Best practice MedtecLIVE 2024

Start-up series: To the top of the world market with bioplastics?

Sustainability in medical technology is more important than ever. Biovox from Darmstadt has caught the right moment. The start-up is the first supplier of recyclable bioplastics approved for use in medical technology. We present Biovox in our series on young companies.

At the beginning, the plan was different: actually, the founding team wanted to develop plastic implants that degrade in the body and make many an operation to remove them superfluous. "But then we realised that, on the one hand, we would have extremely high capital requirements, among other things for the clinical studies on patients. On the other hand, we can create a huge positive impact for the environment, also in the hospital, with very similar bioplastics," COO Carmen Rommel recalls of the early days. Instead of implantable materials, they now turned to the development of plastic granulates made from renewable raw materials that medtech companies can use for the production of surgical instruments, endoscopes, packaging and other disposable products.

With the support of the TU Darmstadt, where they studied mechanical engineering, the members of the founding team 2020 successfully applied for the Hessen Ideen Stipendium and the Exist Stipendium, funding programmes of the state of Hesse and the federal government for graduates pursuing an innovative business idea. During this time, the team came together in its current composition: Carmen Rommel, Julian Lotz and Vinzenz Nienhaus, who joined the team as the third in the bunch in May 2020. Since the end of 2021, Biovox has been financed with business angels and venture capital, who have experience in terms of company formation and development, among other things.

Sugar cane as the basis

Based on many discussions with market participants from clinics and medtech manufacturers, the final business model was formulated from the idea and brought to market maturity in less than three years. This also involved understanding the needs and the waste disposal system in the hospitals, where a large part of the plastic used - everything that had patient contact - is still incinerated as hazardous waste.

Today, Biovox can already offer its customers around ten different granulates, which differ in terms of important properties such as stiffness, heat resistance and surface hardness depending on the intended use. But they have one thing in common: they are made from bio-based raw materials, for example sugar cane, and thus save up to 85 percent CO2 equivalents. "You can think of plastic like a baking mix. There is the polymer as the main ingredient and additives and fillers to adjust the properties and make it easier to process. What these are and how much of them - we also do this formulation," Carmen Rommel explains the start-up's performance. It obtains its basic materials from suppliers in Europe and Asia, and production is carried out in Germany by a contracted company. Team from BIOVOX at a trade fair in FriedrichshafenJulian Lotz and Carmen Rommel present their solution at a fair.

For all products, compliance with ISO standards must also prove that they are suitable for use in the health sector. Among other things, it is only through elaborate test procedures that bioplastics become a material approved for use in medical technology. For this purpose, a medical technician was hired at Biovox. "Our quality management system also makes us unique. We are the only bioplastics compounder to have this certification," says Rommel happily.

Small stand, big names

MedtecLIVE with T4M in Stuttgart in 2022 was the first trade fair at which Biovox was represented with a small stand. "And it was really cool. Big names from the medical industry came to us and said we'd like to make our products more sustainable. But there is nothing else on the market that is sustainable and safe," Rommel recalls. At that time, the sustainability transformation of medical technology and the health sector as a whole had already gained momentum.

Sustainable and safe, that's what plastics from Darmstadt are. "We found a very good product market fit. The problem has been recognised, our solution fits it and the timing is also right," says the COO happily.

Currently, Biovox customers, including prominent names such as B. Braun in Melsungen, are primarily located in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, where there are particularly many medtech companies. Contracts with other customers are about to be signed, she says. In the future, the start-up wants to go global. That is why it has been decided to hire a Head of Sales who will build up a sales team - a function that was previously performed by the founders themselves. Where will this lead? "To the top of the world market," says Rommel confidently. "We want to be the brand for sustainable plastics in medical technology. Our plastics can also be used in pharmaceutical packaging and laboratory technology, and these markets are also just starting to pay more attention to sustainability, and we want to offer solutions here. That is ambitious. But you have to set ambitious goals, otherwise you won't get anywhere."

Closing the loop

The Biovox founders are particularly concerned that the recycling loop can be closed as soon as possible, i.e. that used plastic products are increasingly recycled. Either through mechanical recycling, in which the plastic waste is shredded and melted down, but which in many cases means that the raw materials are lost for reuse in medical technology. Or - even better for demanding applications - through chemical recycling, in which the polymer chains are broken down into their individual parts, impurities are removed and a very pure raw material is produced. However, this chemical recycling has not yet been implemented on an industrial scale.

Biovox is also actively involved in closing the loop: CEO Julian Lotz is one of the heads of the "Alliance for Sustainable Medical Technology", which was founded in 2023.

The cycle will never be perfect, so new material will always have to be supplied from outside - in many cases still on the basis of petroleum. That is why it would be particularly important to include the use of bio-based plastics by way of government regulation. That is one wish Carmen Rommel has for politics.

Year of foundation 2021
Head office location 64293 Darmstadt
Founders Dr.-Ing. Julian Lotz, Dr.-Ing. Vinzenz Nienhaus, Carmen Rommel
Number of employees 7
Website address