Matthias, CEO of our deep tech startup Variolytics, a company with use cases in the fields of biotechnology and environmental protection, is 39 years old and a bioprocess engineer. He received a doctoral scholarship from the DBU (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt) from 2011 to 2014.
For Matthias, the scholarship and DBU was the all-important cornerstone of his professional career. And that is not an exaggeration, because without the scholarship he would not have been able to implement his idea at the time. At that time, he applied with the topic of “Material recycling of biogas”.
His research focus was clear from the start. He wanted to focus on renewable raw materials, sustainability and bioeconomy. During his fellowship, he learned how extensive and versatile these terms can be, through discussions with fellows from various scientific disciplines in seminars and colloquia.
At the opening event of the DBU, he learned a guiding principle that stayed with him till this day: “Production-integrated environmental protection”.
With the idea of improving what already exists, I developed processes for the production of chemical storage and raw materials from biogas at the University of Stuttgart.
During the period of his doctoral thesis, further ideas arose and, together with colleagues from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB), he was able to get funding for further projects approved.
In this way, it was possible for him to continue researching his topics of interest even after his scholarship, to set up a small working group and start his career as a scientist.
From scientific findings to a product
In addition to his scientific findings, something else gradually emerged, namely a product.
“For the pilot systems that we developed, there was a need for a measurement technology that was not commercially available on the market. And we were forced to find our own solution to our analytics problem, which ultimately resulted in a patent. The measuring technology is able to determine concentrations of all volatile substances, directly from liquids and gases – in real time. It turned out that there are innumerable possible uses for such a flexible measurement technology, but above all in the areas of environmental monitoring and biopharmaceutical production.”
It turned out that there are innumerable possible uses for flexible measurement technology, but above all in the areas of environmental monitoring and biopharmaceutical production.
Two key applications
Two key applications emerged:
- on the one hand, the energy optimization and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from aeration basins in sewage treatment plants and,
- on the other hand, the increase in yield of bioreactors for the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Inspired by the idea of bringing a technology to market that would contribute to production-integrated environmental protection, his interest in a technology transfer and in entrepreneurship grew. At the same time, the question arose whether to continue pursuing an academic career or dare switch to self-employment.
A four-person founding team
The decision was finally sealed when a four-person founding team was formed at Fraunhofer and a two-year research transfer project was approved to commercialize the patented technology in August of 2019.
In this way, we were given the opportunity to develop our prototypes in a protected environment, to use the Fraunhofer infrastructure and to start the company Variolytics GmbH in March 2020, while also working on our business models and go-to-market strategy.
The transfer from Fraunhofer employees to full-time founders was completed in August of this year.
We are now a team of eight and we have succeeded in attracting FTTF and a Business Angel as our pre-seed investors for the project. We are using the investment to carry out pilot projects and to establish ourselves as a provider of measurement technology on the market. The challenges are diverse, but the small successes we achieve on the way and the experience we gain from them make it worthwhile.