How to earn it

  • Dr. Günter Kast

Single Malt - matured for 30 days.

Bespoken Stu and Martin 2

Innovation. With their company Bespoken Spirits, Martin Janousek (pictured above, left) and Stu Aaron produce high-proof whiskey in a fast process and still leave decades-old cask maturations behind in blind tastings. This could revolutionize the market for whiskey - not necessarily to the detriment of established distilleries.

Mountain View is a city in the heart of Silicon Valley. Some years ago, Martin Janousek and some of his friends were sitting together in a whisky and wine club and had a funny evening. Until someone threw a seemingly harmless question into the room: Why does the whisky sparkling in their glasses actually have to be stored in barrels for so long? And why does a bottle of "Suntory Hibiki 30" cost more than 5000 dollars?

Janousek, who earned his doctorate in materials science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, couldn't shake the question. Can the process be shortened? Not just a little. But radically. Instead of 30 years, 30 days? That would be a technology to which the favorite term of all venture capitalists really does apply: disruptive.

For some time, the 50-year-old had been in touch with friends from Portugal who were experimenting with a brandy that only needed to mature for a single month. "That inspired me. I wanted to know the technology and science behind it. And thanks to my education and career, I brought the tools. Modern materials science and data analytics could give us the opportunity to completely change the antiquated way spirits are made, after all."

In Stu Aaron, he finds a passionate comrade-in-arms. He knows the New Yorker of the same age, a graduate of the renowned Cornell University, from their time together in management at Bloom Energy, a fuel cell manufacturer. Together they begin to tinker.

As whisky connoisseurs, the two know all the judgments and biases of the industry. "The longer a whisky matures in a cask, the better it is," they say. "Good things come to those who wait." "There's power in rest." "Everything takes time." In Craigellachie, Scotland, on the banks of the River Spey, one of the country's oldest distilleries distilled a whisky 95 years ago that wasn't bottled until 60 years later under the label "The Macallan." One of them was acquired by a private collector in Colorado. After his death, his widow put the collection up for auction. A bottle of "Macallan 1926 Valerio Adami 60 Years" was auctioned for more than one million US dollar at the end of 2020. Time makes money ...

"Rubbish," says Stu Aaron, "time costs money! The traditional spirits manufacturing process is outdated, inaccurate, unpredictable and inefficient." One problem, for example, a collateral damage that the industry has accepted without complaint, he says, is the so-called angel's share: while whiskey matures in barrels, millions of liters of the precious liquid are lost every year through evaporation processes. The US state of Kentucky has less than five million inhabitants. But more than nine million barrels are currently maturing in special warehouses, most of them containing the bourbon whiskey typical for the region. "Of that, ten percent evaporates. What a waste," Aaron thinks. "Add to that the cost of the warehouses, the staff, heating the buildings in the winter." In the EU, a spirit can only be called whisky if it matures for at least three years in a wooden barrel that holds a maximum of 700 liters. New and small distilleries quickly run out of money. And there are also distilleries whose location simply does not permit longer storage. It is not for nothing that gin has become so popular worldwide - it can be sold immediately after production.

So there are definitely economic reasons for turbo-aging - away from the big, round cellar barrels, towards a production process similar to that of a biotech company. In a small lab in Menlo Park, Janousek and Aaron set up their startup's witch's kitchen in 2018. The goal: to flash-age a young whiskey to give it aroma, flavor, and color in just a few days.

The process they're developing is called "ACTivation." ACT stands for the first letters of the English words "aroma", "colour" and "time". Instead of letting the young whisky mature in wooden barrels, they mix it with thousands of pieces of wood, "microstaves", in steel tanks. By rapidly raising and lowering the pressure and temperature in the tanks, the device, which the founders call the "ACTivator," "pushes" the whiskey into the wood several times a day. By combining tens of thousands of snippets of different tree species, the exact aroma, color and flavor profile desired can be achieved.

In their first attempt, the duo aims to produce a spirit that tastes like a typical bourbon that's about ten years old: strong oak notes, vanilla and caramel flavors. "We're deconstructing a classic whiskey, in a sense. And then reassemble it. This involves toasting and charring the microstaves to get as close to the original as possible."

When the founders let friends taste their drink, which has been aged in just a few days, they are met with incredulous amazement. When asked, they confirm: yes, their brandy really does contain no additives, no artificial flavors or colors.

Janousek and Aaron enter their creation in the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco - and win the gold medal in the blind tasting by renowned experts right off the bat. They dare to create new variations, a rye-based whisky and even a rum. And again they receive prizes at the World Whiskies Awards or the World Wine and Spirits Competition in New York. To date, they've cleared 44 awards in less than two years.

Whiskey

The tinkerers realize: The spectrum of styles and flavors is nearly limitless. What's more, the process is not only fast, it's precise, efficient, and easily repeatable with consistent results. Apparently, the duo, who call their startup Bespoken Spirits, have succeeded at something others have been chomping at the bit to do for some time. The Lost Spirits Distillery from Los Angeles, for instance, has been experimenting with light as a decisive adjusting screw since as early as 2010. The reason is that bright light changes the molecular structure of the wood, thus, creating the complex aromas of ripe brandies. However, this has not convinced the test drinkers yet.

The only ones who don't seem to be surprised by the success of Bespoken Spirits are the two investors of the first financing round of 2.6 million US dollar: On the one hand, this is the entrepreneur T. J. Rodgers, who, among other things, owns the Clos de la Tech wine estate, where he vinifies best pinot noirs by using a mix of traditional and novel enology techniques. And on the other hand, businessman Derek Jeter, former icon of professional baseball and also wine lover.

Together, the quartet is now considering what business strategy to pursue with the lightning spirits, which undoubtedly have the potential to revolutionize the industry. Two business models are crystallizing - service for established suppliers and in-house production.

In the fall of 2020, the first bottles of 0.375 liters will go on sale for around $30. They will be bottled in Treasure Island near the San Francisco Bay Bridge, which looks like a typical distillery: lots of stainless steel, tanks, pipes, the smell of mash. The drink is currently available in seven US states in liquor stores and grocery stores, in selected bars and restaurants, and also via online ordering. The only foreign market is currently South Korea. The bottle labels say "Bespoken Spirits" in large letters.

The small print explains what is in the bottle. The word "whisky" is carefully avoided. The first bottling is simply called "Original". The website states that the spirit is made from a bourbon mash that is 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and four percent malt. In all, there are seven varieties to choose from, including a dark rum and a Special Batch, which is lighter and reminiscent of Japanese whiskies.

As a second mainstay, Aaron and Janousek want to become service providers to the whisky industry - an industry that turns over many billions each year and, after a brief setback during the pandemic, is now growing rapidly again. As consultants and partners to established distilleries, they want to help them develop and produce high-quality products more quickly. Large whisky distilleries in particular would be predestined for this. Firstly, they lack casks; demand exceeds supply. Secondly, the rooms for the casks, which are sometimes stored there for decades, require an extremely high capital investment. And third, if you want to test a new flavor or blend, you have to wait five years or more to see if the experiment has worked.

The arguments Bespoken Spirits uses to score points are: faster, cheaper, more sustainable. A Harvard Business School case study, Janousek reports, found that distilleries can save 50 to 70 percent of costs and five years of time using Bespoken Spirits' process. For the whiskey industry alone, the potential savings is $20 billion - per year, mind you. "We use 99 percent less energy, 97 percent less wood and 20 percent less water," Aaron adds. They have filed patents to that effect. They should be granted in the next six to twelve months.

