Why do companies go to so much effort growing healthy bean sprouts in jars or plastic containers? This was the question that led Josef Teips and his startup colleagues Marina Zeisler and Alexander Lier to found a company called Cell-Garden. Their idea was to make a kind of ultramodern “fast reactor” – not like a huge atomic power station, but as part of a quiet revolution in the kitchen. They were accompanied on their journey of setting up a business by the director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Safeguarding Companies.
Anyone who has tried to grow bean sprouts to top up with energy or simply add a bit of taste to a salad will tell you how fiddly it is – and how disappointing the results can be. Cell-Garden wants to make things easier. Their idea: to develop a fully automatic sprout germination device. “Cell-Garden has set itself the goal of positively changing the health of consumers with bio-organic products,” explains Josef Teips. “The vision of our company is to make holistic and nutritiously unblemished nutrition achievable for everyone – without flavor enhancers, additives, or chemical substances,” he adds.
The startup is based at the Innovation Center at Aalen University, which offers founders everything they need to set up their own company. They have their own office, a startup-friendly infrastructure, and close links to the research and development networks within the university – offering a good basis for successful product development. One thing Teips, Zeisler, and Lier were quick to realize, however, is that developing a product is just one step on the long and often arduous road trodden by successful entrepreneurs. This road is littered with questions: How do you go into business? Where do we want to go with our company? Who would our products actually benefit? What is our target market? How much money will we need? The three young entrepreneurs got answers to these questions in a pre-startup consulting session offered by the State of Baden-Württemberg and sponsored by Steinbeis.
The three founders where supported throughout the entire startup process by Martin Ritter, director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Safeguarding Companies. Of course the new firm needed a business plan and it goes without saying that it had to analyze the situation to explore the market and draft a robust financial budget and staffing plan. After an initial market analysis, it became clear that there is no such thing in the market as an automatic bean sprout watering system. This would put Cell-Garden and its solutions into a completely new niche by itself. Its business concept is based on a high degree of individualization, offering plenty of variety, ease-of-use, and product indulgence – ideal prerequisites for a startup. To shield itself from fast followers in the market, the Cell-Garden system is being patented. The Federal Ministry of Economics is providing the young entrepreneurs with support through the WIPANO program to help them protect R&D findings through patents and registered designs. As with other new companies, none of the planned activities would be a success without a sustainable funding concept. It soon became clear that the required financing could not be drummed up through personal funds or a conventional loan from a bank. As a result, the startup pulled together financing from a mixture of sources, including state backing, bank lending, and crowdfunding. The crowdfunding option allows consumers to place advance orders. The money that is now coming in will be used to develop the germination device until it is market-ready and establish the necessary commercial infrastructure.
Driven by the idea of making the world a better place, supported by a variety of backers, helped along the way by Steinbeis and other partners who believe in them, Teips, Zeisler, and Lier and their firm are making good progress with setting up a successful company and developing totally new sprout germination devices. Cell-Garden is a name to look out for.
Martin Ritter is director of the Esslingen-based Steinbeis Consulting Center for Safeguarding Companies and regularly consults potential entrepreneurs through his project work for the Steinbeis Consulting Center Business Start-up.
Steinbeis Consulting Center Safeguarding Companies (Esslingen)