The accelerators

New business opportunities in the fields of materials, innovation and digitalization can provide Covestro with a powerful boost. So it’s no surprise that the company has been collaborating with the Plug and Play Innovation Center from Silicon Valley since 2018. One of the world’s leading start-up accelerators, Plug and Play works to establish partnerships between founders and established companies, to the benefit of both: “Covestro gains new perspectives and the start-ups can profit from the company’s global expertise and networks,” says Saeed Amidi, CEO of Plug and Play.

The networkers

Machine learning is a future trend and Ansatz is a start-up that specializes in this field, supplying digital tools for the development of new polymers. The special feature: Covestro accompanies the founder, Dr. Newell Washburn, a professor from Pittsburgh’s renowned Carnegie Mellon University. Currie Crookston, Head of Innovation in North America for Covestro and himself a founder of five start-ups, is helping the young scientist get his business off the ground. Washburn is now fine- tuning his digital technology at Covestro in Pittsburgh – working as a start-up from within the company.

The pioneers

China has managed to create an attractive environment for start-ups within just a short time: By mid-2018 there were already over 270 Chinese “unicorns” – companies under ten years of age and with a value of over one billion US dollars. “We are tapping the innovative potential of the Chinese start-up scene for our own ends,” says Dr. Michael Schmidt, Head of Innovation for the Asia-Pacific region for Covestro. An extensive study of the Chinese start-up landscape has been performed in a partnership with Kairos Consulting, and the next step is to implement the findings. In Shenzhen, China’s Silicon Valley, for instance, Covestro has helped the first start-ups optimize their products with the aid of innovative materials.

Covestro and Plug and Play are looking for start-ups

To shape the future of chemistry

Plug and Play (graphic)

Driver of innovation

Of the 8,800 or so start-ups in Germany, just 250 have pursued business models in the fields of chemistry and biotechnology to date. However, the established industry is facing challenges that innovative young founders could very well help solve. Marie Westphal, “Chemistry Platform” Manager at the German Startup Association, and Dr. Hans Kespohl, Head of Business Model Innovation at Covestro, trade thoughts on this.

Still concerned about obstacles for company founders: Marie Westphal, Chemistry Platform Manager at the German Startup Association.
Dr. Hans Kespohl, responsible for innovative new business models at Covestro, sees great potential in the company’s collaboration with young researchers and founders.

Westphal: As Germany’s third-biggest industry, the chemical sector is naturally of great interest to founders – the materials it produces form the basis for technologies and modern life in general. It’s also time for new ways of thinking in the traditional chemical industry: Society wants more sustainable products and “green” chemistry. Even though the number of start-ups being founded in the chemical sector is on the rise, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Kespohl: I agree. Alternative raw materials and sustainable production processes have to be developed and new reusable material cycles created. The digital transformation is also changing working methods and business models – with new material solutions needed in fields such as autonomous driving. Start-ups can act as important drivers of innovation in this respect. But are founders even interested in the chemical industry’s challenges?

Westphal: Yes! Sustainability is a key topic in chemistry and it plays an important role for start-ups, too. The German Startup Monitor 2018 found that over half the founders surveyed pursued sustainable business models with a view to making positive ecological and social contributions and staying competitive in the long term. But chemical start-ups also face obstacles, especially in sales, customer acquisition and capital procurement.

Kespohl: I can see that: New chemical processes and the development of alternative raw material solutions take time and cost money. That’s where we, as a major company, can help. If we collaborate with young researchers and founders, we can respond to the demands of today much more quickly. We see great innovative potential in the fields of chemistry and applications technology at universities – not just in Germany, but the world over.

Westphal: That’s precisely why the Chemistry Platform of the German Startup Association and the participating chemical companies, including Covestro, are encouraging a founder-friendly environment at universities, longer-term investments by global capital providers and networking between start-ups and established industry players.

Kespohl: These new eco-systems formed by start-ups, universities, investors, service providers and institutions offer completely new opportunities for collaboration. We at Covestro are proud to be involved and to encourage new developments across borders.