The duo admits, however, that this form of consulting and process optimization would probably have to take place behind the scenes, so customers wouldn't even notice. How this could actually work and whether it is even permissible remains questionable. That the topic is extremely explosive is shown by the terse statement of Moët Hennessy Germany in Munich, whose portfolio includes spirits brands like Hennessy, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg and Belvedere: "No comment."

The Scotch Whisky Association also certainly doesn't want to give the impression that it sees Bespoken Spirits as a serious business partner: It threatened to "take action around the globe to prevent Bespoken from circumventing the rule that Scotch must be matured in oak casks for at least three years."

Still, the whisky revolters bristle with self-confidence. They suspect that they have a business model with unicorn potential in their quiver. Potential backers stand ready, they say, from family offices to private equity or venture capital funds. "We are well supplied with capital." The company wants to grow quickly. "We are disruptive and agile. We have ambitious plans."

Exactly what these look like, however, remains a bit unclear. The markets of the future would depend on many factors. In the EU, for example, there is currently a dispute about whether the addition of wood chips is considered (permissible) barrel aging or (not permissible) flavoring - outcome uncertain. Only in the first case would the spirit be allowed to call itself whisky. "Every market has its regulatory peculiarities," Janousek says. "But as long as these are transparent, we can live with them just fine."

It will be exciting to see how this innovation affects the market for auctions of very old and correspondingly expensive whiskies. "In the short term, prices there are unlikely to fall," Aaron suspects, "after all, anyone looking for a classic car wouldn't want to drive a Tesla." But then there's a big "but": "Maybe at some point whisky connoisseurs and collectors will realize that the romance factor of this drink doesn't just depend on age."

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There's no accounting for taste.

"I can't blame people for wanting to create something new," wrote renowned whisky critic John Dover, "but I do take exception when they take shortcuts and see the creative process as just an easy way to make money."

Commenting on the bourbon mash-based Bespoken whisky, he said, "My first impression was the smell of rust and disinfectant." The taste, he said, was that of "plastic with a hint of banana bread," "like biting into your afternoon snack when you forget to take the cellophane off." The review of a rye mash whisky from the start-up was more gracious. This one, he said, exuded a certain "oakiness" with a "sharp cinnamon note on the tip of the tongue" - reminding him of "a bowl of cold oatmeal with raisins."

But it's also a fact that John Dover knew exactly what he was going to drink beforehand. And perhaps didn't go into it without prejudice. That's why it's so important for Bespoken Spirits to excel in blind tastings.

German fermentation chemist Gundolf Ströhmer, something of a spirits pope in this country, told a trade magazine, "You can smell and taste the difference made by raising the temperature and extracting the wood. The totality of a naturally aged spirit is not achieved and the complex impression cannot succeed." It's a bit like the difference between brandy and real cognac, he says. You can recognize the latter immediately if you leave the empty snifter. Cognac still smells for an hour. With brandy, the smell is gone immediately.

Daniel Einfalt from the Institute of Food Science at the University of Hohenheim is more cautious: "Apart from subjective perception, there is hardly any analytical difference between flash whisky and its long-term stored counterparts. This has been confirmed by the latest research on "artifical aging".

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Author: Dr. Günter Kast

  • Yvonne Döbler, Sabine Holzknecht, Hanns-J. Neubert

Mission Innovation.

weltretter aufmacher

World Saviour. To win the fight against climate change, the world is dependent on new ideas. The start-up scene is booming, impact investors are providing capital. Ten stories of entrepreneurs who are making a difference.

If humanity wants to have a chance of achieving the climate goals, it must rely on the inventiveness of entrepreneurs. Because, according to the International Energy Agency, almost half of the emission reductions needed by 2050 will have to be achieved through technologies that currently only exist on paper.

Mission Climate is a mission innovation. "And there is a lot happening right now. More and more young investors are financing more and more young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas," analyses Andreas Rickert, CEO at Phineo, co-CEO at impact investor Nixdorf Kapital and member of the supervisory boards of several impact investment companies: "The market for investing with impact is taking off."

Impact combines a social impact - reducing CO2 emissions, for example - with financial returns. Rickert attributes the fact that this idea is increasingly gaining followers to three mutually reinforcing factors: "Firstly, the general social climate. Many people - consumers and investors - are worried. They are asking themselves what they can do. This drives politicians to act. At the same time, more investors from the traditional venture capital sector are looking for companies with impact. And are finding innovative founders."

One of these impact investors is Thomas Festerling, CFO at GreenTec Capital Partners in Frankfurt. It has been looking for impact investments since 2015 and focuses on Africa.

"The population is growing incredibly fast there. If we don't implement a sustainable energy supply in Africa now, we will get the same problem as in China. In order to develop the economy and society, more and more fossil fuels are being burned," explains Festerling and concludes: "Every euro invested in Africa's climate protection today generates more climate impact than elsewhere. Because here there is a chance to skip the fossil age completely."

Right now, Festerling informs us, start-ups are also springing up like mushrooms in Africa. "They are innovation drivers and incubators. Their ideas are then often adopted by larger companies." Members of Africa's young generation have received their education in the US or Europe, now come back and want to make a difference at home. "They wholeheartedly stand behind their ideas.

To increase the likelihood of economic success, GreenTec has developed a (special) venture-building approach for Africa. "We support the companies very early on, even before any money flows. If the project doesn't work, we can quickly pull the ripcord."

Success seems to prove him right. "Our first financial product was launched 2.5 years ago. There are seven companies in it. Based on the valuations of later financing rounds, we are at a return (IRR) of more than 30 percent. Sure, those are unrealised gains - but it shows we don't have to hide from other venture capital funds."

"That is the key - impact investments are already keeping up with classic financial products today," Rickert makes clear. And because ideas that can help reduce emissions address a huge market, this should not change.

When you hear Rickert and Festerling speak, you can almost feel the spirit of optimism. Perhaps it is not too late after all. On the following pages, private-wealth authors tell the exciting stories of ten founders who have set out to make a difference. They convey hope. Because there are many, many more such innovative minds out there.  

                    

Weltretter1

Away with CO2.

The decisive progress on the way to a climate-neutral world was already achieved in 1999, when Klaus Lackner, a German physicist now working in the USA, first proposed a process for removing carbon dioxide from the air, the so-called carbon capture process. The idea was to filter large quantities of CO2 directly from the air and store it in geological reservoirs.

Ten years later, this concept had progressed so far in research that a colleague of Lackner's, David W. Keith, founded the company Carbon Engineering in British Columbia, Canada. In 2010, another company with a similar idea was launched - Global Thermostat. Its co-founder and CEO is the mathematician Graciela Chichilnisky. Her academic focus is on environmental and welfare economics and emissions trading. She was instrumental in formulating the emissions trading section of the United Nations Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which became international law in 2005. She is also one of the lead authors of the IPCC's 2007 Assessment Report.

Two companies, one idea. Carbon Engineering is currently planning two huge plants that will use renewable energy to remove up to one million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. The plant in Texas, construction of which will begin early next year, is scheduled to be ready by the end of 2024. A second one is being built in cooperation with the company Storegga Geotechnologies in the north-east of Scotland and should be in operation by 2026. It will then be the largest carbon capture plant in Europe.

Storegga Geotechnologies plans to produce hydrogen from natural gas produced in the North Sea. The CO2 produced in the process will be captured in the carbon engineering plant and fed into empty oil caverns under the North Sea floor via the existing oil and gas pipelines.

