From a uni project to a start-up: meet Andreas Okholm, wind master and engineer of Vaavud wind meters.
Founders house, Copenhagen
Technologist visits former DTU student Andreas Okholm to follow up on this wind meter he got the idea for four years ago, which has become a fast-rising start-up named Vaavud. Vaavud is an intelligent meteorological data-collection system. This DTU’s spin-off concept is to tap into data collected by smartphones to improve the accuracy of weather predictions.
Founders House was started in 2011 by five minds who felt Copenhagen was lacking a coworking space, exclusively for talented die-hard tech entrepreneurs. Non-profit mission, invitation-only
Vaavud’s team recently settled down in a start-up village also known as Founders house, where they share an office with 28 other promising young companies.
TECHNOLOGIST Who’s behind Vaavud?
ANDREAS OKHOLM We are three co-founders: Thomas Helms (CEO), Maria Koerner Nissen (CFO) takes care of the financial aspects, and I’m the CTO. In short, I deal with all the technical stuff.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s your background?
ANDREAS OKHOLM I hold a master’s degree in Engineering Design and Applied Mechanics from Technical University of Denmark. But it’s already during my Bachelor in Design and Innovation, that I started working on this wind meter idea as my thesis project to design a smartphone accessory for sport related activities. I came up with several ideas of how to combine sensors, smartphones and sport. Among them, the wind meter was the best one to be used by surfers and sailors to share wind information.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s the concept of your wind meter?
ANDREAS OKHOLM The first Vaavud wind meter is Mjolnir. The concept is simple: no electronic guts, just tough plastic and magnets. Using the built-in magnetic sensor of the smartphone it can measure the wind speed. When the wind moves the plastic cups, the smartphone’s own magnetic sensor keeps track of the speed of the rotation.
TECHNOLOGIST What about the social part?
ANDREAS OKHOLM The social part is definitely a big part of it now. That was the original idea four years ago. When you open the app, the map is at the centre, so you can see other people’s measurements right away. Getting information about the wind condition is the primary target, and we’re working on a customized notification system, in order for you to know when the conditions are good, without having to go and check yourself. If you gome to some place for a certain type of sport activity, there are high chances that there will be other users in that area. We combine information based on the weather forecast and measurements from on-site users to get a hyper local and more accurate predictions.
TECHNOLOGIST What made the student project turn into a business venture?
ANDREAS OKHOLM I didn’t start a company straight away: I completed my Master’s degree and several business courses where Vaavud actually started evolving in a team. Then we participated in a start-up competition called “Venture Cup“, and we won in our category, which also meant 50,000 DKK (€6,700) and publicity. After finishing our studies abroad, both Maria and I came back to Denmark and welcomed a new co-founder, Thomas. Shortly after, we launched a Kickstarter campaign, and we succeeded! We managed raising £28,000 (€38,000) and that covered the expenses for making the plastic mold that we needed to get Vaavud Mjolnir – our first wind meter, manufactured for the 1000 backers we had at that point.
Vaavud has closed an initial funding effort with €940,000, and sold up to 45,000 wind meters all over the world.
TECHNOLOGIST How’s the market doing?
ANDREAS OKHOLM We started having several competitors, which is always a good sign [laughs].
TECHNOLOGIST How does Vaavud stand out?
ANDREAS OKHOLM We strongly focus on the software and users’ feedback. Another asset is our second generation wind meter, Vaavud Sleipnir. By using an optical sensor we can now also track the wind direction. The accessory communicates with your phone via sound waves, which are translated by Vaavud’s app into wind direction. It uses no power, and actually talks wirelessly to your phone via the built-in magnetic field sensor of your smartphone.We launched Sleipnir thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign. Again successfully. So we released it in February this year.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s next?
ANDREAS OKHOLM One of the visions for the app is to add a SDK (Software Development Kit) that could integrate other apps, like ballistics, archery, fishing or golf apps.
Another exciting thing coming up: Vaavud has attracted interest from corporate clients in the agriculture industry. A joint project with the Swedish agricultural coop Lantmännen Maskin AB commissioned the start-up to build a custom solution for measuring wind speed, to aid farmers comply with Sweden’s new, tighter safety requirements regarding the use of pesticides and fertilizers for crops.
Interview by JB
More questions? Ask @Vaavud!
Vaavud? It’s the word for wind, in the language of the Old Nordic gods.
Mjolnir is the hammer of Thor, a major Norse god associated with thunder.
Sleipnir is Odin’s eight-legged horse, the best and fastest ever.