In 2016, the CeBIT was once again held in Hanover with strong participation by KIT. This year’s motto of the event, “Discover d!conomy – the digital transformation has arrived!”, explored the question of how digital technologies will simplify business processes and everyday life in the future. The main topics were “Big Data”, “Cloud”, “Internet of Things”, “Mobile”, “Industry 4.0” and “Work 4.0”.
Especially the large number of KIT spin-offs clearly demonstrated the position of the Institute in research and the transfer of knowledge between society and the business world. A total of eleven start-up teams from KIT and one FZI team took the opportunity to present their products and services to a broad audience and discuss solutions to current changes with the trade fair visitors.
300MICRONS designs and produces new 3D cell culture systems for the biological and pharmaceutical research and industry. The basic product is a film substrate for 3D cell cultivation. Own production of the film products makes it possible to take individual customer wishes into consideration. The products are ready to use and available in industrial standard formats. We interviewed Eric Gottwald, a co-founder of 300MICRONS, on the idea behind 300MICRONS, its founding period, and future prospects.
What does your company stand for?
Cell culture experiments have been carried out for decades in culture vessels in which cells are grown in two dimensions. One can easily conceptualize that this is not exactly physiological. Although successful experiments with three dimensional cultures had already been carried out in the 1960’s, it was not until the end of the last millennium that the 3D culture systems were broadly accepted. There are different approach methods that can be used for the production of such 3D cultures. Classically, this is done using spherical cell aggregates. This approach however has various disadvantages, for instance, the limited suitability for high-throughput screening campaigns in the pharmaceutical industry.
Our 3D cell culture systems are film-based. The films are equipped with microscopic depressions (300µm in diameter and depth), the so-called micro-cavity arrays. Each depression can take several hundred to a thousand cells. The film products also contain several thousands of micro-cavities in the standard industry and research formats (micro-titer plates) – hence, this not only enables high-throughput screening of 3D cell cultures, but also the excellently automated microscopy of film systems.
The organotypic results could even supersede certain animal tests. A key USP of 300MICRONS is that we developed and patented the necessary technologies for the production of our film products over many years. This enables us to very flexibly and quickly go into the wishes of our customers and lays a very solid foundation for future development of more innovative products for the cell culture field.
Where and how did you get this brilliant idea?
The increasing demand for our systems, triggered by scientific publications, existing collaborations, word of mouth and eventual winning of several start-up competitions prompted us to bring our ideas to the market.
How did your founding team come together?
Roman Truckenmüller and Stefan Giselbrecht developed the technology at the Institute for Micro-structure Technology (IMT) and the Institute for Biological Interfaces. I have worked for more than 20 years on the earlier models of the current 3D-cell culture systems. Peter Haug joined us after the acquisition of Helmholtz Enterprise funding as a founding angel and is now working on the advisory board of the company.
What would you say are the benefits of being your own boss?
Research at the KIT basically entailed working independently. In addition, you have the opportunity to act independently and present your own research findings to a wider audience. Of course, taking responsibility also means having to live with all the consequences.
What do you think are the properties that one should have to be a successful entrepreneur?
When one has decided to establish something, he/she puts in everything that is needed.
What would you term as the hurdles on the way to a successful business? Where did you get support?
Being a team that is purely from the science arena, positions in financial management, marketing, sales, and business development must be adequately filled. Through successful acquisition of Helmholtz Enterprise funds, the opportunity was opened for us to bring on a person for these areas of the company. Furthermore, networks such as those provided by Science4Life or BIOPRO are very helpful.
How did you deal with the large workloads during start-up?
This kind of a perspective somehow releases unimaginable energy and the scheduling and self-management also functions perfectly. In addition, clear division of tasks as well as prioritization of the tasks at hand also helps a lot.
Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?
Just do it!
The 300MICRONS GmbH KIT Spinoff Company Develops and Produces Miniaturized 3D Cell Culture Systems.
For nearly twenty years, Professor Dr. Eric Gottwald has conducted research at the KIT to find out how cells can be cultured in three dimensions. Cell culture experiments are important especially in biological and pharmaceutical research and in biotechnology.
Unlike 2D culture vessels, such as the flat Petri dishes, 3D culture systems guarantee a more organotypical growth of cells. As a consequence, results can be transferred more effectively to the human organism. The technology of manufacturing these systems is based on work of the co-founders Dr. Stefan Giselbrecht and Dr. Roman Truckenmüller, two former KIT staff members.
The idea to found a company was hedged by the team well over fifteen years ago. “However, at that time, there was demonstrably no market whatsoever. We were pioneers in our technology,” explains biologist Gottwald. Thus, the team first used a patented manufacturing technique to make a product for research purposes of their own. However, for a couple of years the trend in fundamental research and in industrial use has been in favor of 3D culture systems. In 2014, the three scientists therefore made another attempt at setting up a company. The young company, 300MICRONS, initially employed machines developed in house and a lot of manual work. In this way, 300MICRONS was able to generate its first revenue even before the official establishment of the company. Continue reading