Geological carbon dioxide storage, known as carbon sequestration, has been used by industry for decades. More than 200 million tonnes of CO2 have been successfully stored in geological reservoirs worldwide. However, it has still not been fully researched how long the greenhouse gas will remain dormant there, sealed off. It would have to be many thousands of years.

In Texas, on the other hand, most of the filtered CO2 is used for so-called enhanced oil recovery in the controversial fracking process. In this process, CO2 is injected underground to squeeze out additional oil from stagnant wells. The carbon dioxide remains in the ground in the hope that it will turn into stone under the geological conditions there. The disadvantage of this method is that it can at best make fossil fuels climate-neutral. For the time being, this does not contribute much to the necessary decrease in the concentration of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

If carbon engineering now captures two million tonnes of CO2 per year, that sounds like a lot at first - but it is only a drop in the ocean. For climate researchers assume that the world will have to remove at least 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air every year by the end of the century in order to cope with the residual emissions from air and shipping traffic, steel and cement production and agriculture, which cannot be eliminated so easily at lower cost. That would be many thousands of air vacuum cleaners of the scale Carbon Engineering is planning. The profitability of such plants depends mainly on the cost per tonne of CO2 captured compared to the global price of CO2. Carbon Engineering does not comment on costs, even though the company is otherwise exemplary transparent in its information. But in a 2018 study, Carbon Engineering founder and Harvard professor David W. Keith came up with a price range of US$94 to US$232 per tonne once the technology reaches commercial scale. That's still some way from the price companies pay today for commercial carbon dioxide for industrial processes - between US$65 and US$110.

Global Thermostat works more cheaply. In its demonstration plant in Huntsville, Alabama, it seems to be able to remove CO2 for only 120 US dollars per tonne. That would be truly groundbreaking. Because that would already put the price within the range of what companies pay for industrial carbon dioxide gas today. Unlike other carbon capture initiatives, Global Thermostat therefore does not need government subsidies or carbon credits from CO2 trading to be economic and profitable.

Global Thermostat's technology is based on organic chemical binders attached to porous ceramic honeycombs that act as carbon sponges. Similar materials and processes have been used for decades for other purposes and have been shown to scale up well.

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The chemicals bind the CO2, which is sucked in via large fans, both directly from the atmosphere and from chimneys of power plants or from a combination of both - this is unique so far. At a relatively low temperature of 85 to 100 degrees, the CO2 can be scrubbed out with steam, which can ideally be obtained from process or waste heat from other companies. The ceramic honeycombs can then be reloaded with CO2. This process requires only steam and electricity; there are no emissions or waste water.

In view of the favourable price, it is no wonder that there are already contracts with large companies like Coca-Cola. The beverage multinational wants to use the gas for its carbonated drinks. Oil and gas giant Exxon is also on board. It wants to use CO2 to start a carbon-to-fuel business, to produce oil on the basis of carbon dioxide.

Global Thermostat's markets are therefore in all those production sectors that already require CO2. In addition to the beverage and fuel industries, these are manufacturers of plastics and building materials as well as industrial gases and water desalination plants where the clean water has to be enriched with carbonates that can be produced from CO2 gas.

So the prospects for the environment - and the companies - are gigantic. Today, venture capitalists widely agree that direct CO2 capture could become one of the world's largest industries by mid-century.       

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Weltretter3

Double the yield.

Photovoltaics and agriculture - can't they work on the same land? "It can," informs Reiner Egner, CEO of Tubesolar AG: "Vegetables, lettuces, tomatoes, chillies - all of them and many plants more have partly achieved better yields under our agri-photovoltaic pilot systems than on arable land without solar panels."

The idea: generate electricity with solar panels in tube form. They are set up on stilts at a height of, say, five metres above farmland. The advantages: Rain permeability and clean electricity, as well as easy shading of farmland, which protects the soil in extreme sun. "The bottom line is that higher yields can be achieved in agriculture and clean electricity can be generated at the same time," Egner explains. There are more and more hot days and long droughts around the world, he says. The solar tubes help to reduce the drying out of the soil, they are rain-permeable, weatherproof and tractors can drive under them. Eventually, the vision is for the photovoltaic thin-film tubes to reach an annual production capacity of 250 megawatts.

Egner's target markets are not only agri-photovoltaics but also industrial commercial roofs with corresponding greening - "a market with gigawatt potential in Bavaria alone for existing and planned commercial buildings. By using our modules on industrial and commercial roofs, in combination with green roofs, we make a significant contribution to environmental and climate protection while generating energy at the same time." The team has already solved the most important challenges regarding statics and air contact area, he said.

Tubesolar was founded at the end of 2019 as a spin-off of the Osram/Ledvance laboratory production in Augsburg. In addition to Reiner Egner, Jürgen Gallina, Chief Technology Officer, has been a member of the board since then, and the majority shareholder is Bernd Förtsch, an entrepreneur from Kulmbach.

At that time, Osram/Ledvance produced, among other things, fluorescent tubes that serve as the basis for photovoltaic thin-film tubes. "The product needed an investor because the Chinese investors did not want to set up solar production in Germany," Egner recounts. And they were not interested in the solar tubes and the know-how of the employees. Vesselinka Koch, who had brought this idea of thin-film tubes to Osram, asked him to take a closer look at the company - which he did.

In the process, Egner met motivated developers and mechanical engineers with a great deal of experience in a market that the trained banker considered to have a promising future. "We then found strategic investors who acquired patents for the production of solar tubes and took on ten employees as a first step."

A cooperation Tubesolar has agreed with the American Ascent Solar (ASTI) offers particular potential. The start-up has acquired a stake in the US company for 2.5 million dollars, thus securing a second source of supply of large volumes of thin-film photovoltaic foil for its glass tube modules. There are also plans to set up a joint production facility in Germany and to develop special solar cells.

These CIGS perovskite tandem cells are very efficient and cheap to produce. "They therefore have disruptive potential in the solar industry, as the market-leading monocrystalline silicon cells are getting closer and closer to their practical maximum efficiency," writes analyst Karsten von Blumenthal of First Berlin Equity Research.

In 2020, Tubesolar generated a net loss of €2.3 million. No sales were generated in the first half of 2021 either. The net loss was 1.2 million euros. The company needed money primarily for the construction of a fully automated production facility. For this purpose, the Free State of Bavaria has promised a subsidy of 10.8 million euros, and Tubesolar is raising another part through two capital increases that have already been placed. In March of this year, the most recent one was successfully completed with 6.5 million euros. "With our automated production facility, we can scale and offer competitive prices," says Egner.

The biggest risk for Tubesolar is the pending certification of the modules by TÜV. Egner expects it in the next few months. Production can only start once certification has been granted - "we expect to start sales in the second half of 2022," informs Reiner Egner.

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Weltretter4

Wood instead of oil.

When Florent Héroguel closes his eyes, he sees a world in which petroleum no longer plays a role. "Our vision is that everything that is produced from petroleum today can be produced from biomass tomorrow - thanks to the technology of our start-up Bloom."

How is this going to work? Bloom takes a carbon that already occurs in large quantities in nature, lignin, and turns it into a chemical feedstock that can be used wherever fossil fuels have been used so far. "Lignin," explains Remy Buser, co-founder and current CEO of Bloom, "is the second most abundant biopolymer on earth. It is the supporting material in wood - similar to reinforced concrete in a building. It is very similar in structure to petroleum. It just hasn't been used yet because for a very long time it was simply impossible to extract it."

