News / Press

26. February 2020

Upwind for Dahlem-based start-ups

The vicinity of Freie Universität and research institutions in the southwest of Berlin is attractive for business start-ups

They want to make implants safe: Judith Kikhney and Annette Moter (r.) at the fluorescence microscope of MoKi Analytics GmbH © WISTA Management GmbH
Amelie Wiedemann supports companies in recognising psychological stress at the workplace © WISTA Management GmbH

Every year, 25 new companies spin off from Free University Berlin. Only very few base their operations close to the university. Soon, it will be possible to turn the ideas created at the university and the many nearby research facilities of global renown into products without leaving the neighbourhood. While currently still under construction, the FUBIC innovation centre will soon provide young companies with space to grow and help retain smart minds in Dahlem. Smart minds like Amelie Wiedemann, Judith Kikhney and Jörg Lüchtenborg.

From the inside and the outside, the human body is home to countless bacteria. Most of them do very important work. Some can also harm us. If they somehow find their way into an implant, for example, they can cause serious infections – the most common cause of implant failure. The PhD researchers Annette Moter and Judith Kikhney from the biofilm lab at the Institute of Microbiology, Infectious Diseases and Immunology of Charité University Medicine Berlin have developed a unique high-precision method for visualising and detecting biofilms, i.e., the bacterial colonisation of surfaces.

One could say that biofilms are a type of flat share for bacteria and fungi, which prefer to colonise a surface in form of a ‘slime layer’. This provides them with many benefits: it facilitates nourishment and growth, increases their resistance against antibiotics, and better protection against attacks from the human immune system. Biofilms are everywhere and responsible for 80 percent of all infections. Conventional methods can, for example, identify a species but not the existence of a biofilm. With their new method, which is currently unique in a clinical environment, Moter and Kikhney use probes that make bacteria glow and thus make biofilms visible. The visualisation makes it possible to know immediately which bacteria have settled where and how active they are.

The idea matured for ten years, was evaluated, presented in publications, and developed further in studies. ‘Then, finally, the method was complete and the response we got in 2017 basically nudged us to found a business,’ says Moter. Currently based in the Charité – Campus Benjamin Franklin, the company is very interested in FUBIC, which is only a short walk away. ‘We could definitely see us moving there,’ says Kikhney, ‘especially because it is so close to the university and other research facilities. And, after all, it used to be a hospital, too.’

The PhD health and work psychologist Amelie Wiedemann, too, finds FUBIC appealing. Her company just recently secured additional seven-digit funding. Their current headquarters at the FU’s Gründerhaus, the university’s start-up centre, is already too small and they are scheduled to move out. ‘We understand that high-skilled workers like to work close to their homes and expect a good infrastructure.’ Wiedemann has long been studying the well-being of staff as part of her job. She is the founder and manager of DearEmployee GmbH, a platform for mental health in the workplace.

According to a study of a large German insurance provider, sick days due to mental health issues have recently tripled. Better employee health, says Wiedemann, is more than an ergonomic office chair. ‘It all begins with a sound analysis of the workplace conditions.’

To facilitate this, Wiedemann and her co-founders Daniel Fodor and Henning Jakob have developed a research-driven digital employee survey, which serves to replace traditional questionnaires. It is the basis for an agile corporate health management aimed at improving health, well-being, and productivity at the workplace.

‘Awareness for employee health in companies is on the rise,’ says Wiedemann. ‘Many companies don’t have the knowledge they need about risk groups and the underlying causes. Health and other employee-related measures are rarely geared towards the staff’s actual requirements. DearEmployee developed a method that creates measures based on the specifics of the target group, tracks them, and evaluates their effectiveness based on continuously collected data,’ Henning Jakob adds. Moreover, the company utilises big data methods. Our idea was to use ‘good data for good deeds,’ says Wiedemann.

Jörg Lüchtenborg, Boris Agea Blanco, and Jinchun Chi are researchers at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) and at the beginning of their start-up journey. As part of the scientific staff, they were involved in research additive manufacturing of ceramics. This gave them the idea to turn this technology into a business. This novel technology facilitates 3D printing of large ceramic components for industrial application. The shaping process can simply be integrated into existing ceramic process chains. Moreover, components can be designed with hardly any limitations. BAM is supporting their business endeavour, called CerAMing, while Sebastian Wanzel, a business economist, is taking care of preparing the start-up and business development.

‘Right now, we are still based at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, which is right next to FUBIC. The close vicinity to BAM is what makes FUBIC interesting to us,’ says Lüchtenborg, ‘and we hope that it will attract many more innovative companies.’

By Rico Bigelmann for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine

Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine. Edition FUBIC 2020