‘Offshore access as easy as crossing the street’
The idea behind Ampelmann was conceived rather spontaneously – during an offshore wind conference in Berlin that Jan and his colleague David Molenaar were attending back in 2002.
As Ph.D. students at the TU Delft, the two of them were researching the design and controls of wind turbines and the conference prompted them to find out if they could create an offshore access system that could compensate wave motions.
Years of research and testing showed that it was indeed possible: A flight simulator turned upside down, capable of compensating all six degrees of freedom of a vessel and making transferring offshore much safer.
The project became known under the code name Ampelmann. Just like the initial idea, the name, too, was born during their time in Berlin. Ampelmann is German for “the little man in the traffic light,” says Jan, “and it fits perfectly with our motto: making offshore access as easy as crossing the street.”
The road to launching the company
The mission of the company was straightforward: create a system that would measure the ship motions and compensate them to provide safe access to offshore platforms. In theory, it all sounded great, but as the founder got to learn, the industry needed to see the concept working before embracing it.
In the first few years following the idea’s conception, he and his team were solely focused on tackling the technology and speaking to potential customers. After receiving positive – though still slightly skeptical – feedback from the industry, they decided to build a full-scale prototype that could be used on a big ship to transfer people onto offshore platforms.
They took all of 2007 to do that and managed to finish within a year, contrary to many people’s expectations. “It was intense, but it was a lot of fun,” Jan says. The following year, Ampelmann was officially founded and their first system, the A-type, was put in operation.
Early beginnings and exponential growth
In its early days, the team was drawing support and inspiration from the community of fellow entrepreneurs, mentors and experts at the then brand new incubator YES!Delft. “It was very instructive,” Jan remembers. “We shared a lot of experiences with the other startups, especially when it came to the development of our companies and the struggle of getting initial customers.”
Since then, a lot has changed, mainly because of the rate the company has grown at. “We doubled every year,” Jan says. “We started with five people, then 10, then 20. In the second year, we didn’t double – we tripled. That was the anomaly,” he laughs.
Growing the team, revenues and customer base so quickly was bound to keep things changing. “The thing I used to say about Ampelmann’s development is that every six months you’d be in a different company,” Jan says. That meant going through changes every half year – a bigger office, new recruits, new goals to set ahead.
Building a sales team, he adds, has been one of the main challenges along the way. “Especially in the beginning, it’s all very specialist work. You need to have the knowledge of what the system does, how a ship moves, how an offshore operation works and what safety features we have. We were educating the industry about something completely new and something they didn’t yet understand,” Jan says.
Fast forward over a decade, and Ampelmann is the leader in the global offshore access industry with more than 6 million safe people transfers and over 13 million kilograms of cargo transferred. The company has also gone a long way in diversifying its fleet, operating in various industries across the world, and increasingly working on making its solutions more energy-efficient and sustainable.
There may have been challenges over the years, but nothing Jan and his team weren’t able to overcome. “If there is one thing that I have learned along the way, it’s to follow your passion and never give up,” Jan says. It is certainly a lesson he has learned well.
2007 – First prototype ready; company founded
2008 – First commercial project launched
2015 – First 1 million transfers completed worldwide
2016 – Ampelmann opens several offices abroad
2018 – OTC Spotlight on New Technology Award won
2019 – Opening more international offices and entering multiple new markets
2019 – Double milestone: 5 million people and 10 million kg of cargo transferred