For a long time, researchers apparently simply did not understand its structure and properties. Unexpected and undesirable reactions repeatedly led to the lignin being destroyed during the extraction process. That is why its extraction has never been profitable until now. Bloom has now overcome this weakness.

The company emerged from a spin-off of the University École Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne and was founded in 2019 by the two chemists Remy Buser and Florent Héroguel. Bloom is based in Marly, a suburb of Fribourg in French-speaking Switzerland. "Bloom," explains Remy Buser, "has used state-of-the-art analytical tools to develop a unique 'stabilisation chemistry'. It allows lignin to be extracted in its natural structure and its properties fully exploited for applications in the chemical industry."

The potential of lignin is indeed considerable. Wood, for example, is 40 to 50 per cent cellulose, 20 to 30 per cent hemicellulose and 15 to 30 per cent lignin. Besides cellulose and chitin, lignin is the most abundant polymer in nature. Now that Bloom's technology has made the extraction of lignin profitable, huge opportunities are opening up to use and exploit the already existing reserves of this raw material.

The market for carbons and carbon compounds is indeed huge. They are found in almost all objects of our everyday life - in principle everywhere where plastic is contained: plastics, cars, medicines, paint, even in food in the form of flavourings. In Germany, 87 percent of the carbon compounds come from fossil raw materials such as crude oil, natural gas or coal. For the time being. Because if the founders of Bloom have their way, that will change in the future.

There is no shortage of lignin as a raw material. The paper industry alone produces around 50 million tonnes of lignin as a waste product every year - a waste product that can now be turned into an extremely valuable and sustainable raw material. "If you take a tonne of wood that has a value of 100 dollars, this wood contains raw materials worth 1000 dollars," Remy Buser calculates.

Moreover: "The resource wood is produced sustainably and its production is not in direct competition with food, so there is no ethical problem," knows forest scientist Dr. Marcus Lingenfelder from the University of Freiburg.

Bloom is still in the start-up phase. "The technology has been validated on a pilot scale, now it has to become a commercial process," says Remy Buser. "In the longer term, we would like to open up a new, sustainable carbon source, especially for the petrochemical industry. However, market entry will initially be through low-volume, high-value markets."

The markets Buser is talking about are perfumes, flavours and cosmetics - markets with traditionally very high margins. Another very interesting area is the market of phenolic resin, which already exceeded the value of ten billion US dollars a few years ago.

"These markets can be integrated into Bloom's strategy within the next 18 to 24 months," explains Sebastian Heitmann, partner at the German impact investment company Extantia. Sebastian Heitmann has been accompanying Bloom for over a year and is convinced by the concept. "The technology fits, the team works highly motivated - in less than two years we will have first concrete results."

"The fact that everyone who still uses fossil-based products today will have to adapt to a decarbonised world plays into our cards," says Remy Buser, "legislators will help to promote this transition."

Heitmann is certain: Bloom will have paid back the investment needed to build it by 2030 at the latest. If the business model is fully successful, Bloom will become a gigacorn: a company whose technology saves more than one billion tonnes of CO2 per year. In perspective, this would reduce EU-wide CO2 emissions by 33 percent. That is about as much as the CO2 emissions of 35 million cars. An enormous positive impact.            

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Weltretter5

Fuel from CO2.

One of the great hopes in the fight against climate change is electromobility. But even if there were sufficient charging stations, corresponding power lines and vast amounts of green electricity - other solutions are still needed for aviation, shipping and heavy goods transport.

One alternative could be so-called e-fuels, electricity-based fuels produced from CO2 and water: E-kerosene, E-diesel and E-gasoline. These fuels have the same properties and qualities as fossil fuels and can be filled into existing engines and drives. There is no need to convert engines or build new infrastructure. And the best part is that CO2 is needed to produce these fuels.

"When we talk about decarbonisation," says Sebastian Heitmann, partner at the impact investment company Extantia, "there are essentially two options: We can try to avoid putting more CO2 into circulation. That is usually laborious and expensive. Or we can try to convert the existing CO2 through intelligent technologies in such a way that we can thereby meet our carbon needs. If we manage to manage the CO2 that is there without increasing the amount per se, we create a circular economy."

The P2X Copernicus project shows what such a cycle looks like. There, the world's first integrated plant produces fuel from air, water and renewable electricity. In addition to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), three companies are involved in the prototype: Climeworks, sunfire and Ineratec.

The fuel is produced in four steps. In the first step, the CO2 is filtered out of the air. In principle, the carbon dioxide can be extracted where it is produced anyway, i.e. in industrial or biogas plants. A very elegant solution for this is offered by the Swiss company Climeworks. It is a world leader with its technology and filters the CO2 directly from the ambient air (private wealth, issue 04/2017). "Our systems," explains Louise Charles of Climeworks, "can be set up in any location in the world. They are modulable, scalable and can be mass produced."

The second step is to use technology from sunfire. The company was founded in 2010 and is based in Dresden. Today, sunfire is a leading global electrolysis company. Its vision is "a life without fossil fuels".

In the so-called power-to-liquid process, sunfire uses renewable electricity to transform CO2 and water into a green synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

In the next and third step, the know-how of the Swiss company Ineratec comes into play. "By means of the so-called Fisher-Troops synthesis, the synthesis gas is converted into hydrocarbons of different chain lengths," explains Roland Dittmeyer from KIT. "These hydrocarbon molecules are then the raw products for the renewable synthetic fuels - comparable to crude oil."

"With its technology, Ineratec is years ahead of its competitors," explains Sebastian Heitmann. He reckons that the innovative technology can reduce almost a third of EU-wide CO2 emissions. This would also give Ineratec the makings of a gigacorn - a company that can save one billion tonnes of CO2 per year.

In the last and fourth step - developed by the KIT researchers - the raw products thus obtained are finally transformed into liquid fuel in a further reaction stage. They are thus refined: into e-kerosene, e-diesel and e-gasoline.

All the technology required for this fits into a nine-metre-wide container. The cycle works and is efficient. "More than 90 per cent of the carbon that was filtered out of the air in the first step is found in the liquid product," says Roland Dittmeyer. Even more: the synthetic paraffin burns cleaner than the fossil fuel. And: The waste heat from the synthesis in step three can be recycled and used for the electrolysis in step two. 60 per cent of the electricity used is thus stored in the liquid fuel.

Fossil fuels can therefore actually be replaced by renewable, synthetic e-fuels. With the use of e-kerosene in aircraft, flying would become climate-neutral. The use of e-fuels in heavy transport could reduce CO2 emissions - without high investment costs for the conversion to new propulsion technologies or refuelling facilities. The same applies to shipping. Here, too, e-fuels can contribute significantly to decarbonisation.

In Norway, the first industrial plant for the production of e-fuels has already been built. Filter systems from Climeworks remove CO2 from the air. Electrolysis processes from sunfire turn it into renewable fuel. The plant is powered 100 per cent by renewable electricity from Norway. Within the next three years, ten million litres of renewable fuel will be supplied annually for the Norwegian and European markets. The plant can be expanded to 100 million litres per year.

In Werlte in northern Germany, the world's largest power-to-liquid plant for the production of e-kerosene to date has been built using technology from Ineratec. The plant will produce more than 350 tonnes of CO2-neutral e-kerosene and supply German airlines. And that is just the beginning.

