For this 23rd episode of our Ellie.Talks podcast, we had the pleasure of welcoming Alexander Carpentier, CEO of Twintag.
At the forefront of digital circularity solutions, Twintag’s approach to digitization and product traceability is reshaping industries. In this episode, Julie dives into a captivating conversation with Alexander, exploring how Twintag’s solutions are driving circularity and transforming the future of business.
Key takeaways of the episode:
- The achievement of many circularity and sustainability objectives depends on the digital transformation that dominates many companies.
- Companies have an increasing amount of data at their disposal, which needs to be transformed into actionable information.
- Around 80-90% of the information that a product-driven organization needs to create a Digital Product Passport (DPP) already lives in 1 of their backend systems today. So use it! Look at your products, identify the valuable info to share, cross-check that with the information already present in your systems, and communicate that to your customers today.
- There is more than enough capable technology available today to drive substantial progress in circularity. The real obstacle – resistance to disrupting established norms – can be overcome by evangelizing, collaborating, and demonstrating that change is a tangible and achievable goal.
- Nurture your first customers and leverage their experience to pave the way for new ones. Dare to go to market quickly!
- And even though it is a rollercoaster, make sure to enjoy the ride.
Meet Alexander, a 39-year-old who is not just a dedicated husband and father of three, but also a passionate lover of music and a hockey player.
Alexander’s background is rooted in computer science and AI, where he pursued his studies in Leuven and the USA. For the first 12 years of his career, he ventured into the world of management consulting, mainly at Nova Reperta. His expertise lies in large-scale transformations, business reengineering, operational excellence, management techniques, and change management. With Nova Reperta also investing in early-stage start-ups, this triggered his entrepreneurial spirit.
This entrepreneurial spirit was also passed on to him by his father Paul, the founder of Esoptra – his 6th data tech startup founded together with Jan Van Riel, which later rebranded into Twintag. In 2019, after his tenure as a consultant, Alexander embarked on this new “venture adventure”, focusing on Twintag’s go-to-market. January 2020 marks the start of his role as CEO. Two months later, as the COVID crisis unfolded, he faced his first challenge. Under the motto to never waste a good crisis, Twintag’s value proposition was transformed into its identity today, focusing on the digital world behind physical products.
Despite his background in technology, Alexander doesn’t see himself as a hard-core tech person like his father.
‘I don’t consider myself a “techie” like my dad, it’s more the transformation within companies, seeing organizations transform themselves, working with people, and getting them to new levels…, that has always motivated me.’
Alexander’s aversion to waste, whether of time, effort, or resources, is a motivating factor in his journey.
About Twintag: Pioneering Digital Circularity Solutions
Twintag is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform at the forefront of digital circularity solutions. Their unique approach to product digitalization and traceability serves diverse sectors, fostering circularity and closed-loop systems.
The foundation of Twintag’s mission can be traced to three fundamental observations:
- Firstly, over the past three to five years, the corporate agenda has been dominated by the concept of digital transformation. At Twintag, they recognize that achieving circularity and sustainability goals hinges on the deployment of digital solutions and tools. For manufacturers, producing or servicing products without a circularity strategy leaves them at a competitive disadvantage.
- Secondly, the landscape of physical products is evolving rapidly. Manufacturers, distributors, consumers, and recyclers all have distinct and increasing requirements when interacting with products.
- Lastly, there is a growing abundance of data within these companies. The challenge lies in transforming this data ocean into actionable insights.
To illustrate Twintag’s role in advancing circularity, Alexander provides the example of an end-of-life mattress. Without associated data or any knowledge about that mattress, you’re faced with a waste problem. However, when equipped with relevant data, that mattress becomes valuable feedstock once again. Twintag aims to facilitate the flow of information around products like mattresses, emphasizing the critical importance of data and actionable insights.
Twintag strongly believes that accessing and utilizing data should be more straightforward. They developed technology to serve this purpose, initially focusing on data accessibility. Their pivot towards physical products was an unexpected evolution driven by their first customers. When Alexander took over as CEO, aligning Twintag’s mission with market needs became his primary challenge.
The Digital Product Passport: Bridging the Digital and Physical Worlds
Twintag positions itself as a connected products platform, providing value beyond a Digital Product Passport (DPP). More specifically, an organization that connects its products allows it to realize key business goals: reducing operational costs, streamlining supply chains, enhancing the customer experience, and ensuring compliance.
At the core of Twintag’s vision lies the belief that in the years to come, every product will become connected, and every product will have a digital entry point, whether through QR, NFC, RFID, or IoT (Internet of Things) platforms.
Twintag has embraced QR codes as the primary data carrier to access digital product passports, as they can be easily scanned using smartphones without additional apps. Yet their platform can interact with other data carriers as well, including NFC or RFID.
Taking this broader viewpoint, Twintag, therefore, advocates using that digital entry point beyond the DPP: to share product information, to better maintain or repair products, to provide end-of-life guidance, for example. As such, the DPP, officially expected in Europe as of 2026 and often seen by organizations as a pure compliance and therefore cost-draining initiative, can now improve an organization’s top and bottom line.
Twintag’s Approach to Digital Circularity
What sets Twintag apart from other technologies in the realm of digital circularity is its proactive stance. Unlike many companies waiting for standardized definitions to emerge before starting to work on their digital product passports, Twintag recommends a different approach. Alexander underlines that a significant portion, around 80 or 90%, of the required DPP information already lives today in 1 of the company’s backend systems. It’s a matter of getting started and utilizing what’s readily available.
