Start-ups enjoy a special status worldwide – they are credited with qualities such as visionary thinking, unrestrained determination, rapid implementation of new ideas and strong team dynamics. The chemical industry is aware of this and, in the face of new challenges, would like to invest significantly more in start-ups in the future in order to tackle modern issues with innovative business models.
Today, the chemical industry has become indispensable: about 97 percent of all industrially produced products are due to chemical production or at least to a chemical manufacturing process. However, the widespread influence of the chemical industry not only gave it greater responsibility in the past, but also posed fundamental challenges. The last hurdles resulted from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Three years after coming into force of this agreement, it is well known that hardly any company has made significant progress in its strategy of achieving the goals on its own. In order to be able to realize goals such as a more sustainable production of chemical products, in addition to interdisciplinary cooperation, new perspectives and impulses are needed above all. Numerous established chemical companies agree that start-ups in particular will have a special position here in the near future. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro, reiterates the common opinion: “ We need start-ups. No company today has the potential to solve everything alone.“
Talking about innovation means talking about start-ups, according to many entrepreneurs. Start-ups are not only more flexible and faster in the implementation of innovative ideas, but above all pioneer when it comes to driving forward visionary projects and solutions to problems in this day and age. However, established chemical companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable professionals to innovate. As a result, companies are starting partnerships with start-ups to benefit from mutual exchange. The fact that start-ups as well as large corporations are interested in such cooperation can be seen, among other things, in the annual increase in the number of visitors to European Chemistry Partnering (ECP), Europe’s leading speed dating event for the chemical industry. The event brings together start-ups and SMEs with industry representatives, investors and other stakeholders from around the world. In February this year, the third ECP took place with over 1,000 participants from more than 30 countries.
Nowadays, chemical start-ups are broadly based in terms of topics: About one-third of all chemical start-ups are involved in the development of nanomaterials. More than a quarter produce fine and specialty chemicals. 21 percent have set themselves the task of developing new technologies and hardware for the chemical industries. Around a tenth moves in the area of research and development as well as services. Niche developments such as analytics, catalysis and enzymes add up to eight percent. On the other hand, digitization is relatively new in the start-up scene: start-ups that are working on this topic currently account only three percent. However, due to Industry 4.0 and the associated transformation of work processes, the trend is rising. Not without reason: the chemical industry has now recognized the potential of digital solutions. In addition, millennials in particular as so-called „digital natives“ demand digital solutions for industrial processes. An example of such solutions are sourcing platforms like chembid that simplify the purchasing and sales process of chemicals. Both buyers and sellers of chemicals find the desired chemical products or the corresponding business partners within minutes on the web platforms. In any case, the chemical industry can look forward to seeing what innovative achievements start-ups will generate in the near future.