Weltretter6

"In 2022, Ineratec plans to start up another pioneering industrial plant for the production of sustainable synthetic fuels in Frankfurt am Main," says Philipp Engelkamp, co-founder and CEO of Ineratec. The location is strategically well chosen, as the Höchst industrial park guarantees low-cost access to renewable hydrogen as well as CO2 from a biogas plant.

"We want to produce up to 3500 tonnes or 4.6 million litres of e-fuel annually here," says Philipp Engelkamp, "from up to 10000 tonnes of biogenic carbon dioxide and renewable electricity. This pioneering plant will be the largest to date from Ineratec and will serve as a trailblazer for other power-to-liquid projects worldwide."

Each litre of e-fuel will then replace one litre of fossil fuel. The cycle has begun. Now all that remains is for politicians to ensure that more and more renewable fuel is actually used in aviation and road traffic by gradually increasing the blending quotas for e-fuels. The technology has proven that it works.

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Weltretter7

Power for Africa.

Energy is the key to everything. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, more than 600 million people have no access to electricity. And thus also no access to education, health and ultimately self-determination. "If we want Africa to develop and be CO2-neutral, we have to give the continent the opportunity to produce CO2-neutral electricity," say Torsten and Aida Schreiber.

The two founded Africa GreenTec in 2016. The company brings solar power to the often remote villages. For this purpose, a so-called solar container is assembled - a twelve-metre-long standard container with solar panels and associated electronics.

The panels of the solar power plant can be set up and put into operation on site in just a few hours with local help. A so-called mini-grid, a stand-alone electricity network, distributes the electricity to the workshops and shops of small entrepreneurs and to the homes of the inhabitants. The villagers can pay for the electricity through a prepaid tariff system adapted to their financial possibilities. Africa Greentec remains the operator, which can also provide other services, such as refrigerators or water treatment plants, which can also be set up and maintained by local employees.

Since Aida Schreiber comes from Mali, her company was able to draw on an extensive informal network there. Therefore, Africa GreenTec also started looking for ImpactSites, i.e. places that have a good chance of developing on their own and whose inhabitants are motivated to make a difference.

Currently, it is mainly places with 3,000 to 5,000 inhabitants that already have a kind of middle class, a school and a health station, where the Schreibers are setting up their solar containers and mini-grids. Middle class in African means: craftsmen like carpenters, joiners, blacksmiths, saddlers, but also traders at the market or with small shops and restaurants. Electricity gives them the opportunity to grow economically and improve their standard of living.

At the same time, Africa GreenTec sees itself as a social enterprise. "Everything that is above the black zero is reinvested," Schreiber said in a radio interview. Today, 15 of these ImpactSites have already been established around the Solartainer in Mali, and another is in Niger. The vision is to develop three million people in 1000 African villages into ImpactSites that are self-sustaining and sustainable by 2030.

A first crowdfunding campaign raised over four million euros. The next round is being planned. In another project, Africa GreenTec wants to support the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Lake Chad with its solar infrastructure. For this, it will offer subordinated loans with fixed interest rates. Further west, in Senegal, dilapidated diesel-powered water pumps are to be replaced by 100 solar-powered pumps. This will cost half a million euros. For this, too, the company will soon offer subordinated loans with a fixed interest rate of 4.25 per cent.

Perhaps the Schreibers are right when they find that private investment can be a counter-model to traditional development aid. They believe that with the right support, the African continent can make its way to an efficient, renewable energy economy on its own.

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Weltretter8

A cool cooker.

Cooking is a real problem in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, 96 percent of all households use charcoal or paraffin stoves. Their fuels are not only often exorbitantly expensive, but also life-threatening, especially for women and children: every year, four million people die from smoke pollution. Last but not least, the environment and climate also suffer.

"I grew up in a village and saw how people got chronic lung diseases from the smoke from the open cooking fires," Okey Esse says. "I left the village to study physics - fortunately. In the university labs, I experimented with how to optimise the combustion process in stoves."

In Nigeria's capital, Abuja, Esse's company has been producing the PowerStove , small cooking cookers that can run on pellets made from wood and crop residues, since 2018. This sounds low-tech, but it is an extremely sophisticated system for burning renewable fuels without residues - and generating and storing electricity along the way. What's more: the cookers even have an internet connection.

Thanks to an ingenious air supply through 85 nozzles, the material burns at up to 1000 degrees completely smokeless and residue-free. As a result, the food is cooked in a fifth of the time compared to the charcoal or paraffin stoves commonly used in Africa. They are correspondingly economical, especially since the pellets are also cheaper with the same energy yield.

In addition, the cooker generates electricity - an elegant solution in many villages that are far away from an appropriate power line. Stored in a battery, it is also available outside meal times for lighting and charging phones. "We have eleven different models on offer, depending on the size they cost between ten and 110 dollars," says Esse.

But since 42 per cent of PowerStove customers don't have more than two dollars a day to live on, Esse's company offers the "Buy as you Cook" solution, where users pay off the cooker in small amounts according to cooking times. The internet connection is used for this purpose, through which the costs can be debited cent by cent according to operating hours. After two and a half months, a cooker has already paid for itself for most customers in this way, especially if they switch from the charcoal or paraffin stoves that are common in Africa.

In this way, Okey Esses' high-tech device solves one of the continent's most pressing problems. The PowerStove's exhaust emissions are as low as those of a gas cooker, emitting correspondingly little carbon dioxide.

Last year, the venture capital firm GreenTec Capital Partners invested in PowerStove. This enabled the company to set up a second production facility in Abuja and increase production capacity to 25,000 cookers per month.

But Esse is thinking even bigger. He wants PowerStove to become a truly pan-African company. As a next step, he plans to set up final assembly in Zimbabwe. Since the country is located pretty much in the middle of southern Africa, the now growing market in neighbouring countries can also be served more quickly from here. 

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Weltretter9

Second life for batteries.

E-mobility can make a major contribution to mitigating climate change. But it creates a new problem: what to do with the old batteries that are usually removed from the cars as soon as they only have 80 percent of their power left?

By 2025, around seven million used batteries from e-mobility will be released - there is still so much energy in them that a city like Berlin could be supplied with battery power for around 50 days. Even if the battery is recycled, that is a pure waste of energy. "There's a tsunami of used batteries coming our way. So I asked myself: can't we extend their life and put them to a second use? With my company betteries, I then developed a solution that has the potential to save 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2030," says founder Rainer Hönig.

The idea is simple - the technology is not: Hönig has developed a process with which he can remove the heart of e-batteries, the lithium-ion modules, and assemble them into new high-performance mobile batteries. "In this way, we extend the productive life of the lithium-ion modules by five to ten years. We also guarantee that the recyclable parts of the batteries will be recycled afterwards," he tells us.

Rainer Hönig had his first impulse to help shape social challenges back in 2009: "At the time, I was a manager at Rolls-Royce plc in England and took part in an unusual one-year training course." It was about bringing successful large companies together with social entrepreneurs. "In the process, I also went to Bangladesh to see Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus, who invented microcredit. We looked at his activities. That changed my thinking, my view of things - that did something to me." After the training, Hönig pushes a few things in the direction of sustainability at his employer. But it doesn't have the impact he would have liked. In 2016, the aerospace engineer left Rolls-Royce. He wants to make his contribution to the protection of the planet, "in the area in which I know my way around - energy and mobility. I wanted to give as many people as possible affordable access to clean mobile energy from batteries." Since he drives e-cars himself, he got the idea of dismantling and reassembling car batteries in his garage with a few students - "this then became betteries in 2018".

