The Institute for Materials and Wood Technology at Bern University of Applied Sciences is now supporting commercialised innovation. Here, Professor Dr Frédéric Pichelin outlines two success stories of technology transfer through spin-off creation.
The culture of entrepreneurship is not well established in the field of bio-based products. This sector is strongly dominated by international companies who respond to the market’s need for commercialised innovation using their own R&D expertise. Looking back at the ten last years, several products trying to substitute a part of petroleum-based products have been commercialised without offering a 100% sustainable solution.
On the other side, public research organisations are generating a lot of creative and disruptive ideas, and these new solutions could help our economy and society achieve global environmental objectives. Better support for these new business ideas is becoming increasingly important, and so the BFH Institute for Materials and Wood Technology has recently decided to invest in this area.
The institute has a long research tradition in the field of sustainable development and bio-based solutions. Its interdisciplinary and international team of 40 collaborators is very well connected to the academic and industrial world and can bring the required expertise to solve industrial challenges and bring new solutions to the market of commercialised innovation.
Over the two last years, the institute has decided to support entrepreneurial ideas and the transfer of project results to industry through the creation of spin-offs.
The first success story of commercialised innovation is Cocoboards. This spin-off develops technology to upcycle local agricultural waste into affordable, highly functional, and sustainable products for the furniture and construction industry.
For several years, Michail Kyriazopoulos has been researching a novel, coconut fibre-based building material. He started out as a Master’s student working on a project supported by the r4d programme of the SNSF and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The programme promotes scientific co-operation with developing and emerging countries. The research at IWH produced good results, and there seemed to be practical applications for it.
A second master’s student has recently joined Kyriazopoulos, and the team is now working on a business model. The building of a first small production unit is also part of the company strategy.
Venture Kick Switzerland and the Swiss agency for innovation (Innosuisse) have recognised the big potential of this technology and both agencies support the team through coaching and financial support.
“Our first product, ‘Cocoboard’, is an all-natural fibre-board made of coconut husk and bio-based adhesive, designed in Switzerland and manufactured in the Philippines. We implement our technology through a circular economy approach while restricting deforestation and boosting local production of sustainable products,” explains Kyriazopoulos. “In the Philippines, for example, it can be manufactured locally and at very low cost using agricultural waste. If we can get our product onto the market, our research will help to build a better world.”
WoDens technology is a second example of sustainable commercialised innovation.
There is a long tradition in the use of tropical wood for expensive furniture, luxury objects, and musical instruments due to such properties as high density, hardness, and aesthetic look. Many of them are endangered, not easily available, very expensive, and bear the risk of clients connecting their company to the illegal timber trade. “We therefore developed a solution to create a new material that has similar appearance and properties as tropical wood through the modification of sustainable domestic wood,” says Elena Nedelkoska, former Master’s candidate and co-founder of WoDens technology.
The spin-off will offer customised, modified wood (colour, density, etc.) according to the needs of the client. To achieve that, the project places a significant focus on the technological elements involved, including the development of the wood modification setup based on machine learning, as well as on a business development plan that is supported by an industrial partner Arts and Design Manufacture SA, a company with a long experience in the watch and jewellery industry who will provide their expertise in market strategy development. This attractive technology has also convinced investors, and the team has received a first grant from the Swiss Gerbert Rüf Foundation.
These two success stories show that a new generation of ‘green’ entrepreneurs is strongly motivated to change our world and create more sustainable business. We should support them!
Please note, this article will also appear in the third edition of our new quarterly publication.