What does it really take to provide an ingenious invention with the foundations needed to become a lucrative startup company? One important factor is the right support from the very start, so that the idea is not squandered or “ripped off” by established players. “At this early stage it’s like a rollercoaster. If you’re new to the market and get no support from agencies experienced in managing inventions, it’s much harder surviving this difficult phase with your concept or business idea,” explains Susann Hartung. Hartung and her son are the inventors of the Spätzle Shaker. Until now, making Spätzle – a traditional Swabian specialty akin to egg noodles – was a laborious process involving a noodle press or a grating board. With the Hartung’s invention all the ingredients are thrown into a mixing cup and the rest is done by metal balls: simply shake the dough and squeeze the Spätzle into boiling water. The invention consultants at the patenting information center at the Stuttgart House of Commerce and consultants at Infothek, the Villingen-based Steinbeis Transfer Center, were a tremendous help for the inventor in exploring ways to protect her intellectual property with patents, a registered design and a brand name. In the meantime, over a quarter of a million Spätzle Shakers have been sold.
One central aspect was funding of the copyright through the SIGNO initiative. “If you miss a key point at this stage, it’s much more difficult to establish a thriving company with your invention later on,” concludes Wolfgang Müller, director of the Infothek Steinbeis Transfer Center and chairman of a Baden-Württemberg inventors’ award foundation called the Artur Fischer Erfinderpreis. Once the castle has been built, it’s time to do battle with public opinion and gauge the potential of the invention. “The inventors’ fair in Nuremberg, the IENA, was a great place for that,” recalls Hartung. “The Spätzle Shaker really whetted the media’s appetite and there were lots of queries from the public. Lots of people wanted to buy it right away from the Artur Fischer Erfinderpreis booth.” The Hartungs knew in an instant that they should keep working on the concept.
After IENA 2008, it was clear that the invention would have to be finetuned and made ship shape. It was also clear that this had a price tag, a big one at that: developing the necessary prototype would be expensive. Drawing once again on the support of the Steinbeis experts in Villingen, the inventors applied successfully for innovation vouchers under a scheme offered at the time by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Economy to promote product innovations. “This allowed the Hartungs to fund the most important material testing and construct their first prototypes. It also helped them gain an oversight of the most important next steps,” says Wolfgang Müller. To optimize their chances with respect to production and the launch, in 2009, Hartung brought more experts on board. She also received a cash injection through a Euro 50,000 loan from the Baden-Württemberg “Guarantee Bank.”
Susann Hartung also quickly realized that self-employment has its downsides. “There were arguments from the start. People wanted to take the invention off us,” says Hartung, looking back. “I’m a fashion journalist by trade so I know all about the dog-eat-dog things that go on in the fashion industry, but without professional support we would never have made it through that part, which was unusually tiring, even for me,” says the single mother, thinking about the atypical and often challenging startup phase. “Apart from the fact that we’re the sort of family that comes up with new ideas from dawn till dusk, and we really go about things playfully, what kept me going was this strong love for my child and an iron will to not let anyone take his co-invention off him,” continues Hartung.
Looking back, she would not want to go through the startup phase again without effective support. Of central importance for Hartung were the cerebral support carefully securing property rights, and the financial backing for making the prototypes and developing the invention into products that would be ready for series production.