New Horizons - Nov 10, 2021

Changing the world, one disruptive innovation at a time.

Since 2019, Germany has had a Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND). An authority that wants to be “a home for people with radical ideas.” How does it work? In an ideal world, it means great ideas being turned into huge advances with digitalisation, of course, playing a crucial role. It can be of no coincidence then, that there are certain crossovers with Bechtle projects.

A disruptive innovation changes the world and the lives of every single person in it so dramatically that we often can’t imagine being without it. “Smartphones, the internet, cars, and so on,” says founding director Rafael Laguna de la Vera. These are the kind of leagues SPRIND wants to play in, and so everyone things big. As a result, the first of some planned Challenges was announced. The participants’ mission? A quantum leap for new antiviral agents. Selected teams are supported both financially and through a Challenge coach. Over the course of the three-year competition, a jury sifts through and nominates finalists who are asked to prove their innovation potential with a proof of concept. The lucky winners will then be funded by SPRIND.

Alzheimer’s, Wind Energy, Microplastics.

Aside from their Challenges, the agency also supports a raft of other exciting projects, one of which—just like the aforementioned Challenge—is aimed at finding a medical breakthrough to treat Alzheimer’s. The team, headed by biophysicist and chemist Dieter Willbold, has developed a magical ingredient—PRI-002. Known as an All-D peptide, it breaks neurotoxic protein compounds down into harmless monomer building blocks. The plan is to attack Alzheimer’s basic structures. The ingredient can be produced at reasonable cost and easily administered orally and has already successfully completed Phase I clinical trials on healthy subjects and is currently being developed further for Phase II testing on Alzheimer’s patients.

Two projects funded by SPRIND have ecology at their heart. The innovator behind one of them is 90-year old mechanical engineer Horst Bendix from Leipzig. He has developed a wind turbine that can harness more wind at an altitude of 250 metres—efficiency factor ten—than standard height models. The secret is placing the generator lower down making the rotor hub much lighter.  Overall, the weight of the tower is halved and the costs of investing in a wind turbine slashed by 40 per cent. Using the agency’s funding, Horst’s previous model can be turned into a prototype on a scale of 1:1. The SPRIND website has a wonderful film about the passionate inventor  that cannot be missed.

These aren’t small issues we are talking about. Take microplastics, for example.  Roland Damann is taking on the challenge. Back in the 1990s, he and his engineering firm emerged as specialists in wastewater treatment by means of microflotation. The method—hydrophobic particles are bound to gas bubbles and transported to the surface on the bubbles as they rise—is used today in water treatments plants around the globe. The disruptive innovation here is to leverage the same principle to clean up our lakes, rivers and oceans. It won’t be long before a buoyant prototype is launched to start removing microplastics.

Raphael Laguna de la Vera,
Founding Director,


Open digital doors.

Digital sovereignty, i.e. greater independence from dominating IT providers is an important topic. Against this backdrop came the development of the European GAIA-X Cloud—a federal infrastructure available to businesses and public institutions transparently providing resources and ensuring data sovereignty and associated data protection and security standards. To run GAIA-X, the Sovereign Cloud Stack (SCS) was developed as an open source software with open source code that is to be developed further as part of a collaborative effort. Under the leadership of Kurt Garloff, Christian Berendt, Peter Ganten, Dirk Loßack und Oliver Mauss and other open source specialists form the SCS team. The project was SPRIND’s first success and is now being funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

GAIA-X is one step on the path to a paradigm shift to bolster autonomy on a European level and Bechtle is also playing its part, including in Project POSSIBLE that was selected in the GAIA-X funding competition as a flagship project. A Bechtle consortium is now working on optimising communication between state, commercial and private users, for which necessary data spaces, interfaces and infrastructures are being developed.

The Project POSSIBLE consortium sees Bechtle take the reins with the August-Wilhelm Scheer Institute, Dataport, the Fraunhofer Institute FOKUS, imc information multimedia communication, 1&1 IONOS and Univention.

But back to SPRIND... It’s true. Things can get a bit nerdy. At least, the idea of analogue computers being a disruptive innovation can at first seem so. You’d think quantum computers had already covered that, but Bernd Ulmann has other ideas. After all, digital is binary and, therefore, not very complex. Processes are carried out sequentially, i.e. One after the other. whereas analogue computers can work on processes in parallel in much the same way as our brains. They are, therefore, more human and consume much less energy than digital devices. Now all Bernd Ulmann has to do is install the analogue computer on a tiny chip—that has been digitally programmed. It may be nerdy, but it could be the next big thing in high performance computing.

A similar yet totally different project involves SpiNNaker2. The super chip should be far more powerful, use a fraction of the energy, and simulate neurons in the brain. (SpiNNaker2 forms part of the Human Brain Project.) Christian Mayr is the driving force behind the project and professor at the Technische Universität Dresden. He envisions the super chips being used in robotics, autonomous vehicles and every where humans and machines interact. After all, these systems need to be able to react quickly to keep up with us.

Gixel, a company based in Karlsruhe, is also hoping to change the world—at least the world of collaboration. Company founders, Miro Taphanel, Felix Nienstädt and Ding Luo are promising to take remote communication to a whole new level with Holodeck. The smartglasses have been designed in-house, have a particularly large field of vision and are much more lightweight than other models. The display is not projected onto the glasses themselves, but into the eye from a ceiling monitor. In this way, meeting participants should be in contact with each other in a way that feels “totally real”. The human body is captured in life-size and without being tied to a desk or a notebook camera, the wearer can roam freely and communicate just like in real life non-verbally via facial expressions and gestures.

Whatever the project, it’s a thumbs up for the new Leipzig-based agency and fingers crossed, firstly that the innovations funded by them make great leaps as hoped, and secondly that female-led projects also get off the ground, as so far, only eight per cent of funding requests have come from female teams.

Good innovations are always a non-zero sum game. That means all stakeholders benefit.

Rafael Laguna de la Vera, Founding Director, SPRIND


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This post was published on Nov 10, 2021.