices without even having finished the product. We made three different prototypes, optimized our software and hardware, and flew into production in the most rapid tempo. Covid-19 stressed us out, however, at the same time it was also our main motivational driver. We were on a mission to achieve the impossible: bringing the idea into production and business in only 100 days. Thanks to the Gumption Group investment of 200.000 euros, and the valuable feedback from the European Commission, coaches, and test users, we could start producing 25.000 Maggies in a very short period of time.”

2. The USA. 

Silicon Labs of Austin, Texas, Nasdaq listed, leading silicon provider and specialized in Bluetooth® Technologies, noticed half of the world’s supply of a very specific Bluetooth module, was bought up in one month. “They contacted us, and after testing out our prototypes they were convinced”, Ruben says while enthusiastically showing a picture of the laboratory.

3. Investment Meetup. 

Miessen recently pitched Maggy during the EYnovation Investment Launchpad Meetup. Over 30 international investors, including HenQ, Mirium Invest, and Volta Ventures, carefully listened to 20 selected tech-startups and posed challenging questions. “As a tiny startup, we face various scaling challenges: expanding a team, sales organization.. We knew that we’ll need funding. The Launchpad Meetup was a unique opportunity and the perfect timing for us to be able to pitch to all these international VCs”. After the pitch rounds, the startups joined short networking sessions via Conversation Starter. “There was a lot of interest and positive feedback. We had four investor conversations and I still have two meetings scheduled for next week”, Ruben quotes.

Looking to raise funding? Read our Startup Funding eGuide with exclusive VC insights!

Online pitching 

To prepare the startups for the pitch meetup, they were offered a pitching workshop by Frank Maene, Managing Partners at Volta Ventures. “Our main learning from Frank: get the investors’ interest by starting with your best shot. Don’t come up with a buildup. Pitching in a virtual call is not as easy as in real life, but it certainly has its advantages”, Ruben says. “The most striking is that you are able to address a bigger group. By pitching online at the Investment Launchpad Meetup and the EUvsVirus Hackathon, we immediately reached a gigantic international audience.”

Ruben’s ultimate advice for pitching to investors? “When negotiating with investors, the most important thing to keep in mind is to convince them of the amazing trajectory you have achieved so far. Stay cool. Stick to your vision, your ideas. If you tell your story with full confidence, they’ll buy it.” 

Ruben’s 3 must-dos for startups that are looking for funding: 

1. Lean Startup: get as far as possible at the lowest possible cost.  

2. Market Testing: build up references. This will create credibility of your startup towards investors. Stick to your vision and do this while improving your product based on your customers’ input. 

3. People: surround yourself with the right people. People even smarter than you are! People experienced in different fields of expertise. 

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