21 August 2019

Towards a landmine-free world

Massoud and Mahmud Hassani grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan – literally in a minefield. Many years later, in the Netherlands, the brothers have developed Mine Kafon: a drone system for detecting landmines. Having overcome the initial teething troubles and secured the necessary patents, they are now ready to tackle the next challenge: marketing. Students of the master’s programme in International Business are helping the brothers take their business to the next level.

UM magazine

Drones

Engineers, software specialists and students from the Netherlands, Belgium Canada, China, Germany and Italy are shaping an entirely new generation of drones. “Yes, drones,” Massoud continues, “but it’s mainly about the detection system in the drones. The detectors and sensors can precisely map the location of mines in any given area, so the mines can easily be found and destroyed later. We also have a version that has special ‘arms’ to place detonators on the landmines, so they can be detonated remotely. Safe, efficient and cost-effective. You don’t have to use people, animals or additional equipment.”

Solution

The Mine Kafon team (www.minekafon.org) shuns the limelight. “We first need to perfect the system and get the certifications”, Mahmud explains. “If you want to succeed in this market, everything has to be right. We’re focusing on NGOs and national governments, where it’s difficult to get a foot in the door. And we don’t want to give our competitors any ideas. We do everything ourselves, here in our lab. We make the designs, write the software and build the prototypes using 3D printers. The only thing we buy is the electronics. There are hundreds of drone manufacturers and the demining market is huge. Worldwide, there are an estimated 100 million unexploded mines. We have the solution. According to independent figures, we could clear the world of landmines within ten years.”

Marketing

Their demining system is now ready for large-scale production. The next step is marketing. LIOF, which is also involved in Mine Kafon’s next round of funding, put the brothers in touch with the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics. “International Business, to be specific”, Massoud says. “We participated in a market research project called Value-Based Marketing. Our system is ready and we know it works. But how do we get in touch with potential customers?”

Master

The Value-Based Marketing project is part of the master’s programme in International Business. Companies can submit their marketing questions for lecturers and students to work on. “First there was a day when the participating companies presented themselves at the faculty”, says master’s student Alex Jessen. “Then we visited the companies. Mine Kafon appealed to me immediately; it has an interesting business case and huge social relevance. But it’s also a challenge, as it’s not a conventional market. It’s difficult to get governments and NGOs on board with innovations.”

Decision makers

Roberta Di Palma, another student who chose Mine Kafon, concurs. “That’s why we focused not on potential customers, but on decision makers. Which existing parties would benefit from the added value of Mine Kafon’s systems? It comes down to the innovative detection system. We also identified other markets; for example, the drones are suitable for use in agriculture as well.

Make or break

The students worked in six different groups, each focusing on one particular aspect. “We’re very pleased with the results”, says Mahmud. “Essentially, we received six useful reports. We’re now drawing up a strategy and taking the next step. 2019 will be a make-or-break year for Mine Kafon. This is an excellent example of how universities and industry can work together.”

Alex Jessen and Roberta Di Palma (International Business) 

The Value-Based Marketing course is associated with the innovation subsidy programmes LimburgMakers and LimburgLogistiek of the Limburg Development and Investment Company (LIOF). Companies get access to knowledge and support from highly educated students, while students get to develop important labour market skills, improving their employability. The course was offered for the sixth time in 2019, bringing the total number of participating companies to 31.

By: Jos Cortenraad (Text), Sem Shayne (Photography)