In order to learn more about another company founded be recent Karolinska graduates we will transfer ourselves to Aachen, a University City in Germany and home to aquila biolabs, a young German biotech company that was founded by my classmates Jens Bayer and Daniel Grünes, together with two experienced scientists from the RWTH Aachen University. The company focuses on the development of innovative analytical technologies for shake-flask fermentations and is currently working on the further development of its first product for market entry.
How did they start working on it
The idea for the first product was developed as a result of the founders’ everyday laboratory practice, where they experienced a common problem in biotechnological laboratories nowadays, the analysis of shake flask fermentations. Despite their frequent usage in biotechnological research and development, shake flask fermentations are currently difficult to characterize as well as hard to monitor and control. As a consequence, everyday, scientists around the world have to perform several manual, labour-intensive and scientifically inadequate measurements of the cell density in shake flasks, which cost time, interrupt the process and represent a high risk of contamination.
Since the problem could not be solved adequately by any solution available on the market, David Frank and Konrad Herzog – the two scientists at aquila biolabs – developed an idea to overcome the flaws in the current process and started to brainstorm and experiment around their idea in the attic of their apartment. When they managed to come up with a solution and to conduct successful proof-of-principle experiments, the idea to start their own company was born.
The cell growth quantifier (cgq) represents the first cell density based system for the fully automated and comprehensive monitoring, analysis, feedback control and design of shake flask fermentations. Such a system allows lab workers to continuously monitor, feedback control and rationalize bioprocesses as well as to increase reproducibility and significantly reduce the hands-on time. Thereby, development- and optimization times are shortened, risks of contamination are minimized and the success of shake flask fermentations is maximized.
How did they start working on it
Since David Frank and Konrad Herzog were lacking the necessary business background, they shared their idea with Jens Bayer, second-year master student at Karolinska at the time and former classmate of David and Konrad throughout their Bachelor’s program, asking him whether he can take their idea to market. Given the potential impact of the technology and the interesting challenge to set up their own business, Jens agreed to join the team immediately. To get a more diverse expertise and to balance the science and business side of the company, Daniel joined the team a couple of months later as the fourth founder.
Together, the four guys founded aquila biolabs by the end of 2013 in Aachen. In March 2014 – despite its young history – the company became part of the EXIST scholarship and is funded by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy pursuant to a decision of the German Parliament.
How is it going now and what were the main challenges so far?
Jens: Right now we are organizing our first three pilot customer studies with university research groups and companies in Germany and France. Here scientists will use our device for their research and we will get direct customer feedback on our technology. From the very beginning it was our idea to develop a product that our customers really want and that satisfies our customers’ needs. Therefore we need to understand the scientists, their ideas of a helpful device and need to listen carefully to their demands.
Daniel: Another big topic at the moment is the financing of our business. While we have sufficient money until next year, we are currently exploring different options for next stage financing. Here a solid business plan is key to attract new capital.
Why are you doing this?
Knowing how many other job opportunities were open for Jens and Daniel I could not help asking, why they decided to take this risky path instead of accepting jobs in prosperous companies with secured income and a safe future.
Jens: In my opinion this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, to take an early stage scientific idea and develop your own company around it. Moreover, I am passionate about it, I learn something new every day and I simply enjoy working for my own company! That’s why I did it and will continue doing it!
Daniel: Yes, I agree with Jens! You get a different perspective on what ‘work’ really means. When you have your own company you are responsible for everything that happens and your work has a direct impact. Furthermore, it’s a privilege to be able to choose the people you are working with. That is what I enjoy most about my work!
What are the plans for the future?
Jens: We want to continue learning from scientists in further pilot customer studies, preferably with companies und universities in Sweden. The plan is to secure financing for the next step and to launch the product until summer 2015!
What advice can you give to the future entrepreneurs in Life Science Industry?
Daniel: Be open, surround yourself with driven people, work hard and try to learn something new everyday! That is my key to success.
What to add … Let’s hope that the German and Swedish markets will only be the beginning of aquila biolabs’ business development. Given the high innovativeness and focus on improved efficiency in Sweden, I do believe that very soon I will be interviewing Jens and Daniel about their new partnerships with Swedish Universities. Best of luck!