“Begin by examining your product, identify the information about that product that is already present in your systems and meaningful to communicate to its users, irrespective of the digital product passport’s specifics.”
In its proposition, Twintag doubles down on the importance of contextual awareness. Different users of a product expect different information. A product might require more regulatory compliance from 1 country to the next. The process on how to recycle a product is not the same today as it will be tomorrow. The ever-changing context of a product necessitates adaptability.
Twintag’s Role in Navigating EPR Legislation
Twintag’s role in assisting companies with EPR legislation is rooted in the belief that technology serves as a means to an end rather than the primary driver of business outcomes.
They acknowledge technology’s significance but understand its limitations. Twintag supports product-driven organizations to realize their business goals.
While they don’t claim regulatory expertise in matters like the DPP or EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility), Alexander recognizes the urgent need for advocacy. To address this, they are actively constructing an ecosystem that connects them with experts, including specialized consulting firms. This collaborative network aims to provide holistic support to customers grappling with such regulatory questions.
Alexander also stipulates a crucial point: for him, the primary challenge does not lie in technology, but in the change management, or lack thereof, within companies. He underlines that more than enough capable technology is available today to drive substantial progress in circularity. The real obstacle is the resistance to disrupt established norms. To overcome this resistance, he advocates for evangelization and, collaboration, and shows that tangible change can indeed be attained.
Discover more about EPR legislation in the textile and fashion industry in our Ellie.Talks podcast with Jo Van Landeghem.
Differences in Digital Technology Adoption
Alexander notes differences in the adoption of digital technology among companies, driven by size and ownership structure. Currently, it is the early adopters across various sectors who are moving ahead. Pioneers are characterized by what Alexander calls “enlightened despotism at the top.” Visionary leaders push their management team to craft compelling data-driven product visions that enhance circularity in line, with their sustainability goals. He sees midsize companies with such leaders currently making the fastest progress.
The significance of collaboration – EE labels
Twintag’s collaborations with partners in the textiles ecosystem are a remarkable chapter in their journey. Originally focusing on industrial sectors like engineering and logistics, Twintag’s choice to embrace the textile world was sparked by a chance encounter. Their CTO met someone at EE Labels, a reputed Dutch labeling company, who was looking for a digital partner to leverage their in-house serialized QR code weaving technology.
This partnership started pragmatically, targeting specific customers and showcasing demos of their joint capabilities: the power of weaving individual QR codes into garments. Workwear manufacturer Tricorp was the first company to pick up on this, seeing the value of better understanding their customers and futureproofing their clothes for the upcoming DPP.
Discover more about EE Labels in our podcast episode with Marloes Evers.
Alexander highlights the pivotal role partnerships play in their go-to-market. For example, next to textiles, Twintag is also actively engaged in the chemicals and logistics sectors, fuelled by their partnership with Katoen Natie. In this case, an initial pilot project on serialization of polyethylene granulates bags with ExxonMobil led to a strategic collaboration with the global logistics provider.
Twintag understands the importance of delivering end-to-end solutions to customers. To do this, strong partnerships with other technologies and hardware providers are needed. Choosing the right partner is strongly driven by the use case, and for Twintag, every partnership needs to bring a faster way to access the market behind that use case.
Alexander’s Entrepreneurial Insights
Alexander highlights the importance of nurturing your initial customers, as their experiences typically pave the way for new customers. Reflecting on his journey, he also admits that, in hindsight, seeking market entry confirmations earlier might have helped them to frame their value proposition more efficiently.
‘If I had it to do over again, I’d probably go to market a bit faster and at least get those first confirmations a bit quicker.’
Furthermore, he stresses that digital circularity initiatives can and should extend beyond mere compliance, broadening them to optimize cost structures and explore new revenue streams.
Alexander also shares the personal rollercoaster he’s experienced as a CEO and stresses – pun intended – to not forget to enjoy the ride. Where his early days in management consulting could be long and filled with deadlines, they were at least somewhat predictable – very different from the complete uncertainty that is a startup. This shift, while challenging, has been a valuable learning experience throughout his entrepreneurial journey.
If you’d like to hear more about entrepreneurship in the industry, you can also listen to our Ellie.Talks episode about Julie’s entrepreneurial journey.
The Role of Technology in Circular Economy Development
Alexander believes technology will continue to play a pivotal role in advancing circular economy initiatives for businesses. As soon as a company has caught up with existing technology, the next innovation will already be behind the corner, offering fresh opportunities.
Zooming in on the world of physical products, one significant trend is the rush across sectors to claim ownership of the digital entry point on products. For example, in the garment industry, companies like Tricorp want to drive the increasing number of labels down to just “one-digital-label-fits-all”. This trend drives Twintag’s vision: a Twintag becoming the digital entry point for that product, similar to Intel’s “Intel Inside” motto.
Alexander predicts that within five years, “connected products” will evolve into just “products”, as the underlying digital world of that product will become implicitly known to its users. People will just hold their phones against a product and expect easy access to information, rendering QR codes obsolete as new technologies take over.
For Twintag, embracing this future will therefore be driven by a healthy balance of closely listening to customer needs to shape the product roadmap and continuously adding new capabilities to stay competitive and innovative. With the help of their expanding partner ecosystem.
If this episode story has inspired you to take your sustainability journey further, you can contact Twintag via Ellie.Connect!