The challenges in setting up betteries, he says, were immense. "There was nothing yet - no efficient process for dismantling lithium-ion modules, no experience and hardly any partners. Because at that time, many people were thinking about selling e-cars, but hardly anyone was thinking about the whereabouts of the batteries after they were used." He finds a sympathetic ear at Renault Mobilize. "The management there wanted to take a progressive approach to the issue of the circular economy even back then." Betteries is now working cooperatively with Renault, which ensures the start-up access to used batteries and industrial manufacturing capacities in particular. From 2022, the second-life batteries will be assembled at the Renault factory.

Potential buyers, he says, are more than enough. "Distribution, which sells small generators today and has to offer sustainable energy systems tomorrow. Companies that rent out machinery for the construction industry, events, festivals, film and TV. Companies that install second-life batteries in other systems, like the Piaggio small vehicles or tuk-tuks in the Asian region that are currently being converted to electric drive. Or the entire project business. For example, this is someone who wants to convert 50 small health stations in Africa to solar power and needs a stationary and mobile storage system, a decentralised energy supply that should be climate-friendly."

However, the competition is intense. "After all, our competition is new products that become cheaper every year. So we have to convince the buyers that the secondary recycling of batteries does not entail any loss of performance. We are still cheaper than new products - whether it stays that way depends heavily on the efficiency of our processes and innovative strength. And the only thing that protects us is to run at least as fast as the competition and to be permanently innovative in order to create added value for the customer."

In the beginning, Hönig invested only his own money, then friends from his network joined him as angel investors. In the first official seed round, he emphasises the mission alignment of his backers. "We want people who share our goals and strive in the same direction. They should also add value - through their network, outlets, experience." He has found impact investors - a fund financed by the Shell Foundation and a pledge fund of wealthy people pursuing climate goals. Both want social return in addition to financial return.

Today, the start-up already makes "a few 100,000 euros in turnover", as Hönig says. Officially, however, the company is still in the pre-revenue phase. "We are just learning how the market launch works. In Senegal, Portugal and in Belize, Central America, our batteries are already in use, also in Germany. But the real wave will come when the product is approved next year."

That's why he's also just getting back to looking for investors with a concrete plan. The next steps are: Approve product by early 2022, launch product, generate first sales, close financing round that secures growth for the next 24 months, and establish the next product category, a larger one. "If we are successful, by 2030 we will have avoided at least 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2, provided clean electricity to millions of people and given a boost to the circular economy."

In five years, says the now 58-year-old, he will be out and will have handed the company over to younger colleagues. "They'll make it really big then. I will look at it and be proud that I got it off the ground."   

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Weltretter10

The forest saviours.

At the World Climate Summit in Glasgow, more than 100 countries pledged to stop the destruction of forests by 2030. Forests are important because they absorb about one third of the CO2 emissions emitted by humans every year.

Currently, however, forest areas are shrinking alarmingly. According to researchers at the climate summit, an area equivalent to 27 football fields is lost every minute - through clearing, fires or damage to the forest.

Even in Germany there are currently around 300,000 hectares of such so-called damaged areas. "Something is going hugely wrong here," Ole Seidenberg assesses the situation: "Every year there are more and more, and in addition there are large conversion areas, i.e. forests that currently still exist in monoculture and should quickly become mixed forests so that they can withstand climate change."

The problem: reforestation is expensive - especially in hard-to-reach areas. "Currently, planting seedlings costs around 4000 to 10000 euros per hectare. To secure soils and nutrients on steep slopes, sometimes even a helicopter is needed. This costs 18 euros per minute. This is not the way to move forward on this issue."

Seidenberg is one of three founders of the start-up Skyseed. His mission: to use a specially developed drone and tree seeds in a pellet casing to reforest damaged forest areas in Germany and Europe cheaply and effectively. "The drones can be used quickly and everywhere. The larger or harder to reach the area, the more useful the drone. And the pellets ensure that no seed is wasted. The pellet protects, it is purely ecological, it can store more water, and the microorganisms and fungal cultures that are in the forest soil anyway can form a better symbiosis with the nutrients in the seed. Germination and growth are clearly favoured."

Together with brothers Dominik and Simon Wind, Seidenberg built up a team within about a year and configured the drone, which can deploy almost all tree species in different locations using two different drop mechanisms. The proof of concept is currently underway: "We have ten test areas, including a state forest, several large forests owned by nobility and areas that are being scientifically monitored by the Technical University of Munich," Seidenberg explains. In autumn, they used their drone to spread pellets on around 30 hectares. "There are different soils there, different climatic conditions."

And that is important, because the last round of financing provided the start-up with money that will last until February. The founders have raised half a million euros from 13 investors so far. Most of them contribute their entrepreneurial experience, the forest owners also their contacts to seed sellers. "The one or other investor will support us until April, but then we need results - and 1.5 to two million euros to be able to scale."

His vision: In the future, forest owners will be able to take a digital look at their land with the help of Skyseed. The soil will be analysed so that it can be determined in advance which tree species would be best suited with which mixture. At the same time, it should be possible to compare in real time with a digital supply chain whether and where the desired seeds can be bought and at what price.

Ideally, the offer to the forest owner is made during the conversation. The owner can accept it immediately with a click. Another click automatically triggers the order and sets the process in motion. In 2022, Skyseed wants to reach 500 hectares of afforestation area and prove that pelleted seeds have a clear advantage over seedlings.

But this is to be just the beginning. "The drones will get longer ranges, the batteries will get stronger, they will be able to tow more and fly out of sight," explains Seidenberg. His goal is therefore to supply ten per cent of the German reforestation market within five years.

"Acutely, 300000 hectares have already been accrued - only in Germany. And the problem will get worse." In the long term, Seidenberg expects around 120,000 hectares of new afforestation area per year: "Neither nurseries nor our own staff can keep up. This leads to more and more open areas that dry out and become grassy in the blazing sun without rapid seeding. That's why every year counts - and that's where we come in, especially with our pre-forest mix." Preventive measures against desertification in Greece are urgently needed for this. Or the conversion of the eucalyptus forest in Portugal. "There is a tremendous amount to do."

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Authors:

Yvonne Döbler, Sabine Holzknecht, Klaus Meitinger, Hanns J. Neubert.

  • Klaus Meitinger

"If I don't do it, nobody will."

Adrenomed DSC 0759

Theragnostics. Eleven million people worldwide die with or from sepsis every year. Covid-19 also leads to septic shock in severe cases and subsequently to multiple organ failure. Nevertheless, it has not been possible to develop a therapy against it for 50 years. Andreas Bergmann has made this his life's work. As a scientist and as an entrepreneur. "Especially when the task is difficult and complex," he noted, "you can't wait for others. Then you have to become entrepreneurial yourself." That's why he founds. One after another. Now two of his companies - Adrenomed and SphingoTec - are on the verge of a breakthrough.

If everything works out the way Andreas Bergmann imagines, the entrepreneur from Henningsdorf near Berlin will produce spectacular headlines in the next few years. Because his companies have become really big. Because investors have made high profits with their shares. But above all, because he has made septic shock treatable and saved the lives of millions of people.

"Sepsis is a very serious, often fatal disease. It is an inflammatory reaction of the organism to viruses, bacteria or fungi, in the course of which failure of one or more organs often occurs. 30 to 50 percent of patients die despite maximum use of intensive medical measures," explains Konrad Reinhart, Professor at the Charité Hospital in Berlin and Chairman of the Sepsis Foundation. What few people know: Covid-19 is also so dangerous because it can lead to sepsis, which then has to be treated in intensive care.

