The world belongs to those that wait: On the perseverance of entrepreneurs and scientists from Adlershof

05. January 2017

The world belongs to those that wait

On the perseverance of entrepreneurs and scientists from Adlershof

Andreas Häger und Wiebke Kropp-Büttner, Vestaxx. Bild: © Adlershof Journal

Andreas Häger and Wiebke Kropp-Büttner, Vestaxx

DLR-Planetenforscherin Heike Rauer. Bild: © Adlershof Journal

Heike Rauer, DLR

Jan Michel, 3B Pharmaceuticals GmbH. Bild: © Adlershof Journal

Jan Michel, 3B Pharmaceuticals

Hardly any job ad nowadays is complete without mentioning “perseverance” in the requirements. But what does that mean in practice? Is it the key to success? We have asked entrepreneurs and scientists from Adlershof about this.

Things are supposed to go forward, the idea is born, and motivation is high. First, however, it’s time to wait. Waiting for a signal from the investors, the authorities, or the research sponsors. There is always something in the way. The founders of the Berlin-based start-up Vestaxx can tell us a thing or two about this. Or more likely five or six. The company team started to develop a novel system for window heating in buildings three years ago. It is planned to enter the market this year. “There are times when you get cabin fever and your strength and endurance diminish. Especially when you’re trying to build up a start-up alongside your main job,” says Wiebke Kropp-Büttner, who is one of the co-founders. “But then the team puts you back on your feet and off you go.”

Luckily so, because the team’s smart window heating could revolutionise the market. They turn windows and glass surfaces into invisible electric panel heaters which could replace conventional heating pipes. By applying a metal oxide layer to the windows using nanotechnology, which produces great amounts of heat, the window is no longer a waste, but a source of heat. The best thing is: “BY using electricity from regenerative sources, heat can be produced entirely carbon-free,” she says. Lawmakers, however, hold a different view which is why this innovative technology continues to be classified as an electric heating with a higher primary energy factor than heating systems using fossil fuels. A lot of effort is required to persuade them - which also a trial of patience for the business founders. Something they have gotten used to. Why have they never thrown in the towel? “It is essential to keep your eyes on your main goal and to focus on many little steps on the way instead of unattainable ones,” is Kropp-Büttner’s advice. Occasionally, those little steps have to be adjusted to new situations: “There is no shame in changing a plan either.” Especially seeing the sense of achievement at every little goal helps to stay on track.

Heike Rauer from the Institute for Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center has a very similar mindset. As head of the Department for Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres, the professor and her team are on a quest to find earth-like planets. These quests are typically very long “missions” and require perseverance like none other. “You have to be completely convinced of the project and the underlying scientific ideas. That way you can always remind yourself of those basics and stay motivated by looking forward to the scientific data and results. The reward for the work,” says Rauer about her motivation. “These projects go on for many years. This can’t be done without a lot of patience of all those involved.” The biggest trial of patience is the long period between the idea and the actual satellite mission which provides the data, for example, the PLATO mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), where Rauer was in charge of the international consortium reviewing instruments.

PLATO will launch a Soyuz-type rocket at the end of 2025. The satellite will search for planets revolving around other stars, so-called exoplanets. “Preparation for the mission started in 2007. It was already 2014 by the time PLATO had convinced ESA and won against competing mission ideas,” Bauer tells us. If everything goes to plan, PLATO will soon achieve “mission adoption”, the final step of being fully confirmed by ESA. This step is required to start to build the satellite and other instruments. After it is launched in 2025, the project will go into a four-year operational phase, which might be extended for another four years. The scientific evaluation, however, will take much longer.

”The most difficult phases of such a long project are the initial ones, when it isn’t clear if the great effort will actually lead to anything,” says Rauer. “A good team, where people motivate each other, is really important.” The time frames in pharmacological research are quite similar: with product development cycles from an idea to an approved drug of up to 15 years, the pharmaceutical sector requires a good deal of tenacity. At 3B Pharmaceuticals GmbH, an Adlershof-based specialist for nuclear medicine, economic success is not that slow because the company licenses its potential products to pharmaceutical companies early during the development process, who then conduct the clinical studies required for approval and market the drug if this is successful. A good example for this is the recent licensing agreement with the French pharmaceutical company Ipsen over the substance 3BP-227. Ipsen will now develop the nuclear medical agent for application in personalised therapy of pancreatic cancer.

“You need a lot of patience for research and development as well as the meetings with potential licensees,” says the director of finance and corporate development Jan Michel. “Seeing as you can’t plan economic success, the only thing that helps you deal with setbacks in other projects is a certain diversification of your business,” he points out. “Success requires the right balance of persistence and confidence in combination with a constant willingness to critically reflect on whether you’re backing the right horse.”

Or, as Ms. Kropp-Büttner puts it: “Success comes to those who wait.”

By Chris Löwer for Adlershof Journal

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