29 February 2024
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Whether it’s a business, neighborhood, or sports club, to innovate and grow, it’s essential to know what’s going on. Take ASML: the company is growing so fast that traffic around the Veldhoven location is getting busier, classrooms fuller, and the housing market tighter. To keep pushing the gas pedal so hard, they need the region more and more, head of media relations Monique Mols told IO earlier.
There are the usual ways to do that. Think of a factory tour, an extensive online survey, or the classic brainstorming session. Social media has also become popular to keep stakeholders informed and gather opinions.
“But Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm is not aimed at making communities stronger,” Evelien Nieuwenburg emphasizes. She studied innovation science at TU/e, and together with Jorim Theuns, she founded Dembrane in 2023: a platform that seamlessly and efficiently extracts insights from structured dialogues. For this purpose, they developed their own methodology. The tool allows organizations to collect and leverage their members’ knowledge. “We want to take participation to the next level. We do this through workshops, visualizing data, and smart deployment of digital elements,” explains Nieuwenburg.
The picture below says it all: Theuns and Nieuwenburg are happy with their first official super pre-seed investment from Round One. “Now we can fully continue developing our platform without needing a customer. Without this investment, I would not have been able to quit my old job, and Dembrane remained something on the side. That time is now over,” Theuns said.
Ultimately, the goal is for Dembrane to become a central point where a civil servant can look up what Eindhoven residents think about constructing bicycle highways, for example. But also where concerned citizens who want to contribute can see where their help is needed. Theuns is developing a chatbot to facilitate this.
“We want to add a dynamic piece of data that tells us something about people to smart cities. With the help of digital technologies, we make it clear what a community is struggling with and where the solutions lie,” clarified Theuns, who recently earned his master’s degree in information design from the Design Academy
The start-up already has its first customers. It is helping the Municipality of Eindhoven and Helmond with their climate conference. For example, a workshop was organized that resulted in two thousand Post-its. Dembrane digitizes these post-its and links them to existing projects, making it clear to municipalities what citizens find essential.
“In one of the sessions, it emerged that the climate transition process must also be financially transparent. So: how much money from which pot is used for which part of the climate transition? Residents, entrepreneurs, and farmers find this crucial for trust in the process; the municipalities had not yet included it in their plans.”
But, the application goes beyond public government. For example, Theuns and Nieuwenburg can also organize workshops for companies in which they collect all employee questions and process them into a dataset. “If ASML organizes a workshop ten times, you have only reached two hundred employees. With our workshops, we can reach all 25,000, and the outcomes don’t end up in bullet points on a forgotten Word document.”
The data are sorted by the support already during the workshop and analyzed by AI. This allows Dembrane to generate nuanced statements with measurable help. “For example, Dembrane is eighty percent sure that more than ninety percent of the stakeholders would choose option A if they discussed and voted on it,” Theuns clarified. The data and propositions are published on the platform so that it is clear what the group wants, with all the nuances and compromises that were picked up during the workshops.
Nieuwenburg and Theuns found in each other not only business partners; they have also been each other’s life partners for nine years. There was quite a bit of friction in the beginning because they often viewed things differently. “Eventually, that friction caused sparks,” laughs Nieuwenburg, “and it feels logical to start a business together.”
The focus is on finding the perfect market fit. The ultimate goal? Theuns: “That concerned residents who want to contribute something can come to our platform. That guidance should be clear, easy, simple, and accessible to everyone.”
“When people feel involved in their community, and their voices are heard, we all benefit. It leads to better decision-making and involvement and ultimately a better quality of life for everyone,”
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