But even though the problem has been known for decades, to this day there is little sepsis-specific therapy other than fighting the triggering infection and intensive care. "Sepsis has long been called the pharmaceutical industry's billion-dollar grave. Trial after trial has failed in the past. Today, it is almost a kind of burnt indication that the industry no longer dares to approach," explains Andreas Bergmann, a scientist and serial founder of companies conducting research around sepsis.

The difficulty: there are hundreds of pathogens and infectious diseases that can lead to sepsis. "But the studies of the past always focused on the one drug that was supposed to help all patients - one size fits all," Reinhart explains. "The result was then always the same. Some of the patients benefited. Others were harmed. And that cancelled out the result of a study. Or the positive signal wasn't as big as it needed to be to justify approval of a new drug."

"That's why we deliberately took a very different approach," Bergmann explains, "We didn't start by looking for a drug, but took a step back." In 2009, in collaboration with nearly 100 academic institutions worldwide, he launched a program to answer the question of why people actually die from sepsis. What is the exact, detectable cause of death? "Our goal was to understand the particular cause and then target only that cause. This is precision medicine - everyone talks about it, but it's hardly ever implemented. We wanted to apply this idea of therapeutics - a combination of therapy and diagnostics - consistently."

Bergmann 2

Andreas Bergmann's fight against sepsis began almost exactly 30 years ago. Together with five colleagues, he organizes the management buyout of Henning Berlin's diagnostics division. The scientists set up a limited liability company, found financing partners, a venture capitalist, invested ten million marks in equity themselves and named the company B.R.A.H.M.S. Diagnostica. Andreas Bergmann is the "A" in the middle (private wealth has already reported on the "B", Bernd Wegener, whom Bergmann still refers to as his foster father, in the 04/2015 issue). In 1995, the company develops an innovative biomarker for the early detection of sepsis. Today, this is considered a clinical standard. In 2009, B.R.A.H.M.S. is sold to the US group ThermoFisher for 480 million US dollars. Andreas Bergmann's share is around 25 million. That is more than enough to live on for someone whom confidants describe as a "workhorse". Above all, however, it is the ticket to becoming an entrepreneur himself.

"I'm a scientist, after all, but I've realized that universities alone aren't capable of really generating value." Many resourceful minds there, Bergmann continues, have innovative ideas and then wait for someone else to pick up the ball. "But that's not the case. Experience shows that the pharmaceutical industry is busy with its own projects. And if the project is also highly risky, it becomes extremely difficult. We have to make sure ourselves that the idea gets to a stage where the industry is interested in it. And the only way to do that is by taking the risk ourselves at the beginning, becoming entrepreneurs and pushing the particular project forward."

That's exactly the Bergmann way. Working with his own capital, seeking the financial help of old companions from his B.R.A.H.M.S. days, approaching family offices - this is how the Berlin-born entrepreneur has already founded 15 companies. And invested around 20 million euros of his own assets. "The prerequisite is always to handle financial resources very prudently. If I see that an idea or a concept doesn't work properly, I don't feed it any further. Most money is lost in our industry by riding an almost dead horse for far too long. I don't want that to happen to me." That's another way Bergmann differs from many other founders. "I earn my living with my projects. And can therefore act independently and without a conflict of interest," he explains, "probably that's also why I was able to stay on the topic of sepsis for so long."

Now that seems to be paying off. The first startup - Adrenomed - is on the verge of a potential breakthrough. "Four years ago, the program to prove the exact causes of death in septic shock came to an end. Since then, we've really picked up speed."

Bergmann and his colleagues have been able to identify three major causes, sometimes occurring simultaneously. The first is renal failure. This apparently affects a quarter of patients who die in intensive care.

The second - the largest block at 70 percent - is loss of what's called endothelial function. "This sounds complicated, but it's quite simple. The endothelium is a paper-thin skin. It lines the inside of our blood vessels and keeps them sealed like a bicycle inner tube." If this endothelium is damaged by infection or inflammation, it begins to leak. Fluid then leaks out of the blood vessel where there is high pressure into the tissue where there is no pressure at all.

"Edema forms, organs become dysfunctional, water gets into the lungs. That, by the way, is the main reason why severe Covid 19 cases require ventilation. And ultimately, the organs fail."

Bergmann cites acute heart failure as the third cause of death. "It's caused by dead cells. It's called necrosis - cells break down, the contents of the cell leak out. This puts a digestive enzyme into the blood. And this eliminates a hormone that's critical to maintaining heart function. Although it may be perfectly healthy, the heart stops functioning. It just stops working."

Now Bergmann also sees exactly why previous attempts to develop a sepsis drug couldn't work at all. "A drug that improves tube function doesn't help heart failure, and vice versa. In the efficacy trials, which are, after all, conducted in all sepsis patients, the endpoint - a significant reduction in mortality - could thus not be achieved, of course." The search for a reliable diagnostic agent must therefore precede drug development. "The doctor needs to know reliably what the problem is. And he needs to know it quickly. Because in septic shock, the probability of survival decreases by seven percent every hour."

Now Andreas Bergmann and his team are back on familiar ground. In his company SphingoTec, he has been researching appropriate tests since 2010. "In the meantime, we have a diagnostic agent that immediately shows the current kidney function. This is crucial for treatment because deterioration can be very rapid in kidneys. We have a blood test that is able to quantify a person's tubular function. And we can detect the enzyme that reduces the function of the heart."

Bergmann 1

With that, the scientist has laid the groundwork to look for therapies. "We now first considered where we could intervene to support endothelial function. Or restore it. In order to then develop an antibody. That's what we found. It's called adrecizumab."

Up to this point, the company's own capital and the support of trusted business partners are still sufficient. "But now we had to go to the patient, test safety and tolerability, rule out side effects." More than 40 million euros are needed for the necessary studies. Bergmann convinced two venture financiers - HBM from Switzerland, who were already on board for B.R.A.H.M.S., and Wellington Partners. "Andreas Bergmann's group had not only identified the trigger of septic shock, but also found an antibody that works within a few hours. I immediately saw that the impact of these discoveries on the whole of medicine could be enormous. Elucidating this connection is worthy of a Nobel Prize. And the economic prospects could be enormous," says Rainer Strohmenger, partner at Wellington Partners, explaining why he decided to get involved.

The study results are encouraging: the drug is safe, well-tolerated and has no side effects. And they fuel hope that efficacy can indeed be demonstrated. "I know the study well," says Konrad Reinhart, "what is interesting is that although Adrecizumab did not have a statistically significant positive effect on the entire collective of all patients, it did have a positive effect on the group of patients who did not have the enzyme reducing cardiac function in addition to the problem with the tube function. And that those who were treated within the first six to twelve hours after the onset of septic shock responded positively. This is important information in terms of selecting patients for the next studies. I think this approach is worth investigating and pursuing."

"The results are so positive and strong that we are now actually enthusiastically preparing a study that should eventually lead to market approval," Bergmann makes clear. Because now he knows exactly what needs to be done to optimize his drug's chances of success. "We will give the antibody very early and work exclusively with patients in whom our blood tests indicate insufficient endothelial function and rule out a heart problem."

The trial is scheduled to begin in mid-2022. If successful, market approval would be possible three years later, initially in Europe, and shortly thereafter in the U.S. and Asia. "These are fascinating prospects," judges Rainer Strohmenger.

