When Martin Jehart bought an old farmhouse in the Tyrolean mountain village Wenns in 2002, it was clear that the future family home needed renovation. But this turned out more difficult that one might think. Being ecologically aware, Martin not only wanted to use organic materials, but was also looking for a material that he could create rounded shapes with. He couldn’t find any.
So, Martin created his own render using wood chips, straw and other organic materials available to him. He put them into a chaff-cutting machine, mixed it with water and other substances to create a thick substance that could be sprayed on to inflatable inner forms, including free forms. To get to the final product, he had to compress and harden the material (watch videos to learn more about the process here and here). Organoid Technologies was born.
But let’s go a few years back.
Blow it up
Martin had always been good at building things. He grew up in Innsbruck, where he went to a high school for technical professions. “You could say, I have two right hands,” he comments on his talent. After graduation, he worked ten different jobs and attended a design college “to express my own creativity”.
His skillfulness earned him a job constructing “starting machines” for ski and bike races. “I equipped three Olympic Games with my machines. Back then I was self-employed,” he says. “It was a one-man show and not a very scalable business, so I constructed my last starting machine in 2003”.
Martin then founded AirGator, where he and his 18-member team specialised in constructing blow-up gates and other “obstacles” for Red Bull’s Air Races. This was when he realised that each and every shape could be blown up and that you could create free forms by spraying plaster and other materials onto those shapes. It was also during that time that he met his future co-founder Christoph Egger.
Working together with Red Bull allowed Martin to travel around the globe but he soon got tired of it and didn’t agree with the companies’ “useless” CO2 emissions. So he decided to settle down to co-found Organoid Technologies GmbH with Christoph in 2012.
Co-founder Christoph Egger Photo credit: Organoid TechnologiesFirst, they were operating as a general partnership (OG), trying to find their niche. They also worked on projects with Valentine Troi (read more about her here) “but she clearly is more high tech than us,” says Martin.
Having grown up in Tyrol, he has a strong bond to nature. “If you’re surrounded by nature like we are here, it gives you a totally different approach to doing things,” he says.
Traditional craftsmanship meets innovation
The duo seem to complement each other well. Christoph is “good at getting funding”, sohe takes care of applications and administrative issues, while Martin is the “handyman” in charge of developing the product and leading research and development. But they knew that they couldn’t start without help. “I think my talent is in connecting knowledge in an interdisciplinary way. But I’m not a specialist so I contact others for that,” Martin explains. So they got support from aws, CAST and innet, which helped with financing the startup, creating a business and establishing connections with investors. CAST in particular supported them during their complicated founding phase and worked with Martin and Christoph on their business plan.
The material used at Organoid is completely organic and considered “waste” or byproducts by others. It’s not uncommon for them to go in the woods to collect wood chips they need to produce their products with. Organoid also mixes in flower blossoms so the final product actually also has a pleasant smell. For example, they receive rosebuds for a “special price” from an Austrian company specialised in exporting organic herbs and spices.
Photo credit: Organoid Technologies
The method, which was internationally patented in June, is very versatile – think construction material, insulation, design, car parts – so Organoid Technologies has had major clients such as a well-known coffee brand, for whom the startup produced 240 “nutshells” a day. Their customers are mainly from the D-A-CH area, and they place importance on the ecological aspect. Production is not cheap; the basic form alone costs a few thousand euros, depending on the size of the project.
Award-winning sitting furniture IOYO Photo credit: Organoid TechnologiesExpansion as the next logical step
Currently, Martin and his team are working on three-dimensional acoustic panels with a relief surface, which are being tested for sound absorption at a school in Innsbruck. The team is also considering implementing their product for hotel spa relaxation rooms.
Although Martin and Christoph have won numerous awards for their designs, among them the 2013 Innovationspreis and the 2013 Home & Trend Award, and are constantly working on projects, they aren’t profitable yet. However, the team has recently closed a deal with FSP Ventures (read more about it this week on inventures.eu), which will allow them to expand research and development for another few years, without having to be profitable. (The amount of the investment remains undisclosed, though). Expansion to European and North American markets is planned for 2014.
Until a few months ago, the production site was right next to the farmhouse but the team of six recently moved to a bigger one in the village of Fließ, where they can combine both administration and production. Martin doesn’t see a need to move away from Tyrol. “Actually, I’m even more central here in Tyrol than in Vienna,” he says. “I’m in Munich in two hours, in Milan in four.”
Martin and his team are laid-back and that seems to be their secret to success. Or as he puts it, “I would never do anything that I don’t enjoy doing.”
Interview by Alena Schmuck.
In partnership with CAST Tyrol