"5-HT supports startups in interdisciplinary areas"

Katharina Kittelberger


Marie Asano knows one thing for sure: the future is bio-based. Since January 2021, Ms. Asano has been working at the European Circular Bioeconomy Fund (ECBF) as an Investment Principal. There, she focuses on investing in and supporting growth companies in the bioeconomy and circular economy. Her appointment allows her to assess how a company is positioned in terms of their technology, business model as well as their ability to raise finance. Expert advice from such a position can be highly valuable to startups.

Circular Bio what???

"Yes, it's a broad term," Marie laughs. "In short, at ECBF we invest in ten different areas and technology fields. We cover all those that are related to bio-based materials and chemicals. We believe that all products can be derived from natural sources. That way, everything goes back to nature again. The main requirement before any investment is that a company meets the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria."

ESK criteria

"Along with that, we tend to invest in more mature startups. In most cases, we invest from a technology standard of six (TRL 6). That means their technologies have already been tested and validated in a relevant environment."

First mentoring experience as a seed investor

"During my time at High-Tech Gründerfond (HTGF) in 2017, I got in touch with mentoring for the first time. At that time, I worked as a seed investor. This means that I invested in young companies like startups at a very early stage. On the one hand, this brings a high risk, but on the other hand, an enormous profit if the startup is successful. Of course, this kind of early contact with startups, automatically meant mentoring. I not only planned pitch competitions, but also worked with incubators or led a workshop here and there.

I see mentoring as an important part of my job,
even though I do it on a volunteer basis.

"It's really a great opportunity to get to know the teams and their interesting technologies. For me, that's motivation enough to continue mentoring in the future."

The investor's point of view - a look behind the scenes

"Through my work in the investment sector, I naturally know what investors look for in a pitch or business plan. That is why I develop approaches right at the beginning of a mentoring session, on how an idea can be pitched particularly well. Or how a business plan can be developed in such a way that it looks interesting to investors.
Because I am currently more involved with growth financing, I pay particular attention to scalability, which means the ability to change size.

What are the building blocks for these early-stage companies?
How can businesses scale sustainably?

"These are questions I ask myself and the startup. Another important thing I look at in the beginning is whether a startup's product idea meets a potential market."

"It's easy to fall in love with technology.

By that I mean that many young companies assume that just because their technology is good, the product will be successful. Unfortunately, for the most part, that is not the case. Rather, there are three things that should be considered. First, there are the customers, then the market, and finally the needs. All of these factors need to be put into context during product development. For this reason, while advising startups, I make sure that these issues are clarified right at the beginning."

To what extent do you support startups in the area of sustainability and digitization?

"If startups have a sustainable concept or product, then I can help transform their idea to 100% into a sustainable model. Especially nowadays it makes sense to act in this area. I am convinced that sustainability has now entered the perception of consumers.
Furthermore, there is excellent science and super universities in Germany as well as in Europe. Everything is going in the direction of "Hey, we need to be more sustainable".

I think it's the right time to start a fund like the

The third wave of technology is a response to overcoming our "take-make-waste" economy
         and the transition to a more sustainable circular economy.

"Of course, other factors have also led to this emergence. Not the least has the Corona pandemic been instrumental in this evolution."

COVID-19 as a wake-up call

"This current situation has certainly taken each of us, out of our hamster wheel. Things that were taken for granted suddenly weren't. This has definetly done something to our attitude, because the climate crisis for example, is much bigger than a pandemic. Accordingly, we should take action now. That is why it's even nicer to observe how many startups are successful with sustainable products despite, or even because of, these current challenges." 

"It seems like the startups are getting better by the year.

In this respect, 5-HT is particularly helpful because they cover the interdisciplinary area in particular. Of course, their focus is on e-health, digital chemistry, etc. But it's just not pure digital or pure chemistry, but rather a new area where a wide variety of skills come together. All of these create a nice, big mix.

I'm always excited and impressed by what startups are out there.

"As a jury member, I have noticed that young entrepreneurs are increasingly better prepared for the pitches and questions. For me personally, this process is also enormously educational. After each event, I feel so enriched.

There are so many, great, innovative developments.
It's like being a child in a toy store.

"Beyond that, I'm always surprised by the solutions that are being developed for problems that I never even knew existed in my little world. There are so many approaches, technologies and sciences that I would never have thought of.
In the end, it's always great to see what beautiful things come about when these diverse subjects are mixed together.

5-HT is definitely involved in every aspect that comes out of that.”

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