A great idea and early stage product brought Mimbly and Coor together when they won the Kommersialiseringspriset in 2019. Beginning this pilot project at such an early stage allowed both companies to gain a competitive edge and further develop a more sustainable way to do laundry.
Starting as a student project at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg in 2017, Mimbly focuses on creating solutions to make laundry more sustainable. Their first ever matchmaking meeting through Ignite was with facility management company, Coor. This eventually resulted in them working together to further develop the Mimbox which aims to reduce water consumption by up to 70%.
Both companies agree that this early stage collaboration was beneficial at both an environmental and business level. Adding that without Ignite they may never have had a chance to collaborate.
“By collaborating with startups we gain access to their technology before our competitors. We do this because we want to be the most innovative facility management company on the market. Without Ignite Sweden we would have never been able to meet them, and it is in that meeting the imagination sparks and you have an “aha moment,” says Stefan Sernefors, Specialist, Cleaning at Coor.
After a successful first year, the collaboration has now entered a new stage with a more producible version of the Mimbox recently installed at one of Coor’s customer sites in Gothenburg.
“The product we tested in Kista was an early stage prototype but now we have a more producible prototype and the maturity of the product has come further. The site will test the Mimbox under very harsh conditions which is good for the technical development, because if it works at that site, it should work with every site within Coor. We’re really excited about it,” says Mimbly CEO, Isabella Palmgren.
Starting the Collaboration with a Win
Although they met at the Innovationsriksdagen in Borås in 2018, their collaboration didn’t begin until a year later when Mimbly was awarded the 2019 Kommersialiseringspriset (Commercialization prize) by the Swedish Energy Agency, InnoEnergy and Ignite Sweden. This prize, awarded at the Power Circle Summit, allowed them to begin a one year pilot project in June 2019 at Coor’s head office in Kista.
The resulting pilot aimed to further develop and test Mimbly’s add-on product for washing machines called the Mimbox. Coor’s extensive cleaning services and key focus on improving environmental sustainability was a large incentive for them to collaborate with Mimbly. The Mimbox addresses some key environmental challenges including water wastage, energy efficiency and microplastics, and during its early stages had recycled over 5000 litres of water. Their later stage model can now save 1600 litres in just one week.
“We are looking for new solutions that are able to cope with these environmental issues. We love new innovations and in this particular case they addressed some major issues within cleaning. The washing of microfiber cloths and mops produce enormous amounts of microplastics and to have a way of securing them from entering our sewers is perhaps the most critical thing to not getting it banned like plastic bags,” says Stefan.
Though Mimbly’s primary focus is improving the environmental sustainability of laundry, they also want to ensure that their product is easy to use and doesn’t sacrifice on the quality of the wash.
“The most valuable part of this pilot is the process we have created to get the cleanest laundry while being as sustainable as possible, in the terms of not using excessive water and collecting as much microplastic as possible. It has really been a collaborative team effort at every step of the process,” says Isabella.
Gaining a Competitive Advantage
Innovations such as the Mimbox allow Coor to help their customers become more innovative and reach their sustainability goals. These important factors drove Coor to work with Mimbly while it was still in its testing phase.
“We work with startups because we want to be the most innovative company in our sector. To achieve that we must be one step ahead of our competitors. Testing new products before they are available in the market is a huge advantage. It is part of our business strategy.”
“We see from our customer satisfaction index that they like us for our innovative solutions. We can also see from our portfolio that our customers stay longer because not only are they getting a product that is working through Coor, but they don’t need to look elsewhere because they will get development through us,” says Stefan.
However, this early stage cooperation doesn’t just benefit Coor. Isabella says that for Mimbly, testing the solution at Coor’s head office helped them address any technical issues at an earlier stage.
“It is extremely valuable for us to be able to test the technology in a real environment which can really speed up the development of the solution. When you test something internally, you might not find any problems but when you test in a real environment, you find the problems and can do something about it. It creates a great relationship and can lead to a good cooperation for us both,” says Isabella.
Beyond the advantage of implementing new technology first, Coor believes that joining the process early allows them to influence the development to better suit their needs.
“It is important for us to understand how a product is supposed to work. We need to assess if we need staff onsite to follow up or what maintenance it might require. If we get involved early on in a process, we can affect the finished product to better fit our needs. We can also develop processes and package it into a service that works from day one. That wouldn’t be the case if we just bought a finished product,” says Stefan.
