Katrine Maarlev, forretningsudvikler DTU. Foto Mikal Schlosser.

Inventors need confronting with the market early on

Tuesday 26 Feb 19


Katrine Kamph Slott Maarlev
Business Developer
+45 60 15 58 73

Three tips for inventors

Katrine Maarlev is a business developer at DTU Tech Transfer, and holds an MSc in Pharmaceutical Design and Engineering from DTU. In addition, she has an MSc in Economics and Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School in business development and entrepreneurship in the biotech industry. Katrine was previously CEO of Glycospot ApS, a biotech company where she was responsible for setting up the company, licensing negotiations, raising capital, and day-to-day operations etc. 
Katrine Maarlev has three pieces of advice for researchers and students with an invention.

At an early stage of the process, contact someone with insight into the market and customer needs, even if you don’t yet have a finished product.
Test immature prototypes in iterative processes together with your future customers. This provides valuable input for what your product will have to be able to do.
Find out which problem you are solving for customers, what customers are doing at the moment, and how much it costs them. This gives a good indication of what customers are willing to pay.

DTU Bioengineering

In 2018, DTU published the report ‘Two decades of entrepreneurship at DTU’. The analysis was prepared by the IRIS Group consultancy, and showed that DTU has on average assisted in the birth of two new companies a week for the past 20 years. Almost a quarter of all DTU entrepreneurial companies are involved with life science products, for example medical technology, biotechnology, advanced foods—including medical technology and bioactive ingredients for foods and animal feed. DTU Bioengineering possesses very strong competences within biotechnology, food technology, and biomedicine, which all points towards Denmark enjoying a strong position within the industry.

DTU Bioengineering has just undergone an external research evaluation, which highlighted the department’s large collection of mushrooms as being completely unique, and which holds considerable potential as a source of new inventions. Thus, micro-organisms with beneficial effects for preventing diseases in humans, animals, and plants is an area which is expected to see significant advances in the near future.
Early contact with companies and market assessment decide whether start-ups are successful with their inventions.

“It’s a good idea—but is there is a market for it?” Hundreds of students and researchers at DTU ask themselves this question every year. At DTU Bioengineering, business developer Katrine Maarlev from DTU Tech Transfer actively encourages researchers and students to make a point of addressing the question, because doing so is crucial for whether or not they successfully develop their invention into a product that meets market demands.

“The potential for commercializing an invention often stems from a previous collaboration between researchers and companies, or because it addresses a specific problem which businesses are facing. Therefore, one of the first things we do in our dialogue with researchers is to investigate the possibility of realizing their project in cooperation with an existing company,” says Katrine Maarlev.

Funding is a driver

"Funding is an incredibly important driver for all research and innovation. By becoming involved at an early stage and helping start-ups we can create flow in financing the expenses, and thus ensure research progress and clarify whether the project will stay the commercial course"
Katrine Maarlev, business developer.

Researchers and students at DTU Bioengineering are behind about ten inventions a year; here, Katrine Maarlev wants to help DTU employees proceed from idea to patenting and licensing and then to business development and financing. One of the most recent projects relates to the start-up Chromologics, which develops new types of natural food pigments. Chromologics has been good at attracting funding from various foundations, and in the right sequence.

“Funding is an incredibly important driver for all research and innovation. By becoming involved at an early stage and helping start-ups like Chromologics apply for funding from various foundations in the right order, we can create flow in financing the expenses, and thus ensure research progress and clarify whether the project will stay the commercial course,” says Katrine Maarlev.

“This requires a strong team and hard work, so every new financing initiative leads to progress which can be used to attract the next investment. Here, Chromologics has fully exploited the possibilities by first obtaining funding from DTU’s own funds—a so-called DTU PoC Grant—and then from the Novo Nordisk Foundation via an Exploratory Pre-seed Grant, and most recently an InnoBooster grant from Innovation Fund Denmark,” explains Katrine Maarlev.

Collaboration with companies

In addition to Chromologics, in recent years DTU Bioengineering has acted as a base for biotech start-ups such as Mosspiration Biotech, which produces fragrances for the perfume industry, VenomAid Diagnostics, which develops antidotes for snake bites, and Bactolife, which is battling antimicrobial resistance.

Katrine Maarlev highlights the fact that Denmark possesses strong competences within biotechnology, pharma, fermentation processes, proteins, and micro-organisms. In many cases, start-ups benefit from entering into partnership with a larger company, among other things because producing new substances needs to take place in large plants to produce the quantities required for the new biotechnological product to be profitable.

“We’re operating in a field where creating a start-up requires considerable investments to go to market with a product. Biotechnology is not an electronic gizmo you just produce. There is a long development horizon for these projects, and considerable optimization work. And if it relates to pharma and food, the authorities have strict documentation requirements. Producers have to document the purity of new products, and in many cases the products have to be tested on humans in clinical trials, which is very expensive,” says Katrine Maarlev.

DTU Tech Transfer is part of DTU’s ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship. The ecosystem also includes DTU Entrepreneurship, which equips engineers to understand the interplay between technology and the new business models, and DTU Skylab, which is an innovation hub for students and staff, with the offer of financing, innovation competitions, contact to companies, prototype workshops, labs, and events.