The Thuringian start-up competition "get started 2gether" is becoming more and more popular: No less than 16 young companies stepped into the spotlight at this year's final round to convince the jury and the audience of their business idea. So it turned out to be a long but again highly interesting day program on March 30, 2023 at the Institute for Applied Building Research (IAB) in Weimar. In the end, no less than four successful founding teams agreed to collaborate with TITK. Among them the winner of the audience award 2023: Cosima Richardson with her start-up "Kynd Hair."
The Berlin native was the first to start the final round in Weimar and immediately captivated the audience with her likeable manner and perfect pitch. Her individual company "Kynd Hair", which was only founded in January, wants to develop and market the world's first skin- and environmentally-friendly synthetic hair for black women. The basis for this is to be provided by the particularly sustainable Lyocell fibers. And so it is not surprising that Cosima Richardson is relying on the support of TITK Rudolstadt with its globally respected expertise in cellulose research.
TITK Director Benjamin Redlingshöfer is very pleased with this decision: "As a non-funded business-related research institution, which also has experience with its own spin-offs, we speak the same language as the innovative start-ups. Together, we know what matters."
Hair extensions made from sustainable lyocell fibers
"Artificial hair is an essential part of African hair culture," Cosima Richardson knows. "Janet Jackson, Serena Williams or Beyoncé - every other black woman uses synthetic hair regularly, but the products currently available are mostly made of PVC or acrylic - synthetic polymers made from fossil fuels." The ingredients in these materials can be toxic, hormonal or even carcinogenic, and are also difficult to recycle, Richardson points out. "About one-third of female users suffer from itching and skin irritation."
With what is currently arguably the most sustainable textile fiber, that's about to change. Lyocell consists of regenerated cellulose, which is extracted from FSC-certified woods in an environmentally friendly process. If it is now turned into innovative synthetic hair, it will not only improve the range of products available to black women. Cosima Richardson also sees it as an important contribution to avoiding plastic waste. "In the U.S. and Europe alone, an estimated 6 to 8 million kilograms of synthetic hair waste is generated each year."
Recycle clothing - over and over again
Environmental protection and resource conservation is also the theme of the second start-up, which has now signed a letter of intent with TITK: The founding team of "Circ DE" is committed to promoting textile recycling and already includes the circular economy in its company name. Circ DE is a German branch of the US company Circ, which was founded two years ago. The company has developed a technology that breaks down clothing into the raw materials from which it was once made. The ambitious goal is to protect our planet from the exploding costs of clothing textiles. For example, Circ aims to recycle no less than 10 billion garments by 2030, saving more than 100 million trees.
Circ's scientific director, Dr. Julie Willoughby, is also responsible for the German branch, which was only founded in Rudolstadt on March 9 of this year and has now successfully applied to "Get started 2gether." "The close proximity to TITK is an ideal location for our team to accelerate the development of recyclable polyester fibers from textiles," says Dr. Willoughby. The polyester monomers resulting from recycling are the building blocks for producing new polyester fibers and filaments suitable for apparel, footwear and other soft goods. In the process, the cotton pulp used in the original product is now converted into the more environmentally friendly lyocell fibers or filaments.
Germ-free water thanks to innovative UV light system
The start-up "Unlimited Ventures" from Bad Blankenburg scored with a new solution for sterilizing water. Founded in 2020, the GmbH is already represented on the market with a mobile device for air purification that is effective against viruses and bacteria and was thus also successful in the Corona pandemic. The technology used so far, which is based on photocatalytic UV systems and light recycling, is now to be further developed so that it can also be used to render water germ-free.
"The first step here is to focus on setting up and investigating various demonstrators," says Managing Director Tobias Lukas. "The testing of efficiency and effectiveness is to be carried out in collaboration with TITK. TITK is the ideal R&D partner here with its materials expertise, expertise in the investigation of antibacterial systems, and knowledge of polymer raw materials necessary for light recycling." The potential of such an innovation is considered huge - especially for drinking water treatment, but also for the growth market of indoor farming or quality assurance in fish farming.
Reliably detecting microorganisms in industrial processes
A fully automated online sensor for the detection of microorganisms in plants of the food and bioprocess industry was presented by the Jena-based start-up "FluIDect". The biosensor uses fluorescent resonator signature (FRS) technology. It can optimize manufacturing processes economically and increase the safety of the substances and foods produced for humans, stated CEO Dr. Tobias Schröter.
He pointed out two thrusts of this innovation: On the one hand, it is designed to quickly and reliably detect germs, such as bacteria or fungi, as triggers of serious diseases and food poisoning in liquids. On the other hand, it can be used to seamlessly monitor processes in which microbes are deliberately used - in other words, to better control them. The company aims to use this know-how to address commercial customers in water management, agriculture and food processing, as well as the fermentation industry.
The start-up is already working with the University of Brussels and the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies Jena. In cooperation with TITK Rudolstadt, a practical prototype for industrial use is now to be developed.
Thanks to funding from the Thuringian Ministry for Economic Affairs, Science and Digital Society, all of the aforementioned founding teams will once again be able to use the complete infrastructure of the TITK for six months while receiving all-round support from experienced scientists. "The 'Get started 2gether' program is now also meeting with open ears at the federal level and is attractive to venture capitalists, as the partner research institutions can also contribute valuable content for evaluating the startups for potential investors in addition to their actual tasks," Benjamin Redlingshöfer is pleased to report.