390 candidates applied for the Baden-Württemberg state prize for young companies this year. Ten of them were nominated for the award, which is presented biennially by the state and L-Bank, and four will be honored as state award winners at a ceremony on November 19, 2014 by Minister President Winfried Kretschmann and the Chairman of the Board of L-Bank, Dr. Axel Nawrath, at the New Palace in Stuttgart. A total of 100,000 euros in cash prizes await the three first-place winners and the winner of the additional prize for small businesses.
“We were sure the start-up idea would work”.
When experience meets innovation, something good usually results. “Even when that experience comes from your own father,” laughs 34-year-old Meiko Panitzsch from Sindelfingen. The “good” thing are electronic care systems that dry and hygienically clean hearing aids virtually overnight. Founded in 2010, the company flow-med GmbH now sells various models worldwide to customers in the hearing care industry, right up to mobile boxes that can be operated via USB connection on a laptop or in a car.
Before founding flow-med together, son Meiko Panitzsch worked in 3D design for 10 years and then as a business consultant for a CAD software. “I traveled a lot to serve aerospace clients,” he says. It was an exciting time, he says, but in the end he felt his freedoms were restricted as an employee. Frank Panitzsch – with 62 years the senior – has developed hearing systems as a designer already in GDR times and founded afterwards a company in Thuringia with . “After moving to Baden-Württemberg, I wanted to enjoy early retirement and rock the grandkids,” he recalls, “but then everything changed, Meiko reactivated me – and I still love doing it!”
When the company was founded, the son’s know-how in 3D design and the father’s many years of experience in the acoustics industry complemented each other perfectly. Frank Panitzsch knows from practical experience: “Everyone wants to hear well, but the care is a nuisance and also difficult for 80-year-olds”. Moisture and earwax damage the hearing instruments and can cause infections in the wearer. Therefore, the care products should work efficiently and automatically as well as be easy to operate – requirements which, from a technical point of view, mean maximum complexity. Hearing care professionals and customers alike were also attaching increasing importance to beautiful design in all aspects of hearing. The business idea was born: development, design and distribution of electronic care products for hearing systems. The father was responsible for the technology: Processor-controlled, the hearing systems are gently dried in a box by convection with warm air. By means of ultraviolet light (UV-C), bacteria and germs are effectively eliminated – all this with minimal energy expenditure. The son concentrated on design: he used 3D models to test acceptance among potential buyers. In support of sales, created marketing and B2C collateral, video clips and flyers for clients. “We went completely upfront with two products ,” he recalls. “But we were very confident that our start-up idea would work.”
After initial offers to major brand companies, disillusionment followed: the newcomer did not fit into the supplier portfolio. “The industry tends to be conservative,” explains Frank Panitzsch. The second attempt via medium-sized and smaller suppliers was successful, the products quickly established themselves on the market and production is now running at full speed. “We have our products made in China,” reports Meiko Panitzsch, “there’s no other way for cost reasons .” The failure rate is less than 0.4 percent. The two also make sure to select companies with social and qualitative standards as well as German management.
Both the young and the young-at-heart entrepreneur still see numerous development opportunities in their market segment. “Due to changing demographics, there will be an increasing demand for hearing instruments and therefore dry boxes, including abroad. And last but not least: Things like remote controls or keyboards are used by many people, but almost never disinfected. There is still a lot of potential here,” says Frank Panitzsch. His son Meiko agrees, “We didn’t raise this to retire in three years. We still have a lot to do.”