We talked to Robert Brüll CEO, of FibreCoat GmbH, about polymer coated glass fibre technology. This is what he had to say about it:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robert Brüll: We are doing good. The lockdown and the reduced nursery hours don’t make it easy for us, but everyone is healthy and in a good mood. Hopefully, I will soon be able to take the boys to the public swimming pool again.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FibreCoat GmbH.
Robert Brüll: I studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and got my master’s degree in 2014. Then I started a second master’s program in economics, which I finished in 2018, and my Ph.D. on composites. During the Ph.D. studies, I investigated the direct coating of inorganic fibres in order to come up with a cheap and efficient way to produce thermoplastics. During these investigations, I got to know Alex and Richard, and we decided to try and industrialize the technology ourselves. This decision is largely based on the frustration that the industry hardly takes up the best developments at the university and generally acts very sluggishly. We saw the potential and didn’t want to let it slip away.
How does FibreCoat GmbH innovate?
Robert Brüll: We are focusing on making the future affordable. This means that we have to come up with new material solutions that offer great properties at reduced costs. We are doing this by taking an interdisciplinary approach as we bring together different areas of expertise in our team and network. This allows us to invent outside of the box.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Robert Brüll: We were planning on advancing our polymer coated glass fibre technology when the pandemic started. Most of our suppliers weren’t able to deliver the machines or materials that we needed. So, we decided to use the waiting time on developing metal coated basalt fibres. This went very well, and we were able to industrialize this technology by the end of 2020. Corona was actually helping us in that regard, as we had fewer travels and several partners had an excess capacity that we could use. Now we are advancing on our polymer fibres again, and we have the first product on the market: AluCoat.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Robert Brüll: Luckily, we did not have to make any difficult choices regards human resources. However, we decided to take more time hiring as there are still many unknown factors with the pandemic.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Robert Brüll: We switched from personal visits to web conferences and mainly use Microsoft Teams. This has increased our time efficiency tremendously as most of our visits were unnecessary before, and digital meetings also work in building relationships. We still would like to do some visits to really bond with our partners, but the new online culture in most of the industry has a positive impact on our business. I am now able to pitch in a fair in Japan in the morning, visit a tech talk in Europe afterward and attend a conference in the US in the evening while staying close to my kids. This makes it a lot easier to generate a high outreach with a minimal budget.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Robert Brüll: We are still funded by the German Exist program. The flexibility of the grant regarding the possibility to shift the budget and the timeframe really helped us in getting this far.
Your final thoughts?
Robert Brüll: COVID-19 certainly changed the way we live and socialize, leading to different complications and problems. But looking at the situation from an entrepreneurial viewpoint, the pandemic also opened many doors to new opportunities. I think that people changed their view on society and digital communications, enabling new ideas. Many great start-ups will be born and grow in the wake of COVID-19.
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