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Berlin to go, english edition, 03/2017

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STARTUP THE 9 2 FUTURE

STARTUP THE 9 2 FUTURE 75 IS GREEN Text: Eva Scharmann Photo: Fräulein Fotograf Founder with a green vision: Sonja Jost and her startup DexLeChem show how sustainable chemistry is done It’s rare to see women in top positions at large chemical corporations. But women founders are catching up: companies founded by women make up 40% of startups in the field of chemistry. The Berlin economy also profits from innovative and inspiring founders like Sonja Jost. As an engineer and managing director of DexLe- Chem, she is successfully modernizing her industry using green chemistry. 34

Sonja Jost doesn’t need role models; she “just does it.” She is an engineer and founder of DexLe- Chem, a successful chemical startup, in Berlin. Jost has won several awards for her work as an inventor and now functions as an ambassador of green chemistry far beyond Germany’s borders. She also networks startups with business ideas in the realm of sustainability. “All of this developed gradually over time,” says Jost. Her motto: If you’re really convinced about something, you have to make something out of it. The “something” in her case is a catalysis process she invented that makes it possible to use water – rather than petroleum-based substances – in the production of fine chemicals for the manufacturing of drugs and other complex molecules. Jost describes the advantages in the following way: “My invention saves finite resources such as precious metals and mineral oil and makes production more affordable.” Roughly 90% of technical processes in the chemical industry are based on catalytic reactions; for example, catalysts initiate and accelerate chemical reactions. Jost didn’t found DexLeChem overnight. After completing her engineering degree at Technische Universität Berlin (TU), she spent five years researching in the field of catalysis with the help of several stipends. After that, she headed up a third-party-funded project at the TU on “Katalysator Re-Using.” Inspired by the “high degree of scientific excellence in the field of chemistry in Berlin and its strong startup scene,” Jost went on to found DexLeChem GmbH in early 2013 together with four co-stakeholders. “I had noticed how innovative scientists were in the lab when it came to realizing green chemistry, but too little of that made it to market, which continues to be the case,” says Jost. It became clear to her that she would have to become active herself if she didn’t want her invention to end up collecting dust on a shelf. The start of her new company was facilitated by the proximity to the TU and a founders program for scientists: Jost and her associates from the fields of theoretical physics, catalysis and process engineering were able to rent space at the TU. The company has now grown to twelve employees and moved to the CoLaborator operated by Bayer in Berlin-Wedding. Startups active in the biosciences can rent space at Bayer’s incubator for several years and use lab and office facilities. Since the beginning of the year, DexLeChem has been able to finance its operations entirely from its own turnover. The company is now eager to grow further in the future: “We want to start with large-scale chemical production next year,” says Jost. Investors have already been found. And because she is convinced that green chemistry will play a key role on the path to a sustainable future, Jost also networks with other young chemical companies “who think the same way we do.” As she notes, many of these companies were also founded by women. Their enthusiastic commitment to the booming chemical industry in Berlin is producing results: “The Berlin Senate recently made available €7 million for a chemicals founder’s center at the TU,” she reports with pride. »My invention saves on precious metals and oil.« As a networker and ambassador of green chemistry, Jost herself has become a role model for others: she was recently named “one of 25 women changing the world” by Edition F, Handelsblatt and Zeit Online. “The prize is a good way to make the outstanding achievements of women in R&D more visible in the public mind,” she argues. Above all, however, she sees the prize as an acknowledgment of the work of the entire DexLeChem team. She also sees it as motivation for the future. Indeed, Jost has many more plans and ideas in store. She sees her lifelong commitment to sustainability also as an opportunity to “give back to a city I owe a great deal to.” If she gets her way, the sub-heading of her company –“Berlin Engineering” – will establish itself as a brand across the globe, and it will be based on sustainable chemistry that focuses on recycling, closed product cycles and improved technology exchange. 35

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