Despite an innovative business idea, the path to independence isn’t always easy. During the beginning stage of a startup, the main focus lies on the issue of financing as well as on searching for suitable spaces for realizing this idea. The rental prices for office and laboratory spaces then turn out to be costly affairs on the free market, which makes it hard for young entrepreneurs to gain a foothold.
Therefore, the KIT founded the first high-tech incubator in 2008 – a building with 1,600 m² office and laboratory spaces at the KIT that can be used by students, scientists, and startup teams. The term incubator comes from the field of medicine and means a breeding space. This is also the basic principle behind the KIT high-tech incubator: A location where select scientific startup projects can develop ideas in a startup-friendly environment from the beginning stage to market maturity.
The KIT spin-off otego moved into the high-tech incubator in August 2015. The team, consisting of two physicists, a chemist, and an industrial engineer, develops new thermoelectric generators (TEG) as an energy harvesting solution for wireless sensors and actuators. TEGs transform ambient heat directly into power as soon as they are given a temperature change. What is unique is the manufacturing process: Electrically active materials are printed onto ultra-thin foils, which are folded into the size of a sugar cube in a fully automated procedure.
The laboratory in the incubator is mainly used by chemist Silas Aslan, who was doing research at the University of Heidelberg until now. He can now work closely with his otego colleagues André Gall, Matthias Hecht, and Frederick Lessmann. The three co-founders are active as scientific employees on the Campus South, where a production facility of otego is also located. The high-tech incubator offers great advantages compared to other university laboratory spaces. “Here, you can grow, purchase your own devices, and hire additional, future employees,” says Silas Aslan. What is especially important for him is the existing infrastructure. “If we only rented an empty hall and had to build up the laboratory ourselves, we would have had to overcome an immense workload – beginning from law-related labor issues to the disposal of chemicals. For us as founders, the incubator is a true blessing in this regard.”
The next milestone for the young founders is series production. For otego, the incubator is a place where they want to develop their material to market maturity. During the next step, they plan to commission an external partner who can deliver the developed material in large quantities. In the future, the team hopes to expand their network at the KIT and to rent a larger laboratory at the incubator as soon as new spaces become available.