Dr. Holger Bengs is the founder of BCNP, a consulting company based in Frankfurt, Germany, and of the annual European Chemistry Partnering (ECP) event, which took place in February in Frankfurt for the fourth time. The ECP is designed as a meeting platform for small and medium enterprises in the chemical industry to build new partnerships. Participants have appreciated its creative atmosphere, the nice working collaborations it enabled, the immense business opportunities for start-ups and investors alike, the networking opportunities, and the innovative character of the event as a whole.
Its success is owed to the way people set up and perform their meetings at the event. Instead of individually making appointments at booths or coffee tables, every participant gets access to any other participant via a registration system and can ask for a one-to-one meeting. If both parties agree, this system automatically assigns a time and a table for a 20-minute talk. Besides the talks, companies have the opportunity to present themselves by giving six-minutes speeches, the pitches. This special ECP format results in an intense chatting and information exchange among partners who, in other settings, would probably not have found each other.
At the event, Holger Bengs talked to Dr. Roswitha Harrer for ChemistryViews about his idea of partnering as an innovation motor, why chemistry students urgently need to learn more about the economy, and that the ECP also stimulates personal fitness.
What is so special about the ECP?
The pitching and partnering format. In the pitches, you have only six minutes where you can present your technology—the big companies have 15 minutes because they’re bigger, but even the big companies introduce themselves. But the core of the partnering are the 20-minute one-on-ones, as we call them, for which people can make appointments in advance.
The second important aspect is the fun we have. People have told me they are excited about the friendly atmosphere and their excitement to make contacts, which is rather atypical for the chemical industry. My philosophy is—and I think we‘ve reached the point already—to build up an innovative chemical community where you make business friendships.
How did you get the idea to create a partnering event?
It’s interesting that you’re asking this question. One of my network partners—we’ve known each other for almost 30 years—said: “Holger, I’m really impressed with what you did, but you talked about it already 20 years ago.” Which means, the idea was always there. There was no blueprint for it, like another congress or event I attended.
How did you make your idea materialize?
We had 10,000 euros supporting money from the sponsor, and I said, OK, it’s enough for me to minimize my risk. I was so convinced that this idea will fly high that I just started it. We had a preparation time of six weeks, and then we had three months for marketing, and then the first ECP took place.
If you ask too many people, it will never run. For the first ECP, we just put some tables in the rooms and provided the possibility to give presentations. Now we have about 600 participants from 27 countries.
Who are the participants today?
It’s a broad international mixture of interested parties. There are CEOs from start-ups and established companies such as Heraeus, Sanofi, or Clariant, but we also have the high C levels of the big companies here. Then we have business developers, innovation managers, project managers, corporate venture capitalists, investors from private funds and networks to invest in start-ups, as well as students.
What’s new this year?
The keynote speaker and the keynote lecture. This year we were very honored that Fernando J. Gómez, Head of Chemistry and Advanced Materials at the World Economic Forum, gave us a broad perspective of how chemical innovation may help to meet the United Nations sustainability goals. We also had many workshops and, of course, the first ECP job exchange, a platform where graduates can meet CEOs from companies in person.
You studied chemistry and began your career in the chemical industry. Why did you leave this safe industrial job to take the risk of running your own business?
I wanted to work in the industry in the first place because I was convinced that science and technology are always coupled with business. I’m not the guy for an academic career. But when I was in the job, I found that I was very open-minded and did not fit into those industrial structures present in the nineties. So, I decided to start my own consultancy business and left the industry after seven years.
I like the freedom. I like the creative power you get, and the decision-making abilities. Of course, you also take the risk, and as an entrepreneur, you sometimes have sleepless nights regarding your sales, your turnover, your customers. But nevertheless, I like this very much.
Is founding easier today?
From a certain point of view, yes. We now have all these mechanisms where people can learn how to behave in the market, evaluate it, write a business plan, and what they need to do so, in addition to your technical skills. From that standpoint, it is easier now. On the other side, it’s still difficult to get money in the seed phase, and afterward, for the growing phase.
What is more important for founders, creativity or economic thinking?
That’s a difficult question. I would value both on the same level. Every chemist is a creative person. But regarding economic thinking, there is a certain gap when you come from university. I observed that people coming from university with their doctoral degrees, for example, do not know the top 100 companies in chemistry. Economic education is very important.
What advice would you give graduates who want to start a career as a chemist outside academia?
Many bits of advice. Be open-minded. Try to develop some skills that are “besides the lab”. Go to talks, meet business representatives. The GDCh (German Chemical Society), the membership of which I strongly advise, allows students to meet experienced people from industry by organizing round tables. These round tables are a job-creating machine because you can get first-hand information about free positions. Two-thirds of open positions in industry do not end up in an official job posting.
What is your vision, for the ECP?
The ECP will grow. Even if there is currently a slight decrease because of the pandemic, it will increase in the long term, because we need innovation. You won’t get innovation when you’re stuck in your lab. You have to go out, meet people, and find partners. Partnering is a driver of innovation because people develop new ideas when talking to each other. I’m quite sure that even more will realize how important that is.
… and beyond?
I am convinced that the chemical industry will be very different, let’s say, 30 years from now. Take, for example, the enzyme companies, many of which are here at the ECP. They revolutionize chemical processes step-by-step because enzymes can do materials production at ambient temperature. This makes the vision of chemical production without chimneys ever more realistic. Another major point is the renewable carbon concept, which can be realized by CO2 capturing and biomass conversion. Innovation, particularly in these areas, will lead to a true circular economy as defined in the sustainable development goals by the UN.
What do you do when you relax?
I have been very generous over the last three years. I have donated 30 kilograms of my weight to the universe. On the first ECP, I was really fat. And now, I’m running marathons. Running has become my passion. I also go to the fitness studio to build up more muscles; it’s a part of my running success, and altogether it’s the basis for the success of ECP.
Congratulations! And thank you for this interview.
Holger Bengs studied chemistry at Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany, and completed his Ph.D. at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, in 1993. After working as a project manager at Hoechst AG, Frankfurt, in the areas of drug delivery systems, biodegradable polymers, and biocatalysis, he served as managing director of GoingPublic Media AG, Frankfurt. Since 2002, he is the founder and managing partner of BCNP Consultants GmbH, Frankfurt.
Holger Bengs is the initiator of the regular table of Vereinigung Chemie und Wirtschaft (VCW) of the German Chemical Society (GDCh), and initiator of the annual European Chemistry Partnering (ECP) event.
- BCNP Consultants GmbH, Frankfurt, Germany
- European Chemistry Partnering (ECP), Frankfurt, Germany
- ONLINE Event: 3rd ECP Summer Summit of the European Chemistry Partnering
September 17–18, 2020
Registration at: www.ecp-summer-summit.com