Evert Smit, Director Scouting (Source: Lohmann )
Innovations in materials and chemistry are currently booming, and with them are the corresponding startups. Also, the need to become sustainable is driving industry into uncharted territory. Lohmann together with Brightlands Chemelot Campus launched the joint initiative: the Lohmann-Brightlands Startup Challenge. We talked to one of the initiators, Evert Smit, in his new role as Director Scouting at Lohmann.
What prompted Lohman to create the position of a Director Scouting? What are your tasks?
Lohmann is a family-owned company with 170 years tradition. Our adhesive solutions are used worldwide in vehicles, cell phones, household appliances, windows and doors, in the printing sector as well as in portable blood glucose meters or in Covid-19 tests. We see that it is important to constantly reposition or reinvent ourselves in order to master the challenges of the future. We now want to, and need to, go in completely new and different directions. To this end, Lohmann has given me the position of Director Scouting. Similar to sports, as a scout I look for innovative companies, preferably startups, whose novel ideas fit in with ours. We want to cooperate with innovative partners or take a (financial stake) in them.
Since the search for suitable startups is very complex and comprehensive, we came up with the idea of founding a Startup Challenge. Thus, many different young companies approach us directly.
The Startup Challenge is a joint project between Brightlands and Lohmann. How can we imagine the practical implementation at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus when the interested parties arrive there?
Our partner Brightlands will usually start by working together on a technical innovation or product. Then an existing business model or business plan has to be further elaborated. In a sense, a story has to be written about how the company should ultimately be set up. Only with a resilient concept it is possible for us to mobilize money. Brightlands is currently looking for start-ups that would like to operate in Lohmann's field of business and could become interesting partners for us.
We then take on the technical part and provide support regarding applications. It is also important to build up a network of suppliers for the newly founded companies. This is a real difficulty for startups, especially at the beginning. For us as a large and established company, this is much easier. In the end, we then see how the joint path will continue. Will the startup become completely independent, or will it function as a joint venture with Lohmann? That remains to be seen.
How did the idea for the joint startup challenge come about in the first place?
The current CTO of Brightlands Chemelot Campus, Eric Appelman, is a former colleague of mine. We have a personal friendship during which we have had many conversations. Last summer, we talked about my new position as Director Scouting at Lohmann. Eric wanted to know all about it, and that's how we came up with the idea of getting involved in startups together. The important thing now is to communicate this project well. To this end, we have also launched a website. Ultimately, however, we can only effectively support 2 to 3 startups. 20, for example, would be absolutely unfeasible for us. The few, however, have to be a perfect thematic fit.
Can you already imagine that Lohmann will remain active in the area of startup support in the future?
We are only at the beginning. For Lohmann, working with startups is a first. Of course, it may be that we do it more often. In times of growing sustainability, it is important to create a culture of innovation in as many companies as possible. It's not enough just to establish this in your own organization. Sustainable innovations are created together.
If the Challenge is a success, we will certainly repeat it. Even if we "only" gain insights and don't produce a new startup, it's worth repeating. Only if it really brings no benefit at all will we do without it in the future.
We at Lohmann say, we have to do something that no one has done before.
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Evert Smit, Director Scouting at Lohmann GmbH & Co. KG, Neuwied/Germany.