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Aris Robotics happened to have a business professor from CBS join the company, and this has left its mark on the business model. And those kinds of bridges, where collaboration occurs across competencies, silos and ecosystems, are exactly what Thirdroom wants to support with its new, digital and open collaboration platform.

This article is a part of the magazine “From University to Unicorn” which is published during Digital Tech Summit 25.-26. October.

Sina Pour Soltani walked past a rubbish bin – and wondered.

The bin may have had four holes at the top for sorting waste, but it was all collected in the same bag at the bottom of the bin.

»I thought we could turn the process upside down so there was only one hole at the top, and then use artificial intelligence to recognise the rubbish as it goes into the bin and sort it for us,« recalls Sina.

His wonder turned into a bachelor’s project in robotics at SDU, where he would try to make the idea a reality. This brought him into contact with various waste management companies, which gave him an important insight: it can actually be done, but if it is to make a real difference in waste sorting and reduce resource wastage, the machine needs to be scaled up. It must not just be a smart bin, but a smart plant that can sort waste for people.

»We all know the problem of recycling and we probably agree that we need to sort. But what we’re saying is that instead of teaching the whole population to sort waste, it’s easier to train one artificial intelligence to do it,« says Sina.

Last year, the idea became the company Aris Robotics. Along the way, he has brought another robotics engineer on board, and a business partner from CBS has joined the project. By accident, no doubt, but it has been crucial to the way the company is now approaching the market.

A common platform for cooperation

We have the story of the lonely genius who, through wild experiments, researches his way to a Nobel Prize. We have the story of the strong entrepreneur who puts everything aside to make his business a success. But both stories are the exception that proves the rule. In reality, researchers and entrepreneurs alike almost always succeed only through teams and collaboration.

Universities are also increasingly collaborating with the business community in research, student collaboration and start-ups. At the same time, new cross-cutting initiatives such as Open Entrepreneurship and DIREC are creating new incentives for universities to collaborate across borders.

The move towards more collaboration is exactly what Danish company Thirdroom wants to support with a shared digital platform that will make it easier and more efficient for universities, startups, established companies and investors to come together on sustainable and green problem solving.

»Far too much knowledge and innovation is being lost in silos and translation. We need to accelerate collaboration across people and organizations to scale impactful solutions. The world stands on a critical edge and the most sustainable way to react to the current crises, is to collaborate across people, sectors, disciplines, cultures and countries,« says Alfred Birkegaard, founder and CEO of Thirdroom.

The company has already delivered collaboration platforms to Novozymes, Grundfos and Roskilde University, among others. Now Thirdroom is taking the experience from these and bringing it together in a new, unifying so-called multi-stakeholder platform. And the vision is big: to create the digital infrastructure connecting resources and facilitating deep systemic collaboration across the innovation ecosystem.

»Today there is no core digital knowledge-sharing platform where students, startups, corporates and organizations connect, create and collaborate on the grand challenges. Thirdroom is born to bridge this gap,« says Alfred Birkegaard.

Thirdroom is a brand new platform, but it’s build upon 14 years of experiments and research in digital og physical collaboration by the company’s founders Alfred Birkegaard og Katja Gry Carlsen. Their work is showcased in their documentary seen above as well as at

An accidental business-boost

During the test project of the first smart bin, Sina and his undergraduate partner found themselves in a car park spray-painting a bin all black to give the AI cameras a controlled environment to scan. Ann-Mia Ambjerg happened to see the session, and out of curiosity, she had to seek out the two roboticists to find out more.

»At first I thought it had something to do with activism,« laughs Ann-Mia, who lived near the crime scene, and continues:

»They told me about their project, and I told them that I was studying business administration economics at SDU. So it was a very casual first meeting, but it sounded so exciting that I couldn’t help but get involved. And when I overheard them talking about the business part, I had to jump in and offer.«

When Aris Robotics was established as a company in the summer of 2021, Ann-Mia had become a natural part of the founding team, even though she had moved to CBS in the meantime. Because along the way, it had become clear to the two robotics engineers that they needed her and her business skills in the company.

»It happened quite instinctively, but it follows the theory very well that you have to be in control of the technical as well as the business. We just complement each other – also in terms of personality – and if we hadn’t met Ann-Mia, we’d be pretty much on our own without the business insight,« says Sina.

Even though Aris Robotics is a young company they have already received a CBS Startup Grant and won the Odin Award 2021.

New collaborations on purpose

At the heart of the Thirdroom collaboration solution are visual project management timelines that make it easy to collaborate on problem solving and project progression digitally. But the experienced team behind the solution has also added a range of tools to help good collaboration happen, so it doesn’t have to happen by chance in a car park.

The tools include artificial intelligence-based matchmaking, which helps find the right candidates for a project outside the project owner’s own close network. And as a new feature, the platform is also working to make research articles from all Danish universities searchable, so they can be automatically suggested for projects where they might be relevant – benefiting students, researchers and start-ups alike.

»Research is not just about writing papers; it’s about being able to put new knowledge into action. If you’re a climate researcher, you also need to be able to communicate to companies and politicians, for example, but that’s difficult, and that’s why there’s so much good knowledge out there that just isn’t being put into practice,« says Alfred Birkegaard and continues:

Alfred Birkegaard, CEO and co-founder of Thirdroom.

»That’s why we start by meeting and collaborating on concrete problem-solving. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a researcher, a start-up or a company. The world is changing dramatically these years, and in order to respond to current and future crises, such as the climate crisis, we need a much stronger and more effective culture of collaboration,« says Alfred Birkegaard, adding that Thirdroom wants to do this in a particularly Nordic way:

»Our communications technology is creating dramatic new opportunities for networked productivity. But this requires that we trust the technology, which is why we are working to introduce a number of Nordic tech principles that we hope will help restore trust; e.g. fair use of data, transparent AI and no advertising or purchased content on the platform.«

About Thirdroom is a Danish so-called collaborative edtech platform that works on 3 Levels:

  1. A Student Hub with student portfolios and visual progression timelines for collaborative problem solving, entrepreneurship and masterships.
  2. A Startup Incubator that facilitates the full startup journey, from prototype to scale-up with global solutions & connects startups with required resources, needs and competences accros the innovation ecosystem.
  3. Challenge+ for Partnerdriven Innovation, where corporates collaborate with students, researchers, foundations, corporations, NGOs and public to solve grand challenges and accelerate the green transition.

Thirdroom is officially launched in the collaboration zone at Digital Tech Summit on October 25th, where students, startups, impact investors and mentors get a profile for free at

Robot startup without robot

Today, Aris Robotics is close to being ready for the market. And although the company is robotics-based and has “Robotics” in its name, its first solution will be based entirely on artificial intelligence and a small camera.

»During the development we have found out how much data is missing in the waste industry. That’s why the first thing we’re going to deliver is a monitoring solution that can collect data,« says Sina.

The start-up has already developed the software, which with a simple camera can help recycling centres, companies and hospitals to find out what their waste actually consists of. In this way, they hope to be on the market much sooner than if they had to develop the big robot waste sorting system first.

»We want to recycle more, so we save resources and emit less. But that requires us to know what resources we’re throwing away right now – that’s why it’s a problem that we don’t have data on it. Only when we can collect that data in a scalable way, so that we know what it is we’re throwing away, will we be able to change that,« says Sina.