Startup-Days Award winner seedalive: From Grüne Woche to India
Inventors Prof. Klaus Mummenhoff and Jens Varnskühler reveal how revolutionary this invention is and what it means for us consumers.
Professor Mummenhoff, Mr. Varnskühler, why is it so important to know whether plants are germinable or not?
Varnskühler: The trade in plant seeds is a global market. The success of the harvest depends on the germination capacity of the plant seeds. Poor seed endangers the entire harvest, so every bag of plant seed in the trade must have a certain minimum quality. Anyone who markets poor quality seed that has not been quality tested is committing a criminal offense.
A criminal act?
Prof. Mummenhoff: Yes, that also makes sense, because the population's nutrition depends on successful cultivation. The rules therefore apply worldwide.
What does your invention change now?
Varnskühler: Our rapid germination test for plant seeds predicts in four hours what conventional tests need up to 14 days for. Until now, a conventional test has involved sowing 400 seeds of a plant species to be tested for germination on moist paper in climate chambers. These seeds must be incubated for 7 to 14 days under defined light and temperature conditions. Only then does one know whether healthy seedlings will emerge from these seeds. Our test is much more sustainable than conventional tests, saving 99 percent time and 99 percent energy in comparison. In addition, our method is mobile and flexible to use. All that is needed for our test kit is a charged laptop and an Internet connection.
Prof. Mummenhoff: In addition, compared to the traditional germination test, our test is not destructive, i.e. the seeds are not consumed, and if necessary, the seeds can be stored again after our test. This is a great advantage, especially for rare plant seed samples.
And what is the added value for us consumers?
Varnskühler: By speeding up the testing process, we can accelerate the breeding of new lines overall. As a consequence of climate change, we need seeds with new, adapted properties, such as resistance to drought or to pests. Breeding processes can therefore be adapted more quickly to changing environmental conditions thanks to the shorter testing period. This strengthens everyone's food security.
How did you come up with the invention?
Prof. Mummenhoff: I was a professor of botany at the University of Osnabrück. We developed the new test method as part of a research project. The University of Osnabrück filed a patent application for the basic principle. My former student Jens Varnskühler recognized the potential for commercial use and suggested a collaboration.
Varnskühler adds: "In 2021, we founded the company and are now the exclusive licensee of the patent.
Half a year after the award ceremony at Grüne Woche ... where are you today?
Varnskühler: We are currently in the proof of concept phase, which means we have the first paying customers who are trying out our method. These customers are global players and the initial feedback is very good. Winning the award at the Green Week has brought us a lot of publicity, and the level of awareness has continued to grow. We don't have any marketing needs at the moment, because experts from all over the world contact us and ask "Does this also work with this or that plant?".
From which countries do the inquiries come?
Varnskühler: India, for example. The country will overtake China next year in terms of population. There is a great demand for vegetables there, which is mainly met by small-scale farmers. They are currently working on setting up a standardized quality control system. We are currently in talks with the Indian authorities so that our rapid test can be part of the quality control system there right from the start.
Prof. Mummenhoff: In Europe, we are now active in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, France and the Netherlands. We are excited to see what the future holds.
Will we see you at Grüne Woche 2024?
Yes absolutely, as part of the prize awarded, we will be provided with a stand at the upcoming Grüne Woche. Then we will be quite a bit further along in our development again. Please feel free to come and visit us.
I will, thank you very much for the interview.
The Startup-Days Award of Grüne Woche
Every year, the Startup-Days of Grüne Woche showcase the inventive spirit of the agricultural technology and food industries. More than 30 innovative startups from all over Germany had applied for past award edition. The ten best pitched live in the exhibition halls in front of a seven-member jury made up of professionals from the agricultural and food industries, Food Retailing, from Neubrandenburg University and from industry. A review of the Startup-Days of Grüne Woche 2023 can be found here.
For the Startup-Days 2024, startups and young companies can apply with their innovations starting in auumn 2023. Further information, as well as the application material will then be available on Grüne Woche - Startup-Days (gruenewoche.de)