Stuttgart-based start-up Visioverdis wants to improve the urban environment with innovative façade gardens, because more plants mean a cleaner and healthier atmosphere in rapidly growing cities. With the support of the Enterprise Europe Network, not only can this idea work in Germany, but in the cities of the Middle East and Asia too, thereby making a significant contribution to climate protection.
But how can you grow plants in space? Biologist Alina Schick began tackling this question during her studies. Her enthusiasm for gravitational biology and gravitational perception of plants led her to completely rethink vertical gardens. The result: her company Visioverdis, founded in 2017. The GraviPlant, the start-up's first product, allows trees to grow horizontally through a permanently rotating planter unit. They can be attached to house walls, among other locations, and, in large cities where there is limited green space, reduce smog development and air pollution.
"The creation of greener habitats incorporating botanical methods will play an even bigger role in the future", explains Sandra Weingart, foreign trade consultant at Handwerk International Baden-Württemberg and member of the Enterprise Europe Network, the world’s largest support network for small and medium-sized enterprises. She has been at the company's side since the beginning. "Visioverdis is at the cutting edge with its innovations and makes a positive and significant contribution to climate protection."
Alina Schick and her team not only carry out research and development, but they also offer tailored and comprehensive advice on plants and technology: "We are constantly inspired by this line-up", says Schick. "We are also working with sales and service partners to gradually expand our range of green façade systems."
The optimal market: the mega-cities of the world
As a pioneer in the field of vertical gardens, thanks to the GraviPlant, Visioverdis has developed a concept that solves two of the challenges that large cities face with one product: lack of space and air pollution. Their target markets therefore extend far beyond Germany: "We are concentrating on the international market with fast-growing large and mega-cities", says Schick. "However, this internationalisation represents a major challenge."
This is a challenge that the start-up has successfully overcome with the support of the Enterprise Europe Network Baden-Württemberg.
"We applied to the Enterprise Europe Network primarily to expand our international network. We received excellent advice and support from the employees of Handwerk International", explains Schick. In December 2017, Visioverdis was included in the Enterprise Europe Network's Scaleup project and since then the team has been comprehensively supervised by project manager Sandra Weingart. The Scaleup project offers young companies intensive coaching and mentoring during the growth phase: "As a participant, Visioverdis received consultancy services from us regarding market development in the EU, the Middle East and Asia", explains Weingart. "Participation in networking events, trade fairs and delegation trips played a major role in this process."
New opportunities through international partners
For the first market investigation, initiated and accompanied by the Enterprise Europe Network, Alina Schick flew to Egypt. In 2018, she held collaboration talks with AHK Singapore at Global Connect, the forum for export and internationalisation: "We discovered that there's a lot of interest in Singapore, but that they have no suppliers of vertical gardens at all."
This was followed by the company's presentation at Build Eco Xpo Asia and further delegation visits to the United Arab Emirates and Cairo. This not only expanded the Stuttgart start-up's network, but also raised its profile. Their relationship with the Enterprise Europe Network also opened up new financing opportunities for the team: "On the one hand, it's a great opportunity to gain contact with other companies and open up new markets. Also, when it comes to applying for EU funding, which is often a challenge for many start-ups – both in terms of time and staffing – the support provided by the Enterprise Europe Network consultants was a great help to us", explains Schick. "The consultants also repeatedly point us to tenders and events." Last year Visioverdis applied for the Start-up Award from the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau [Credit Institute for Reconstruction] (KfW) and was awarded the state prize for Baden-Württemberg.
Enterprise Europe Network consultant Sandra Weingart is confident about the collaboration and will continue to support the company through strategic measures and consultations: "The focus is on markets in the Arab and Asian regions. Here, research partnerships and pilot projects should eventually enable Visioverdis to reduce their production costs in the long term through a strong sales network. For 2020, we envisage successful establishment in the Egyptian market, which we actively support."
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