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Entrepreneurship: An Interview with a Biotech Entrepreneur and Innovator


By: Julia John-Scheder

Entrepreneurship: An Interview with a Biotech Entrepreneur and Innovator

In Germany, over 350,000 startups are founded each year, according to the BMWi. Startups in Germany play an important role in the overall economy by bringing new ideas to the market and encouraging established companies to remain innovative.

The German Center for Research and Innovation New York interviewed Dr. Stephan Binder, the co-founder of SenseUp GmbH, a biotechnology startup. Aside from his role as CTO at SenseUp, Dr. Binder is also the project leader of Go-Bio, one of Germany’s national research funding mechanisms. Dr. Binder studied molecular biology at RWTH Aachen, has won awards, such as the Innovation Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Innovators Under 35 award from the MIT Technology Review German edition in 2015.

What advice would you give to fellow scientists who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

First, find a good business partner whose skills perfectly complement your own. You have to like, trust, and spend lots of time in the next years with her/him. My business partner, Georg Schaumann, is a very strong communicator, a very good networker and much more - the perfect CEO. My interests are more in technology and building up efficient internal company structures. Maybe I would call myself a CTO/COO.

Second, forget about all “nice-to-haves” and focus on your “must-haves.” As a scientist you love to explore the full spectrum of possibilities. But as an entrepreneur you have to learn to focus on the few things that you really solve problems with.

You are the project leader of the founders’ competition program GO-Bio. Please tell us about the initiative and how other founders can compete.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research set up GO-Bio (Gründungsoffensive Biotechnologie) as a national research funding mechanism, which can be regarded as pre-seed funding. We are part of the national high-tech strategy (bio-economy) and develop tools and strategies which accelerate the transformation of the petrochemical-based economy into a bio-based economy. In 2014 we raised 2.8 million euros (phase I) and used this to demonstrate a proof-of-principle and concept. This year phase II of GO-Bio started and we raised an additional 3.3 million euros for final developments.

Please describe your startup SenseUp.

SenseUp is an enthusiastic team of five PhDs, five technicians, with more than 60 years of experience combined. Dr. Eggeling and Prof. Dr. Bott (director IBG-1) are experienced advisors at SenseUp, which is located on the campus of the Research Centre in Jülich.

At SenseUp we engineer highly productive bacteria, which turn renewable resources (sugar) into valuable products. Actually, we are focused on the production of amino acids, which are used for the production of food, animal feed, and pharmaceuticals. We set great value on profound and proven biotech know-how in combination with high-end technologies for microbial strain development. Since July 2017, we started with the operational business and are about to develop the first amino acid producers together with our partners.