For things to get this far, however, Strohmenger is once again in demand as an investor. "We need around 80 million euros for this study - for Europe alone. We will therefore soon conduct another capital round," informs Bergmann. In the - normally difficult - search for financiers, he could benefit today from a special mixed situation. "Covid-19 ruthlessly revealed that we have neglected infectious diseases over the last 60 years," explains Konrad Reinhart, "so the market's interest in such research is now many times greater than in the past."

In fact, Andreas Bergmann can also come up with an interesting side aspect to Covid-19. "At the University Hospital in Hamburg, so-called curative trials with Adrecizumab were carried out on eight corona patients who had no prospect of recovery. Seven survived." Of course, Bergmann immediately qualifies, such a healing trial is not real science. "But the results are quite remarkable."

In fact, doctors in Germany are now planning to conduct further trials. "They are convinced that this drug can solve a large part of the corona problem. It won't cure Covid-19, but it will address the real problem - the high mortality and the need to be treated in intensive care units. We even received a funding commitment from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research at the end of April and are now preparing to conduct the first studies in the short term and complete them as quickly as possible."

Bergmann is also now on the trail of cardiac arrest. "We are currently developing an antibody that inhibits the enzyme responsible and immediately restores cardiac function. It's called Procizumab. I have also founded a company for this - 4TEEN4 Pharmaceuticals. Next year we will go into the first clinical trials."

On the side, Adrenomed also has a project underway to show the benefit of adrecizumab in acute heart failure. "If tube malfunction is added to heart failure and water gets into the lungs, that can also become life-threatening. So it's obvious to use adrecizumab for that problem as well."

It's breathtaking what's happening in Brandenburg. It's not just in terms of medicine that Bergmann's companies are becoming great beacons of hope. The economic prospects are also exciting.

At SphingoTec, the entrepreneur is now putting to use a testing device that works almost as simply as a Corona rapid test. "We put blood on a plastic pad that resembles a music CD. Then we put it into a reader, and within 20 minutes the doctor gets a clear result of our biomarkers on kidney, tube and heart function. And can now decide: Do I take care of the kidney, do I give adrecizumab, do I give procizumab, or both. So we could help most patients in the context of sepsis - which is where I've been wanting to go for a long time."

Each of these three markers from SphingoTec, Bergmann hopes, could develop at least a similar economic potential in the long term as the B.R.A.H.M.S. biomarker he developed at the time - "it now makes about a billion dollars in sales worldwide."

Adrenomed's earnings potential ultimately depends on the price that can be achieved for a treatment with adrecizumab and how many patients the company can supply with it. But there are only rough indications of that today. In the past, other drugs that did not work, said Bergmann, were in the 10,000-euro range per application. In Germany, at least 50,000 people suffer septic shock every year, although this figure is probably much too low due to the poor documentation in our healthcare system. Worldwide, several million are affected. Half of these people could be helped with Adrecizumab in the best case scenario. "Even if we calculate very carefully and make huge deductions, fantastic numbers still come out," Bergmann says, taking an audible breath: "The pharmaceutical world also sees it that way. Adrecizumab is a blockbuster candidate."

In order to be able to really put the horsepower on the road, Bergmann has restructured his company Adrenomed in recent months. With Wolfgang Baiker, formerly of Boehringer Ingelheim USA, the company was able to recruit a proven expert as CEO who is extremely well networked in the biopharmaceutical industry. And Mirko Scherer, the new CFO, has extensive experience with IPOs.

This suggests that an IPO in the near future or a licensing deal with Big Pharma could also play a role in Bergmann's plans. "At least we now have the management capacity that would allow us to actually conduct the market approval trial for adrecizumab ourselves. Everything else is open. But clearly - we are preparing to be ready to act."

For Bergmann himself, this would then also mean the very big financial payoff. "Oh you know, personally I'm not that interested in money," the scientist and entrepreneur waves off.

He also - probably - simply doesn't have the time to spend a fortune. "Have I told you about my new project? Alzheimer's is another hopeless story that everyone has their fingers burned on. We've found that a slowly developing disorder of the blood-brain barrier and a deficiency of a certain enzyme is responsible. It's called peptidylglycine α-amidating monooxygenase. We have already developed a blood test and are now looking for a drug. I founded PAM Theragnostics for that purpose." ®

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// How to invest in Andreas Bergmann.

There are two ways to invest in Andreas Bergmann's entrepreneurial activities - directly or through a listed vehicle.

In the course of the year, Bergmann is planning a financing round for Adrenomed, SphingoTec and 4TEEN4 Pharmaceuticals, in which primarily family offices can participate. As bridge financing until this round, the companies are currently issuing convertible bonds with a minimum investment of 50000 Euro. The conditions are interesting. The convertible bears interest at five percent per annum and allows participation in the next financing round at a discount of 20 percent.

The second option is the purchase of shares in the listed company DBI - Deutsche Biotech Innovativ AG. DBI was originally founded by Bernd Wegener, Andreas Bergmann and Metod Miklus - the BAM of B.R.A.H.M.S. - to create a broadly diversified biotech vehicle for investors in order to raise funds for the further development of the triumvirate's diverse ideas.

However, this did not really work out because interested investors preferred to invest directly in Adrenomed and some other projects did not progress either. This is why Wegener, Bergmann and Miklus still hold 97 percent of DBI today. The company itself has a 10.54 percent stake in Adrenomed. It owns 27.27 per cent of Angiomed - a company that develops antibodies to uncouple tumours from the bloodstream, 5.38 per cent of PAM Therapeutics and shares of less than one per cent in 4TEEN4 Pharmaceuticals and SphingoTec. Currently, however, DBI is highly valued with a market value of around 90 million euros.

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// "We're living in dreamland."

"It's crazy," reflects Professor Konrad Reinhart, Chairman of the Sepsis Foundation, "at every bus stop there is education about sexually transmitted diseases. Only about sepsis nobody knows. Yet probably in Germany, as in the U.S., at least 500 people per 100000 inhabitants are affected each year."

Reinhart's mission is to change this. First and foremost, that means educating people about the disease. "Sepsis can affect anyone. It is the number one preventable cause of death worldwide. In Germany, 75000 people die with or from sepsis every year. Among them are several hundred newborns, children and adolescents. Up to 75 percent of sepsis survivors suffer from long-term consequences. 15000 to 20000 deaths would be preventable just by early detection, treating it as an emergency and following hygiene rules and vaccination recommendations."

That we as a society simply accept this, Reinhart believes, is a scandal. The Sepsis Foundation therefore organizes campaigns, puts pressure on the political level and wants to achieve that - as for example in New York State - information about infectious diseases and sepsis is already provided in schools. "Only about 20 percent of infections occur in connection with hospital treatment. 80 percent already come to the hospital with sepsis. That's why the public needs to know the early symptoms so they can get them checked out quickly if they suspect an infection - confusion, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, fever, chills, sweating and clammy skin."

Reinhart also calls for hospitals to be required to take certain actions when sepsis is suspected - "immediately do blood cultures, give antibiotics, give fluids." That alone has reduced mortality in the U.S. from 30 to 20 percent within five years, he said. "The decades-long claim by the respective health ministers of each political hue that 'Germany has one of the best health care systems in the world' is one of the life lies of this republic. Currently, sepsis does not even appear in the annual federal health report. It was first mentioned by the Federal Centre for Health Education in 2021. We thought we had infectious diseases beat. Now they're catching up with us with a vengeance. We have to do something about that."

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Author: Klaus Meitinger

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