Nicolai Husteli

“If you are in a large company you are a small piece of a large system. But as a CEO in a start-up you get a lot of influence. Being able to develop the company and create company culture makes it very interesting and exciting.”

Nicolai Husteli

CEO, Scout Drone Inspection

Previous postition:
Program Director, DNV

Nicolais first job in Sintef Ocean led him later to join a start-up called Marine Cybernetics.

He started as a project engineer and followed the growth of the company until it was sold to DNV in 2014. At that point he was the CTO and followed the company to the new owner with 12000 employees. It was a big change, but still a fruitful experience to work at such a large company. When he got the offer to join Scout Drone Inspection as a CEO some years later, he really had to go a couple of rounds to consider the offer. Eventually he decided the opportunity was too good to let it pass.

A word with Nicolai

First of all, what is Scout Drone Inspection and what challenge does the company address?
We make a drone system to inspect confined spaces in industrial constructions. Picture an enormous tank in a ship that is due for inspection. It usually involves a lot of scaffolding and climbers. It is dark, dangerous, and time-consuming work. And there is a big risk of human error in the manual collection of inspection data.

We thought this job could be done better by using a drone. The challenge is that you can not make use of a GPS in such environments, so we have made a system that safely can navigate without the use of GPS.

Our drone inspection system provides the customer with images and position-data presented in a 3D model of the environment. The customer not only get an image of a crack in the ship tank, he also gets the exact position of the crack in the tank. The value we bring to the customer is faster and safer inspections with better data quality. This is valuable because they save a lot of money and they get safer ships and other industrial assets.

What made you jump into a startup after working in several large organizations in attractive positions?
The main reason is that it seemed like an opportunity hard to turn down. It was reassuring that I knew a couple of the NTNU professors involved in the project from my previous start-up experience. I knew they were skilled people.

In my previous start-up I became involved at a stage where many things had already been established. Now I had the chance to start from scratch building the company and the company culture. To be a part of it from day one really appealed to me. I guess a part of me always wanted to get involved in something like this.

Why NTNU and NTNU Technology Transfer?
I don’t think the fact that it was an NTNU start-up made too much difference to me at that point, but looking back it is obvious that it is of great significance. The technology and the people behind it are carefully selected and has been tried-and tested by NTNU Technology Transfer. It is a quality assurance making it a safer decision.

I also experienced that NTNU Technology Transfers resources really give you a flying start. You get a fundamental solidity that other start-ups will not have. I did not have any previous experience with NTNU Technology Transfer, but I quickly learned that they offer a very broad area of expertise. That made it easy to start important processes such as IP-protection, business development, marketing etc.

Why would you recommend to others to become an NTNU Entrepreneur in Residence?
By joining a startup, you have a lot more influence on things, than in a big company. As a CEO in a startup you are able to influence almost anything. You play a key part in how the company and culture is developed, and you get to broaden your network a lot. You talk to so many different people and do so many different things every day. It is a very interesting job.

Sure, a start-up is risky business, but to you personally the risk is not really that significant. You do not end up on homeless if you lose your job in Norway, and the experience you get is valuable on the job market. I sleep well at night.

Any key experiences from your previous jobs you want to share?
This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Divide the journey ahead into stages. Stage 1 is to put a working product in the hands of your customers as early as possible. Stage 2 is to build a business model that the customersfind attractive. Stage 3 is to scale-up, create jobs and profit for the investors that believed in you and took the risk. Divide your tasks into sub-goals and celebrate the victories.

What is your passion?
To build a great company with a great company culture that provides a great product

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