Koehler Innovative Solutions is absorbing fresh ideas through cooperations with young, aspiring companies. We spoke to Philipp Prechtl, head of the division, to find out how that works and why this sort of partnership benefits both sides.
Mr. Prechtl, when an established, tradition-rich paper manufacturer such as Koehler Paper wants to join forces with young, innovative companies, isn’t it a contradiction?
Philipp Prechtl – Most definitely not. Koehler is no stranger to the concept of excelling through product and process innovation. It is the foundation of our business. We are now extending this area from the outside, as it were, which will make it even stronger. Our approach is to seek partners with creative ideas, enter into a cooperation with them, and possibly to invest in them in the future if appropriate. We don’t undertake this at any cost or randomly – we are always highly focused on the benefits for our core business and the supply chain. We are not a financial investor.
new collaborations per year – Koehler Innovative Solutions’ target to promote innovative partnerships.
What role does the second pillar of the Koehler Group, Koehler Renewable Energy, play in this? It wants to generate more energy from renewable sources than is required for Koehler’s paper production operations by 2030.
Prechtl – An important role. We are looking for interesting partners in this area too. That could take the form of a young company working in the field of energy storage or hydrogen that wants to get a brilliant idea out into the world, for example. Or a company that would support the circular thinking in our biomass power plants. In fact the range of possibilities is huge. But fundamentally, sustainability and thinking in generations is simply part of our DNA.
You are an advocate of ‘venture clienting,’ which is based on partnerships, rather than on cash injections like with traditional venture capital. Can you explain this in a bit more detail using an example?
Prechtl – In the case of a start-up, we could be their first client and further develop their existing products together. nucao in Leipzig would be an example of that. They have a new approach to the chocolate market and focus entirely on sustainable products. It is a very innovative company and we have a vibrant relationship with them. Since the end of 2022, nucao has been packaging its first product line in primary packaging made from our paper – and is the first chocolate maker on the market to do so.
A special packaging paper from the house of Koehler Paper.
Prechtl – Exactly. Our Koehler NexPlus® Advanced has excellent oxygen, mineral oil, and grease barrier properties, which are essential for direct contact with chocolate and nuts. So nucao is not only meeting the central consumer demand for more sustainability, its packaging is also leading the way in the chocolate market – which is a real win-win situation for us. Our FlexTech division initiated the collaboration.
How do you find out about these promising newcomers then? Do you have talent scouts like they do in soccer?
Prechtl – hat is actually exactly what it’s like at our company. The younger a start-up is, the harder they are to find. First we have to decide on our focus. To stick with your analogy, we look for talent in the defense, midfield, or attack, and decide what characteristics they should have. We successfully work with start-up network UnternehmerTUM at the Technical University of Munich, which is the largest organization of its kind in Europe. We get a lot of inspiration from them. An essential part of the development phase is to expand our network and publicize ourselves as a potential partner for start-ups.
Partnership with Perspective
The Koehler Group has been working closely with startups for many years now. All activities in this field are bundled under Koehler Innovative Solutions. Philipp Prechtl, 45, has been managing director of the unit since November 1, 2022, leading the development of venture and start-up cooperations.
What are the key fields for Koehler Paper as a paper manufacturer?
Prechtl – Mainly areas like sustainability in all of its facets, for example energy storage or CO2 reduction. We currently have some exciting contacts with climate tech start-ups. They work on technologies to curb climate change. Artificial intelligence is also a highly relevant field for us. There is a huge amount going on in this area at the moment that is very exciting to follow. In this respect, one thing is very important to me: When it comes to AI, for us it’s about making work easier, not about replacing jobs, which is the way AI is often portrayed at the moment – as some sort of global horror story. If we bring more of this ‘outside intelligence’ into our inner workings, it could make life easier for our employees. They will then have more time for the important things. Fundamentally, our emerging collaborations with start-ups are also development processes. It’s all about developing an idea together. Of course, the chemistry between all parties involved must be right too. And at some point, as is always the case in business life, we have to scrutinize things with a critical eye and ask ourselves: How has this benefited us?
Is that what makes a company with tradition – recognizing ideas and trends that will stand the test of time?
Prechtl – Sustainability is the best example of this. Family businesses already think completely differently on this point. They are much more focused on those sorts of values and think in terms of generations. We set up Koehler Renewable Energy back in 2012, which is why we’re so far on with it today. That’s what shapes the Koehler Group. There are a lot of companies that have sustainability on their agenda, but more because they have to. We are doing it because we are strongly committed to this issue and because we firmly believe that it will take us forward in many different ways, as a company, in society, and in the environment.
„In the case of a start-up, we could be their first client and their development partner at the same time.“
Corporate Director of Koehler Innovative Solutions
Does a family company with a sustainable corporate strategy have advantages on the labor market?
Prechtl – I can only position myself as an attractive employer in the long term if I embody values that are relevant to society. If I had no interest in sustainability, how could I justify it to younger generations? Or if you look at young consumers, if something isn’t produced sustainably, no-one will buy it. We have a duty to leave something meaningful behind.
The impetus that comes from collaborating with start-ups – is that something that has a ripple effect in your own corporate culture?
Prechtl – Yes, I think so. A company of our size with many different departments works in a completely different way on one level. Start-ups are all about developing a product quickly. ‘Fail fast and cheap,’ so the saying goes. But being solution-oriented and thinking outside the box is an inspiring approach for us too. It rejuvenates our business. After all, thinking about the world differently is what characterizes youth. That’s how innovation comes about.