Meet the Innovators: a series of interviews with founders from the energy and maritime industries. We discuss entrepreneurship and innovation with them, exploring their efforts to revolutionize the industry, their journey so far, and the lessons they have learned. In this edition, we meet Reinier van Dijk, the CEO and co-founder of ParaPy, a software automation scale-up based in Buccaneer Delft. Reinier always liked a challenge. That’s why he chose to follow aerospace engineering at TU Delft, followed his master and PhD and later locked himself up to develop a software platform; ParaPy.
Accelerating design engineering
When asked about his decision to pursue aerospace engineering, Reinier attributed it to his fascination with airplanes and the complexity of this study. It was during this time that he discovered the extensive length of time it takes to design a new aircraft, often spanning up to two decades. “It is a complex product with millions of parts. The result of a design synthesis in which an army of engineers, with a variety of disciplines, need to work together. This process is far from optimal and 80% of the time by engineers is consumed by routine jobs. This means lots of time can be saved. If only we had the right tools to help us. With that in mind, I started to think; can we develop a software automation platform for engineers? Can we optimize the design process and give back time to engineers, which they can use to work on real innovations?” This was the driving force behind his idea to develop a software automation platform for engineers; ParaPy.
At the end of his PhD, Reinier dedicated his personal time to develop a prototype of the envisioned software platform. This caught the attention of TU Delft and eventually led to contact with GKN Fokker. “Getting in touch with Fokker was a major confirmation for us. We knew we were on the right path and it really pushed us to further develop our platform.”
Turning months into weeks
Years of designing and programming formed the foundation for what is now called ParaPy. A software platform which aims to improve the collaboration between engineers and automate repetitive work. Since the founding of ParaPy, six years flew by.
“I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made. It is hard to build a functional software platform, especially in a relatively short amount of time. We build ParaPy from the ground up, with mainly our own resources. Over a 1,000 engineers have now developed applications with ParaPy across different industries.
ParaPy’s success has been driven by its ability to reduce design time from months to weeks. By automating routine tasks, engineers can focus on innovation and more complex projects. This has resulted in significant cost savings for companies and improved efficiency in the engineering process.
“Companies know their way to find us; Royal HaskoningDHV, Aker, Airbus, Fugro, and many more. Our platform helps them accelerate. Years can turn into months, months into weeks and weeks into days. This impact, in combination with the positive feedback we receive is what keeps me going.”
Steep learning curve
Despite the significant progress made by ParaPy, Reinier remains sharp. “While I’m proud of our achievements and the positive response from customers, I feel that we could have grown at a faster pace. Our focus on perfecting the technology, a typical engineering trait, led us to enter the market gradually. If we had prioritized sales and marketing alongside technical development, our customer base could have been 10 times larger. I sometimes jokingly say that we are the best kept secret that only a handful of happy customers have yet discovered.”
As an entrepreneur Reinier also learned a lot. “I never had in mind to become an entrepreneur, but I think it suits me. It’s the excitement for the unknown. There isn’t a route to success, you make choices which can have huge impact on the organization and you don’t always know if they are the right ones. This tension is exciting and sometimes scary but it makes way for creativity and the freedom to explore.”
As an engineer, Reinier had little experience in team management. Learning to effectively lead and delegate responsibilities has been a continuous learning process. “It’s challenging to transition from hands-on software development to overseeing others as the company grows. You want to guide others step-by-step while also allowing them to find their own process. Getting this balance right is difficult, but I’m always learning and improving. This is also where Buccaneer Delft comes in, with for instance the leadership masterclass, I hope to further improve on this.”
When we look at the future, Reinier hopes that ParaPy can further exploit their strengths while improving on their flaws. “We want our cloud-based platform to become the perfect glue through which engineers collaborate. ParaPy should sit at the heart of any design engineering process. A single source of truth that offers engineers real-time access to product information, track changes, and understand how choices impact the design directly. Next to that, we will intensify our marketing and sales activities. Our dream is that ParaPy software has a positive impact on the daily work of as many engineers as possible.”
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