The launch of an idea
The ideas of Sofi and Rumi helping address a societal challenge, emerged out of a small R&D project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Defense. The aim of the project was to develop new thinking in arena of public procurement. Conventional thinking is seen to be costly not only in terms of the administrative costs but also in creating cheaper contracts that turn out to be costlier in the long run. The low levels of goodwill and trust were also seen as problematic because of the need to have strategic relationships with suppliers. Whereas the ideal is to have contracts that procure higher value at lower prices but with suppliers having healthy profit margins; higher profits but without ‘cutting corners’ that could cause quality, safety, health, or environmental problems. Since such optimality is hard to achieve with conventional methods, the Ministry made a small but special grant that lead to the setting up of Structural B.V.
Building on the work of Majid Iqbal, its founder and managing director, Structural set out to develop and test a few ideas. An ongoing procurement project with a budget of over €2 billion euros was selected as the test bed. As part of the experiment, the Structural team was given a few documents that describe needs and requirements of the armed forces around transport vehicles, a copy of a draft agreement based on a previous procurement, and a list of priorities and concerns. The team was also given a few hours with Defense staff. The challenge was to generate statements that define the promises of demand and supply, to be the basis of a 10-year contract for the maintenance and repair of the vehicles. Success meant creating new insights for the staff (experienced officers with deep domain knowledge). The insights that would prompt changes to the tender documents the the Ministry would publish.
The experiment turned out to be more exciting than expected but also difficult. The Defense staff got flooded with new work after war broke out in Ukraine. Additional input from them was minimal. But also, because the Structural team was developing and testing entirely new concepts and some simply did not work. But new insights they did create, giving the staff cause for pause. Several ‘aha’ moments with the staff later added to the ideas of Sofi and Rumi. For example, the idea of publishing a prospectus for promises of demand and supply, a ‘balance sheet’ that accounts for the benefits, costs and risks on both sides, and a playbook of trades that could be used during actual negotiations. The idea of users simply defining outcomes and listing their priorities and concerns and have software automatically generate statements and construct a request for proposal, also came out of a reflective moment by wishful member of the staff.
With the pilot project successfully completed, Structural is now planning a path forward. Valuable new knowledge has been created. Innovative ideas are there. It will take time, and money to implement the vision of Sofi and Rumi helping government and commercial enterprises negotiate change in their challenging futures. The directors of the company, Majid, Indy, and Jann are recruiting a new team that will help Structural grow from an R&D project into a language technology company. That includes raising a significant amount of starting capital for at least a two-year runway. Attempting to do that two years ago would have been too early; two years from now might be too late. If you would like to join this venture, whether as a team member, investor, partner, or sponsor, then do not hesitate to write a note to email@example.com.