BBBLS injects sustainable energy into the international horticulture industry
Startup BBBLS is developing a highly innovative form of insulation for greenhouse growers: high tech greenhouses with double walls, filled with soap bubbles that may save up to 80% of energy use. A solution for the current energy crisis, although this very same crisis also makes it more difficult to invest in the industry. Read how the creators of the bubble greenhouse are leveraging this momentum, and what else they are doing to successfully break into the international market.
BBBLS (pronounced: ‘bubbles') is receiving requests from growers around the world. ‘But to leverage the momentum of the energy crisis, it's important to maintain focus and not immediately grab every opportunity, explains market analyst Jan-Willem Kruijt. That is why he begins by conducting thorough research on the target market and the conditions determined by the company. Based on his practical experience, he has five recommendations for successful internationalisation.
Recommendation 1: Determine your target market
Although BBBLS has its eye on all of Scandinavia, not every grower in the region is a suitable client for the sustainable greenhouse builders. ‘We research everything very carefully beforehand,’ explains Jan-Willem. ‘First of all, the local climate plays an important role for our product. Northern markets are very interesting to us, because our technology can save a lot of energy, particularly in winter. Further south, the climate is milder and more similar to that of the Netherlands. That is the region in which we find the majority of the existing greenhouse growers and also where most opportunities are to expand growing areas’.
Plan your choices according to your development phase
There was another reason why Scandinavia was suitable for the first BBBLS pilot projects: the horticulture industry is relatively small. ‘We could start a small-scale operation, which was very suitable for our development phase. In the Netherlands, we would need to start by building a greenhouse of several hectares. We were not ready for that yet. Now we have reached the point that we are developing a demo version with a Dutch grower: the final step before we begin building commercially on a larger scale’.
Recommendation 2: Analyse the financial health of your target market
To determine if a region is financially viable, Jan-Willem researches the area's financial health: ‘What is already available in the existing market? What difference will you make? What are the market's growth expectations and where do you see room for investments?’ He describes the process like a funnel: ‘You start wide and then define a specific market sector that offers your company the most potential’.
‘Don't underestimate the assistance of the RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency) and foreign trade attachés’.
Explore statistical data and use your network
You can find many answers to these questions yourself by conducting proper desk research. Use the foreign statistics departments and research public statistics. Also see if there are any Dutch sector analyses. And also leverage your own network: are there any companies there who have gone abroad? What contacts and information have they gathered?’
Recommendation 3: Use any assistance available to you
To obtain market information, but also to contact potential partners and customers at a later stage, Jan-Willem recommends that companies take advantage of available government assistance. ‘Don't underestimate the assistance of the RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency), regional development companies and foreign trade attachés: every Dutch embassy employs a sector specialist. They know exactly what is going on and have connections to the local business sector. Like the RVO, their mandate is to promote trade. So use this to your advantage’.
Recommendation 4: Respond to current issues
To find the right clients at the right time, Jan-Willem recommends keeping an eye on the news and researching what current developments mean to your company. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic, the tensions in NATO and the current increase in energy prices resulted in a higher interest in sustainable greenhouses from Finland, Sweden and Norway. ‘Scandinavian countries have become aware of their dependence on foreign food growers. They are unable to grow food in open fields because of the extreme cold. A greenhouse solves that problem and makes them self sufficient’.
"It's an art to not immediately grab every opportunity right away, but to follow your strategy without ignoring opportunities".
- Jan-Willem Kruijt
Recommendation 5: Maintain your focus
Once you have clarified and determined the most important market segments, the next step is to remain focused on these. Jan-Willem knows that this is easier said than done. ‘Tomorrow evening we have an introductory meeting with a grower from Vancouver, even though we only want to focus on Canada in the US in the longer term. It's an art to not immediately grab every opportunity, but to follow your strategy without ignoring opportunities. Stay up to date on future regions, collect background information and make sure you know what is happening, so you can take advantage of opportunities once you are ready for these’.
Recommendations of BBBLS’ market analyst
A list of five of the most important recommendations for internationalisation:
- Define your target market and the preconditions
- Analyse your target market
- Use any available assistance
- Respond to current issues
- Maintain your focus