The entrepreneurial scientist: Heinrich Follmann is an avid cyclist

28. August 2019

The entrepreneurial scientist

Heinrich Follmann is an avid cyclist

Heinrich Follmann

Heinrich Follmann and his motorbikes © WISTA Management GmbH

The first few kilometres of his way to work take Heinrich Follmann through the depths of the forest. He has been cycling down this track almost every day for many years. The bike path ‘Euroroute R1’ connects Calais with St. Petersburg and cuts through Berlin’s leafy South East between the two lakes Dämeritzsee and Müggelsee. Follmann bikes from Hessenwinkel, which is a part of Rahnsdorf, to Köpenick, and on to Adlershof, twenty kilometres in 55 minutes, on a racing bike in summer and a touring bike with snow tires in Winter.

Since 2012, Follmann and his twelve employees have been turning chalk into calcium carbonate at the Centre for Biotechnology and the Environment in Adlershof. The crystalline powder is used as an industrial raw material, for example, in papermaking. Follmann developed the underlying procedure himself when he started using carbon dioxide, which is required for crystallisation, made from biogas instead of the more conventional industrial emissions. His invention is a ‘combination’ of biological and chemical processes, he says. In some ways, ‘combination’ is a word that describes the 73-year-old’s entire career quite well. Combining science with entrepreneurship has always been an underlying theme.

After studying microbiology and chemistry in Munster, thermodynamics in Munich and gaining a PhD in 1975, Follmann was a shareholder and the managing director of a globally active, Bonn-based company for fermentation technology. Originally from Wilhelmshaven, he moved from to Berlin in 2004, where he started his first own company HF Biotech Berlin. The company started off in Friedrichstrasse and later moved to Adlershof. Moving from the Rhine to the Spree river, he was accompanied by a dream he had had since the 1980s. Standing on Gendarmenmarkt during a visit to East Berlin, he thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be beautiful to live here one day?’

As somebody whose interests go well beyond biotechnology, Follmann was amazed by the sheer number of cultural events in Berlin’s theatres and concert halls. One of his greatest passions is playing the piano: ‘I actually wanted to become a pianist once.’ His passion for the piano is seconded only by motorcycle racing. Follmann estimates that he spends 20 days each summer on racing tracks all over Europe. He has been riding motorcycles since he was 19 years old and racing them for 15 years. After buying a new bike at a BMW dealer, the salesman asked him how he felt about driving his 220 horse power at full speed and gave him the address of a man who organises competitions for ‘highly motivated amateur drivers.’ ‘That’s when I tasted blood and I’ve been doing it ever since.’ The season begins in Spain in spring and ends in the Czech Republic with five events in autumn that last for several days and attract up to 120 participants. Follmann’s strength is racing in the rain. In general, he says, he operates in the ‘midsection performance-wise.’

At his home in Hessenwinkel, he has four motorbikes, two for racing and two for everyday use. To get to the city centre, however, Follmann has a monthly ticket for the BVG, Berlin’s public transport company. ‘I try to take the train for my business trips and take the car only when it’s absolutely necessary.’

Follmann’s daily bike tours to the office will soon be a thing of the past. His company has been transferred to his business partners. He will tend to business in Adlershof until early next year. What happens then? Riding my motorbike, says Follmann. Playing the piano. Reading.

By Dr. Winfried Dolderer for Adlershof Journal

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