European Union backs development of foldable shipping containers
Simon Bosschieter, Sales Director, 4FOLD Foldable containers
© EUOpen4Business, 2020
When a cargo vessel has unloaded its cargo, it sails back with empty shipping containers on board. Countless empty shipping containers are shipped this way on a daily basis. Which is inefficient and unsustainable, thought entrepreneur Simon Bosschieter. With 4FOLD Foldable Containers (4FOLD), he brings a solution to the market: foldable containers which only take up a quarter of the space.
In 2001, Delft University of Technology, in collaboration with the Port of Rotterdam Authority, had already applied for a patent for foldable shipping containers, but there was no underlying design yet. "I immediately saw a future in this," says Simon Bosschieter. "Shipping is a huge sector that involves a lot of money, but is also very polluting. Saving space on cargo ships not only yields economic gains, but it also prevents a lot of unnecessary CO2 emissions."
Bosschieter set to work with the team on the technical development of the foldable shipping container and together they founded the company 4FOLD Foldable Containers in 2008. After several years of testing, the foldable shipping containers are now a reality. "The containers are just as waterproof and meet the same requirements as conventional containers. No other company in the world has succeeded in this before," says Bosschieter.
Coaching by Enterprise Europe Network brings the business plan into focus
But would 4FOLD also succeed in convincing customers to use the new containers? "The shipping industry is not exactly known as innovative. It’s more of a supertanker whose course you have to change," laughs Bosschieter. "The companies that have their products shipped want to get started. In general, it doesn't cost them extra money to switch to foldable containers, because 4FOLD arranges with the shipping company for the containers to be folded. It’s therefore crucial to convince the shipping companies."
In order to be able to take the next steps, 4FOLD availed of a European Union grant scheme for SMEs. This enabled 4FOLD to call on the services of the Enterprise Europe Network, the largest worldwide network for small and medium-sized enterprises, and hence to tighten up its business model and marketing plan. "In the beginning, we mainly targeted shipping companies. However, through the coaching by the Enterprise Europe Network, we realised that we needed to focus on the shipping companies’ customers, such as IKEA or Procter & Gamble. When they move, so do the shipping companies," Bosschieter continues. "It was a subtle change to our business plan, but it had a major impact straight away. Without the Enterprise Europe Network we would never have thought of expanding our business to the shipping companies' customers."
Nils Haarman, Enterprise Europe Network liaison officer in the Netherlands, has been advising 4FOLD for more than three years and continues to monitor the company. "With the streamlined business plan, 4FOLD successfully signed up for the second phase of the SME grant scheme, enabling them to implement their plans. 4FOLD received a total grant of EUR 2.5 million from the European Union and recently entered the market with the new business model," says Haarman about the development of the company.
Connected to the right person straight away because of Enterprise Europe Network
Per advice of Enterprise Europe Network, 4FOLD also participated in networking sessions and met AB InBev, the world's largest beer brewer. "Our company was recently selected for a networking session at AB InBev, the largest beer brewer in the world. I was able to introduce our services directly to the right people. If you have to do everything yourself, you might end up with the right people, but that takes so much longer. Doing things this way, you can get on with things immediately," says Bosschieter. He regularly attends networking sessions proposed by Enterprise Europe Network and makes use of coaching where possible. 4FOLD is growing, which means that coaching in the area of human resources, for example, is very valuable.
"At the moment we remain committed to the course we are already on," says Bosschieter. "We continue to enter into partnerships with multinationals, and with a growing Europe-wide network of shippers we are approaching shipping companies to get them moving. Production of the containers is being scaled up: the aim is to have tens of thousands of foldable containers crossing the seas in the near future."
|The interviews with SME owner(s) and Enterprise Europe Network were conducted before the coronavirus pandemic that put many European companies in a difficult situation.
To support the economy and protect businesses like 4FOLD Foldable Containers, the EU has been working closely with Member States since the emergence of coronavirus, putting in place support measures and recovery plans to deal with the impact of COVID-19. Learn more about the management of coronavirus and the recovery plan for Europe.
About the Enterprise Europe Network
The Enterprise Europe Network is the world's largest support network for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with international ambitions. The network brings together more than 600 partner organisations in over 60 countries to support and advise SMEs with regard to their international growth, finding finance, understanding EU legislation and finding business partners inside and outside Europe.
The European Commission launched the Enterprise Europe Network in 2008. It is co-financed under the European Union's programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME).
Find out more about the Enterprise Europe Network at: https://www.enterpriseeuropenetwork.nl