Accelerating R&D in the specialty chemical industry: A new approach of a digital R&D

Ronja Schrimpf

Startup Stories

Accelerate chemical discovery in the specialty chemicals segment through a virtual laboratory – that is what the startup Nextmol offers with its cloud-based platform. With its unique methodology of combining molecular modelling and artificial intelligence, Nextmol makes R&D up to ten times faster and much more efficient.

Through digital technologies, Nextmol offers the possibility to characterize new candidate molecules on the computer, build predictive models, and, this way, reduce the number of experimental tests required to develop a new chemical.

This digital approach also makes green chemicals, with lower dosages and biodegradability, possible. In an interview with 5-HT, cofounder and CEO Dr. Monica de Mier talks about their revolutionary technology for the specialty chemicals industry.

Nextmol
The Nextmol-Team

What is Nextmol?

“Nextmol is a deep-tech startup devoted to develop advanced molecular modelling and artificial intelligence techniques to accelerate R&D in the chemical industry. That means we develop computational tools for addressing the specific needs of the chemical industry. We offer these tools through our cloud-based platform.”

What is the advantage of using Nextmol’s platform?

“The problem we solve is the long development time that elapses from initiation of research until commercialization of a new chemical product. Typically, this takes more than ten years because, currently, the development of new chemicals happens exclusively in the laboratory.

We are using an entirely new approach. The solution Nextmol proposes is a software platform that allows to characterize, through computational techniques such as molecular modelling and artificial intelligence, hundreds or thousands of candidate molecules in an automated way. Only the most promising molecules go to the laboratory. That makes the R&D of chemical products much more efficient. This is because our solution allows to test in an automated way many more candidates than in the laboratory. Also, the knowledge that the molecular modelling techniques provide about what is happening with these molecules is way deeper than it would be in the laboratory. Through our technology, you can get more information and insights about the behaviour of the molecules, about why they are performing or not.”

How does Nextmol differ from its competition?

“Although there is competition, there is not much in the area of chemical applications. Also, we do not focus on any kind of chemical phenomena – our unique selling point is that we specialize on surface and interface phenomena in the specialty chemicals.

Very unique is also our computational methodology that combines molecular modelling and artificial intelligence. Most of our competitors use only one of these techniques while we use both in our own methodology. This provides us the ability to generate data, analyse them and create predictive models in an integrated way. Thanks to molecular modelling simulations, we can characterize new candidate molecules under different conditions. These simulations generate data that can be used as input in the artificial intelligence algorithms. What we typically find in the chemical industry is that the number of experimental data is quite small. This limits the usefulness of artificial intelligence algorithms. With molecular modelling, we are able to generate new data that are fed in the data set.

What also differentiates us from the competition is that we offer our solution in the cloud, which has many advantages, for example the flexible and scalable provision of computational resources. There is almost an unlimited amount of computational resources in the cloud.

Finally, a very important difference to competition is the strong expertise in High-Performance Computing (HPC) of our team.”

Nextmol
Example of a molecular modeling simulation of surface adsorption

Who is the team of Nextmol?

“The founders, Dr. Stephan Mohr and I, come from the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, the national supercomputing facility in Spain. We worked together for over four years, he as a senior scientist and I in the field of business development and tech transfer. From the beginning, we asked ourselves how we could bring to industry the advances in computational chemistry made by academia. We started to give shape to the business idea and went through several local entrepreneurship programs, until we decided it was time to ‘jump’ and go through with it. We started in September 2019.

We were selected to be part of Repsol Foundation’s Entrepreneurs Fund – a highly selective acceleration program where they provide financial support and business mentoring and the possibility to carry out a pilot project – and we found Repsol as our first client. This was the key for us in our first year of business.”

Who are Nextmol’s customers?

“Our customers are specialty chemicals companies with R&D activities. This includes applications such as oilfield chemicals, lubricant and fuel additives, personal care, detergents, agricultural chemicals, etcetera.

They are distributed all over the world. We have customers in Europe and the USA. Barcelona is a very well-connected city, which helps us a lot with networking. Nevertheless, we need to be international and be very open to broader networks.”

Does COVID make it harder for Nextmol as an international startup?

“I would not say we had a disadvantage because of COVID in finding clients or networking. We changed a lot as a society because of COVID, which makes face-to-face conversations less important to do business.”

What does Nextmol hope for from 5-HT’s network?

“We hope to get connected to other digital chemistry companies and to 5-HT’s partners specifically. We hope that we can participate in events like X-Linker and get to know the network. 5-HT is also very well located in the Hub of chemical industries in Germany, so I hope to get connected with the Germany chemical Hub through 5-HT’s network. Therefore, I hope to visit 5-HT for their networking programs and events soon.”

What are Nextmol’s future plans?

“In the beginning of next year, we plan to launch the platform for all our customers. So, our greatest and most important plans are to sell the product and grow.”

What is Nextmol’s mission?

“Our mission is to democratize the techniques of molecular modelling and artificial intelligence to accelerate the chemical R&D. The idea behind this is to help our customers in the digital transformation of their R&D.

Nextmol
Screenshot of Nextmol platform

We also have a focus on green chemistry – we want to help our customers to develop more sustainable chemicals to meet the Green Deal goals. We do that by helping them developing better performing molecules. We also are starting to develop algorithms for biodegradability, which means we will be able to include biodegradability in the design phase."

What are your personal recommendations for other startup founders?

“My tip for other startups founders is to always have in mind your customer. Everything you do needs to be done while thinking on the customer. That is why Nextmol is very customer-centric. We are listening to our customers and are adapting to their needs.”

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