Coor also discovered an unexpected side effect when they established new processes for monitoring the product’s development.
“It wasn’t directly linked to the Mimbox, but when we started monitoring the laundry process, we had to set up a structure to make sure the machine didn’t get overfilled and to make sure all the maintenance duties were done by our cleaning staff. By structuring the process, we improved our cleaning results and got cleaner mops,” says Stefan.
The Challenges of Early Stage Development
Beginning a collaboration at an early stage has many benefits but it also comes with some added risk that can slow the process down and bring challenges that don’t occur when engaging with a more finished product. This was one of the reasons why it took a year before the project began according to Stefan.
“Washing for us is a very critical process, if that doesn’t work, an entire contract could stand still, so we had to make sure that this was something we believed in and find the correct contract to test it on. One thing to consider is the risk of failure and what happens if something fails. Another thing is to ask if there is any interest locally. Do we have a customer that believes in it? Because if we are at our customer’s location, they have to buy in on it. And probably most importantly, are there people at the site that are willing to train and make it a success? We needed people who were really interested and had an emotional buyin to make it work but also be aware that it is just a prototype, it’s not a finished product, it is a journey.”
Due to these considerations, Coor decided to test the Mimbox within their own facilities first so they could sort out the internal procedures, and be better prepared for any arising challenges.
“The hard thing about getting into something at this early stage is that there will be mishaps and some things won’t work as intended. We need to believe in this product even though it doesn’t function very well at certain stages and you need to be able to pick things apart,” says Stefan.
“We want to be able to launch a product as fast as possible, and Coor wants to be able to test the product as fast as possible but everything takes longer and costs more money than you think,” says Isabella.
There can also be a steep learning curve when finding the right focus for the product and adapting to technical challenges. However, these can be tackled in a positive way with close collaboration according to Isabella.
“Coor’s needs have changed over time. We first pitched water recycling, energy saving and the Mimbox with a focus on microplastics but when we started the collaboration, we focused mostly on microplastics and filtration because their mops released much more fiber than we had expected.
“We also encountered some technology-related challenges. Some we could predict because they have much dirtier laundry than regular washing machines at residential properties. So we then reduced the recycling rate, corrected our filters and worked upwards so we had control over the washing result. Our product improved every time we changed something small,” says Isabella.
Open Communication Key to Continued Success
Stefan sees this process as a positive thing and says that open communication has helped solve any issues.
“In a process like this, there will always be questions or challenges that you need to solve along the way and you need to have a direct dialogue. It’s better to have errors come up now rather than later.”
This close collaboration and open communication has been extremely important to the success of the pilot project and both companies have maintained close contact to share knowledge and address any issues they’ve found.
“It’s always good to work very closely with a customer. We get a lot more insight into their needs, how they think and what is valuable to them. The cooperation has been great, it could not have gone better. They are very positive and are always encouraging us to test more. Even if there have been hiccups for any reason, they have always been positive about finding solutions,” says Isabella.
“Of course the product is fantastic, but it is the team that Isabella has put together that is the real value because it is their expertise and how they work together with us that we trust. We could maybe buy a similar product but with no one invested in the expertise and the development, that wouldn’t be as interesting for us,” says Stefan.
Things are now moving forward with the project, and with investors as well as funding from the EU and the Swedish Energy Agency, the Mimbox has developed into a more producible product. This more mature prototype will be tested for the next three to six months at a car manufacturing company in Gothenburg.
“The investments helped us go from prototypes that we built completely ourselves, to actually finding a production partner that helps us make producible prototypes that work a lot better. Now the Mimbox is supposed to work without us having to be there everyday to check it. It’s also connected to a platform where you can see your savings, which we will share with Coor and they can share it with their customer,” says Isabella.
“Now the prototype looks more like the planned finished product, but that means it’s harder to make large changes, now it’s more fixed to a standard, so that’s a big thing. But, that’s also why we dare to test it on one of our large customers. The product is live and they expect it to work. The development never stops, but right now we are in a phase where we actively can present and pitch Mimbly’s products in tenders to large potential customers. If we have a potential customer who we know sustainability issues are very high priority, we can try to equip them with a toolbox that is unique for Coor,” says Stefan.
United Nations’ Global Goals Addressed by this Collaboration Project
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