Five questions to Hamburg's COLIPI start-up

TUHH spin-off researching product to slash use of palm oil in food and cosmetics
15 July 2022
Image of fermentation

Jonas Heuer, Max Webers, Philipp Arbter and Tyll Utesch, the founders of COLIPI, from the Institute of Biochemical Engineering and Biosystems Engineering at the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), have developed globally unique technology for producing oil-forming yeasts and in a CO2-neutral manner. This comes after more than 22 million acres of rainforest near the equator have been slashed for palm oil cultivation destroying the natural habitat of endangered species and releasing vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Hamburg News: How did your business idea come about?

COLIPI: One of our founders, Philipp Arbter, has worked on oil-forming yeasts for ten years. As part of his PhD,  he managed to influence the composition of oil produced by yeast. The similarities between vegetable oils such as cocoa butter or palm oil made the idea plainly obvious. Now, COLIPI is researching a second fermentation step that retains CO2 instead of releasing it into the atmosphere and increases efficiency.

Founders of Colipi
© Colipi
Jonas Heuer, Max Webers, Philipp Arbter and Tyll Utesch (from l. to r.)

Hamburg News: How did you start up and who backed you?

COLIPI: We have received funds from the Germany Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection's EXIST scheme since November 2021 and founded COLIPI GmbH in March 2022. We are very grateful for this support. Andrea Otto, of beyourpilot, advised us during the application process. We are delighted to be able to use space at TUHH and have a very motivated supervisor in Dirk Friedrich at Jülich, which is sponsoring the project.

Hamburg News: What were the biggest obstacles to founding your company?

COLIPI: In our case, securing funds from the EXIST research transfer scheme was the main obstacle as it took about a year and a half from the idea to the start of the funding. That required an intense amount of work and the outcome was uncertain.

Hamburg News: Where do you see yourselves five years from now?

COLIPI: In five years, our oil production will be running stably on a pilot scale and we will have raised enough money to build a large-scale plant. That goal is ambitious but feasible and we need funds in the mid-single-digit millions in the next few months to be successful. The knowledge generated will then allow us to design a plant that produces several kilo tonnes of oil per annum. The investments would be in the mid double-digit million range then.

Hamburg News: What tips do you have for other founders?

COLIPI: Look for a team with different backgrounds and perspectives. Different perspectives help to solve problems and identify opportunities. Expand your network and discuss your project with people in many different sectors. That can open up new business areas You may discover what you do or don't want to do or can't do. Focus on finding a solution to the main problem and develop your business model further.

Hamburg News: Many thanks for the interview. 

Interview by Charles Sinn, Co-ordinator of Content Management, Hamburg Innovation, in co-operation mit Hamburg News.

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