Test equipment is part and parcel of daily life in university-based research. However, it also brings with it a recurrent problem.
What do you do if you’re a researcher who is highly specialised in your specific field, but you lack the same degree of proficiency when it comes to getting hands-on with technology? It would make perfect sense to have a contact who can guide you through everything from advising on, planning and building systems, to providing the necessary software solutions and even analysing the results. This is precisely the kind of fully comprehensive package that Wesseling-based German company ZUMOLab GbR offers. The story behind this start-up is remarkable and is about much more than a simple case of supply and demand. In fact, it highlights the opportunities that the university environment offers start-ups.
From scientific support staff to entrepreneurs
As is so often the case in life, one thing leads to another… While studying at RWTH Aachen University and FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences, students Christian Moritz and Dominic Zuleger were also working as scientific support staff at the Chair for Chemical Process Engineering. The main tasks of the committed and enthusiastic pair was to support system planning and software engineering. “Ultimately, a lot of the test systems at the Institute were running on software that we had specially programmed,” recounts Moritz. That was why the up-and-coming programmers enjoyed strong support from their professor, who also encouraged them to take the uncertain step of setting up their own business.
When they completed their studies in 2014, they didn’t need to think twice, and set up ZUMOLab GbR. Initially, the company focused solely on software solutions. As Moritz explains, however, they encountered an unexpected problem elsewhere during this period: “Right at the start, it became clear to us that it would be difficult to get financial support for the start-up. We fell through most of the funding programmes pretty quickly. It all came down to one thing – we were offering a service, not a product.” In the long run, that problem wasn’t enough to spoil the company’s success, since it had a dependable customer on board from the outset in the shape of RWTH Aachen University. Moreover, the quality came through.
“Steel wasn’t an option…”
The company’s work did not stop at simply developing software for test systems and experimental facilities. Before long, more and more customers started asking whether the team could also plan and build small test systems, too. From the customer’s point of view, that made perfect sense, but this kind of work posed a not insignificant challenge for the small company. How could they build test and experimentation systems without a workshop of their own? This is precisely where our MB Building Kit System came into play or, to be more precise, Profiles 5 und Profiles 8. Moritz explains: “We felt that item made the best impression in terms of quality.”
Even while students, the two entrepreneurs had got to know our modular solutions at several teaching facilities in Aachen. “It was the MB Building Kit System that made it possible for us to design and assemble our own equipment. If we had been working with steel, we’d have had to outsource the construction work to a metalworking shop,” says Moritz. Due to their modularity, the item profiles were the perfect fit for the young company’s requirements. For example, the test benches can be adapted to new conditions very easily on site.
Well prepared for the future
AAt present, the customer base of ZUMOLab GbR is predominantly made up of higher education institutions. However, small and medium-sized companies are also starting to take advantage of the start-up’s services, particularly when they are working to high capacity and need support with software development. Since Zuleger left the start-up at the end of 2015 to join the sales team of another company, Moritz has been running ZUMOLab with his Dutch-born colleague Stefanie Kriescher. Thanks to the experience she gained from her doctorate in Aachen, she has brought additional know-how about the scientific community to the company. What’s more, she can also undertake programming tasks independently, as can her fellow Managing Director, who deals primarily with the software engineering for the test systems.
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