High-Tech Gründerfonds invests in Subitec GmbH

Press release /

Subitec GmbH from Stuttgart has successfully completed its first round of financing worth Euro 610,000. The lead investor of this biotech company, specialising in production of microalgal biomass, is High-Tech Gründerfonds. Business angel Dr. Helmut Hengstenberg was acquired as a side investor. A pilot plant can now be constructed.

Talks had lasted for just three months when this first round of financing was secured, says Dr. Peter Ripplinger, CEO of Subitec GmbH. The company is a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) in Stuttgart. “We invested because Subitec GmbH has an innovative proprietary platform technology whose products address interesting markets. In our view, integration of biological processes in chemical added-value chains offers great potential,” says Marco Winzer, senior investment manager for High-Tech Gründerfonds, explaining the investment decision. “We are delighted to have been able to get business angel Dr. Helmut Hengstenberg on board as an investor along with High-Tech Gründerfonds,” says Prof. Herwig Brunner, Director of the Fraunhofer IGB and co-founder of Subitec GmbH. “This secures funding for a further company from the Stuttgart area,” stresses Dr. Klaus Eichenberg, Managing Director of BioRegio STERN Management GmbH.

The photobioreactor developed by Stuttgart-based Subitec GmbH enables algal biomass to be produced on an industrial scale. A host of valuable ingredients including fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, carotinoids and colourings can be obtained from microalgae, such as the freshwater alga Haematococcus pluvialis and gravel alga Phaeodactylum tricornutum, which are used as source materials in the chemical, pharmaceutical and foodstuff industries. The opportunities for using natural algal substances are wide-ranging and include cosmetics, dietary supplements and animal feed.

While in Asia algae is mainly cultivated in open pools, the algae bioreactor of Subitec GmbH makes land-based cultivation possible in closed bioreactors that can be kept sterile, which means they can be operated in controlled conditions that are essential for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Under these circumstances, algal biomass can be produced along environmentally friendly, continuous and highly cost-effective lines. The flat plate airlift reactor, FPA, made from transparent plastic offers the best requirements for commercial mass production of microalgae that feed photoautotrophically, i.e. solely from light energy. A small layer thickness and targeted flow via static mixers ensure the ideal light supply to all algal cells. The FPA’s modular structure makes it suitable for simultaneously cultivating various species and supports flexible capacity scaling.

One third of the investment is in the construction of a pilot plant with a reactor volume of 5,000 litres. The first Subitec algae farm is due to begin operation in Stuttgart-Vaihingen in August 2007. “This pilot plant is a major step forward for the company,” says Dr. Ripplinger. “The plant gives us an excellent opportunity to highlight the functionality and cost structure of such a production scenario to our customers.” Subitec GmbH is focusing primarily on the red colouring astaxanthin and the natural omega 3 fatty acid eicosapentaen, EPA. Both are ideal as dietary supplements, with astaxanthin also being perfect for use in the cosmetics and animal feeds industry.

The company focuses on marketing the technology platform and performing contract production. The number of employees is set to grow rapidly at a dedicated site in the region. “Expansion of our business activities is also supported by a committee whose members include Volker Wintergerst from management consultants Ebner, Stolz and Mönning, our side investor Dr. Helmut Hengstenberg, the ‘founding father’ Prof. Walter Trösch and Prof. Herwig Brunner, both from the IGB. I am extremely grateful for the close links with the IGB and wide-ranging potential synergies that are also being exploited through the support provided by BioRegio STERN Management GmbH,” says Dr. Ripplinger.