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Meet the startup making the world’s seas safer from Split, Croatia!

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

13.01.2022.

We first saw the ELNAV team in a boxing ring. Yes, you have read that right! As finalists of Get In The Ring 2021, they had to step up to their startup opponents with boxing gloves on and fight it out. Throughout the competition, it was evident to us that we had to sit down with them for a more detailed chat about their startup and how they see the startup ecosystem here in Split. So that is exactly what we did!

Hrvoje Mihovilović, the founder of ELNAV, gave us more insight into what this startup is all about: “ELNAV was officially founded in 2021 and, at present time, our team is made up of six employees. We are developing a technological solution called Helm Order Monitor for which we have submitted a patent application that is currently pending.

Get In The Ring 2021, photo by Student Business Incubator

Helm Order Monitor is the first of its kind technological solution to the problem of insufficient monitoring of helm orders between helmsman and pilot or navigator onboard ships. To explain this a little bit better and in as simple terms as possible, I will use an example of one marine accident we’re all very familiar with. Did you know that the disaster of Costa Concordia happened due to the helmsman applying the helm on the wrong side shortly before the impact?

We are fixing this problem with an electronic device that combines automatic speech recognition and data from the ship’s sensors.

This artificial intelligence allows us to continuously monitor whether issued helm orders are clear, confirmed, and most importantly, correctly executed.

Apart from use aboard ships, our product is utilized in nautical simulators for training and monitoring proper use of helm orders as per IMO Standard Marine Communication Phrases. To use an analogy with road transportation for better understanding, Helm Order Monitor is like Lane Departure Warning.”

Hrvoje’s explanation of what ELNAV and its invention Helm Order Monitor are all about is very clear, indeed. It also made us notice that they are working on something related to marine traffic, so we couldn’t resist asking if the whole startup idea was inspired by Split as the place it originated from, or something else: “Split can truly be an inspiration for many things, but this startup idea also came as a result of my own life experiences.

Get In The Ring 2021, photo by Student Business Incubator

Because I was a professional mariner for 30 years, observing the crew’s work and life on board brought me invaluable insights into what is of utmost importance, as we worked hard to ensure safe passage to destination, and what challenges we grappled with.

Navigational technology in the maritime industry has not seen major upgrades in the last thirty years.

The aesthetics of the tools onboard reflect that, widening the gap with modern smartphones that the crewmembers carry in their pockets.”

After we got this deeper insight into ELNAV’s point of origin, we wanted Hrvoje to share with us a sort of ‘startup lesson’. This is something we always ask the members of startup teams we interview because we hope it might help out other startup teams who read this article.

You never know where you might learn something new and how it can be beneficial to you and your startup team. Therefore, Hrvoje shared with us the following – the biggest obstacle ELNAV encountered and how it was resolved, as well as the largest mistake and lessons learned from it:

“The biggest obstacle for us was the decision on whether we should develop our own speech recognition system or look for a partner. To reap maximum benefits out of a partnership, startups should look for organizations that enjoy a sound presence within the market and a good reputation amongst the industry giants.

Photo by the ELNAV team

Since we were looking for robust speech detectors, reliable even under challenging acoustic conditions, the answer for us was Fraunhofer IDMT from Germany. Fraunhofer’s division for hearing, speech, and audio technology from Oldenburg supported the project with research on the optimized acoustic setup (microphones) and a dedicated speech-recognition system optimized for the detection of maritime phrases and various English accents found in the maritime industry.

Therefore, we could say that we resolved our biggest obstacle through a clever partnership!

The greatest mistake would be the one I personally made and that was to believe that I can do it all by myself. While an entrepreneur can do almost everything, they do almost everything poorly. Just like any other person, an entrepreneur has one or two natural talents.

I identified those talents and focused on them to my fullest. I also surrounded myself with people who are strong where my talents are weakest.

Great companies are built on the foundation of working with and building upon a few strengths, not on trying to be masters of everything.”

We truly hope anyone out there who is reading this and is either a member of a startup team already, or about to begin their startup journey, heeds the advice Hrvoje shared and learns this valuable lesson of ‘it takes a village’ – sharing responsibilities, asking for help, and building strong teams.

However, not to notice only the more challenging parts of startup life, we also wanted to know what makes working in a startup awesome.

Photo by the ELNAV team

And Hrvoje was happy to share his opinion with us: “Startup employees are often given ample opportunity to show off their knowledge and skills in a way that contributes to the development and success of the startup company. Whereas more established and corporate organizations tend to have a chain of command in which ideas must flow through, employees can take their ideas directly to the top at a startup.

This is especially beneficial for more creative individuals who regularly come up with exciting innovations they want to share with their team.

The lack of ‘corporate bureaucracy’ also significantly speeds up the process of implementation of good ideas!”

Considering ELNAV is part of our local startup ecosystem, we also wanted to get Hrvoje’s insight into his own experiences of founding a startup company right here in Split: “Our ecosystem is still in development, so it is normal that small startups rely heavily on financial backups.

We were lucky to receive this type of support, both educational and financial, here in our local ecosystem from ICT Županija. On the other hand, all attempts to find a partner in Croatia, specialized in the fields of speech recognition and marine electronics, proved futile. Therefore, we turned to a worldwide search and found partners in Europe.

Photo by the ELNAV team

With the support of EIT Manufacturing, EVO-R project, we managed to create value from a proof of concept, transform it into an industry-ready product, and prepare for the market launch. The prototype was developed in partnership with Fraunhofer IDMT from Germany and electronics manufacturer ISIC from Denmark.

For this purpose, Fraunhofer HSA/IDMT custom-made “Octopus” integrated 8CH microphone array. Marine electronics manufacturer ISIC from Denmark supplied PC panels with 4 cores approved for Marine use.”

We are happy to hear that ELNAV managed to find local support in the development of Helm Order Monitor and are also impressed by the fact that they turned to international partnerships, as well. Even though this came from the point of necessity by the lack of possible partners in Croatia, it proves that it can be done, even in a relatively early-stage startup.

Good job, Hrvoje and the rest of the ELNAV team!

Before we let Hrvoje go back to work, we asked one last, but not least important question. To share with us advice he would give himself at the beginning of his startup journey. Here’s what he had to say: “Take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Running a startup is extremely stressful for both your body and mind. Exercise daily. Even though it takes time out of your day, you’ll be able to go for longer and perform at a higher level because of it.”

And there you have it! We got the ELNAV’s story, as well as important lessons from Hrvoje. We wish him and the rest of the ELNAV team plenty of success in the future and to keep making seas safer with their innovations!

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I am a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I am not creating content about Split's tech community, you will find me in singing rehearsals, somewhere in nature, in the theater, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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