"… be afraid to fail to try“, was the motto of the MassChallenge Switzerland 2017. GEA took up the challenge with Milkbuddy - a "mobile dairy". This promising idea, developed by four young GEA talents, blossomed into a real business case in Lausanne.

As an active founding member of MassChallenge Switzerland, GEA has been supporting start-ups and young entrepreneurs with a great potential for the future since mid-2016. In the spring of 2017, GEA once again took on a sponsorship role for the competition and also, as a corporate partner, sent its own team to take part in the running.

MilkBuddy – the dairy industry's best friend

Peter Peters, Bünyamin Akay and Jannik Desel are currently studying Product Engineering and Development at GEA. Along with GEA development engineer Alexander Schwenker, they are the brains behind the idea. Together, the four junior employees at the Oelde and Bönen branches of GEA developed the mobile dairy MilkBuddy.

The MilkBuddy is based on the following principle: collecting, processing and transporting raw milk directly from the point of production. This allows farmers to achieve better raw milk quality standards and produce high-quality dairy products.

During development, we paid special attention to ensuring that our product was easy to use and that we could guarantee safe processing and sustainable use of resources," Peter Peters reports. 

He emphasises the unique nature of this business idea: "Our mobile engineering solution is based for the most part on existing GEA components. It shortens the supply chain between the producer and the processor. We think that our product could bring positive changes in places where raw milk quality still poses a major problem - in developing and newly industrialising countries. According to our research, this kind of product is not yet available there."

Promoting the idea as a team

A total of 15 young GEA engineers and students had already developed ideas for the competition as part of the "GEA Young Professionals Programme" as early as spring 2017. Dr Armin Tietjen, head of the GEA product development department, chose one of these ideas, the mobile dairy, to take part in the MassChallenge. 

This meant that the four entrepreneurs had already surmounted the first hurdle and were ready to face new challenges: They relocated to Lausanne, Switzerland, for four months, and shared living and working space in order to transform the as yet untested product idea into a business model within a short period of time and develop it in a truly entrepreneurial environment.

From July to October, a total of 75 start-ups in various sectors competed for the favour of nearly 200 mentors, investors and sponsors in entrepreneurship workshops, boot camps and numerous presentations. It was a great time! We learned an incredible amount and we are very proud that we were able to represent GEA in the MassChallange," said Bünyamin Akay.

GEA spin-off impresses high-calibre mentors

Support from the highest echelons: Jürg Oleas, GEA CEO (2nd from the right) paid a visit to the entrepreneurs in Lausanne from left to right: Jannik Desel, Bünyamin Akay, Jürg Oleas, Peter Peters (GEA)
Support from the highest echelons: Jürg Oleas, GEA CEO (2nd from the right) paid a visit to the entrepreneurs in Lausanne from left to right: Jannik Desel, Bünyamin Akay, Jürg Oleas, Peter Peters (GEA)

Participants were given a number of opportunities to present their work and win over mentors with their ideas to gain access to their networks and know-how. The GEA Corporate Team was able to attract three mentors with their mobile dairy. The MilkBuddy thereby gained the support of the food industry, provided by Stefan Dobrev, Nestlé, Peter C. Boehni, Bühler, and Bänz Ledin, start-up entrepreneur. The GEA executive board were also highly impressed. Jürg Oleas, CEO of GEA, and Steffen Bersch, also a member of the GEA executive board, paid a visit to the entrepreneurs in Lausanne.

The mobile milk collection and processing unit was continuously developed over the course of the mentor programme: A first prototype was constructed and two of the GEA entrepreneurs travelled to India for a field study, where they interviewed and presented their prototype to potential customers - dairies and farmers - on location. For in India alone, over two thirds of the entire amount of milk go bad because farmers are unable to maintain the cooling chains. Production at a single location, processing and selling milk straight away are the ideal solution for structurally weak regions. The solution facilitates improved access to products, establishes a standard of quality and can thereby significantly reduce food loss. The entrepreneurs also defined the demand and potential for implementation in additional regions. In order to engage with the African market, Bünyamin Akay travelled to liaise with the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).

Ranked in the top third

As a sponsor, our GEA team took part in the MassChallenge Switzerland outside of the scope of the competition.  However, the jury rated the GEA spin-off the same as all the other participants. We were ranked 16th out of 75 start-ups - a great achievement!

What happens next?

The MassChallenge offered the young engineers the ideal environment to turn their idea into a business model, but also to develop themselves. GEA gives young talents the opportunity to try things out and test their limits. That is why GEA will continue to support young start-ups in 2018. Both young entrepreneurs and GEA profit from this in equal measure, as our partnership with MassChallenge strengthens the approach to innovation and opens up communications with other companies. 

We can apply these new impulses to the benefit of our customers in Switzerland and the rest of the world," GEA CEO Jürg Oleas emphasises.

GEA as a strong partner of MassChallenge Switzerland

"In our understanding of innovation, external start-up programmes provide a beneficial environment for accelerating the development and maturation of business ideas at an early stage," stated Wolfgang Deis, head of the department for innovation management at GEA. 

GEA also contributes to the success of MassChallenge and places managers from within the Group at the entrepreneurs’ disposal, as partners with specialist knowledge in technology and manufacturing. GEA CEO Jürg Oleas was a member of the final jury panel at MassChallenge Switzerland 2017, as a representative of the German machine and plant construction industry. Industry experts Erich Nitzsche, Markus Tielmann, Thomas Mader and Wolfgang Deis were on the jury during the semi-finals. In 2017, Kerstin Altenseuer, head of service development, and Jan Kröger, who manages GEA's operations in Austria and Switzerland, offered their services as mentors to start-up enterprises. Their protégés included e.g. Membrasenz, a German start-up that developed novel membranes for the production of hydrogen - and was one of the gold finalists at the Swiss MassChallenge in 2017.