“We accompany startups from the idea to production”

As part of a new series, we present here the premises and other services offered by our shareholders and cooperation partners in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region with whom we work together in a spirit of trust.

The InnovationLab in Heidelberg, a cooperation partner of 5-HT, offers a professional infrastructure from laboratory to production hall for founders in the field of printed and organic electronics. “With us, startups become part of a nationwide unique network in the field of printed and organic electronics”, says Managing Director Luat Nguyen. His main goal is to familiarize young founders with the market conditions at an early stage and thus give them the chance to become independent entrepreneurs. In an interview with 5-HT, Nguyen explains what’s special about the InnovationLab and what services startups can benefit from there.

Luat Nguyen_InnovationLab GmbH
Luat Nguyen_InnovationLab GmbH

What is the InnovationLab?

InnovationLab GmbH (iL) was founded in 2008 as a research and development company from the Organic Electronics Excellence Cluster. Today iL is a “one-stop store” for printed organic electronics, focusing on the resource-saving and sustainable production of flexible sensors. Supported by strong players such as BASF and SAP, we enable the development of complete solutions to drive digitization through IoT- and AI-based products. The cooperation with Heidelberger Druckmaschinen also enables the production of printed organic sensors in industrial three-shift operation at low cost for the first time. The five application areas in which we specialize are healthcare, automotive, logistics, retail and smart city. For example, one of our startups in the healthcare sector, Novapace, is developing an insole printed with flexible pressure sensors that helps Parkinson’s patients to train healthy and safe walking. The services of the InnovationLab are divided into four areas: Firstly, we take care of facility management for companies at our site, secondly, we handle our own research and development orders, thirdly, we offer industrial production at two sites in Heidelberg and Wiesloch, and fourthly, companies can take advantage of our consulting services.

What opportunities are there for startups at InnovationLab?

We offer an excellent infrastructure for startups in the immediate vicinity of Heidelberg’s main train station with office space and conference rooms, but above all with clean rooms of different classes and with various laboratories. Our laboratory space includes 470 m² laboratories for chemical preparation and electrical characterization, 660 m² clean room according to ISO 8 and 40 m² clean room/yellow room according to ISO 5.

Yellow room with researchers at InnovationLab
Yellow room with researchers at InnovationLab

If startups want to set up their own laboratories or cleanrooms, they have to invest an incredible amount of money. With us, they can simply use the existing infrastructure flexibly on the basis of an annual flat-rate payment, whereby startups receive a discount compared to corporations. We also provide working materials, protective clothing, standard chemicals, safety consultants and much more. Our motto is: Everything under one roof. As a startup you only need to bring your laptop and your idea. Furthermore, young companies have direct access to industrial production capacities.

In addition to the infrastructure, we also offer a gigantic network. For example, if a start-up company needs an investor, we can help with the mediation. Since representatives of the most diverse companies come and go with us every day, there are also many opportunities to get to know each other personally. In addition, events are held regularly at the InnovationLab: Once a year, we organize the Heidelberg Innovation Forum, and every month, together with the Centre for Advanced Materials at the University of Heidelberg, we invite experts from universities to speak on specialist topics. If start-ups are not getting anywhere with their product, they also have the opportunity to take advantage of our consulting services and work with us to solve their problems quickly.

What are the particular strengths of the InnovationLab?

We offer startups a healthy environment in which they can experience how the market works under normal conditions despite their limited experience. This allows them to develop optimally and at the same time learn from a company already active in the market. At the same time they remain completely independent and autonomous.

Our “From Lab to Fab” approach is also a particular strength: If startups have an interesting idea but do not yet know how to implement it, we are the right partner for them. At our location, they have the opportunity to test and develop their idea, and finally manufacture their product. Often startups have a good idea, but fail to scale up. With us, however, they have the security of knowing that they can draw on our extensive industrial experience and have their product professionally manufactured when the time comes. At our production sites we are able to print sensors in an industrial three-shift operation at low cost. This enables us to offer prices that are competitive on the world market – and the Corona crisis in particular has clearly shown the advantages of producing locally and being less dependent on global supply chains.

Cluster tool, researcher at InnovationLab
Cluster tool, researcher at InnovationLab

What are the success stories of the startups from the InnovationLab?

Here I would like to make special mention of Deutsche Nanoschicht GmbH, a startup from the InnovationLab, which has become a leading specialist in chemical coating technologies. After the startup was taken over by BASF, it has grown from 5 to 80 employees within one year. Another successful startup from the InnovationLab is Vibrosonic from Mannheim, for example. This young company is developing a hearing system that is supposed to be completely invisible from the outside and is now in the final round of financing.

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