GWA Hygiene and Dräger: From collaboration to investment

How does a company specialized in medical and safety technology with a more than 130-year history end up getting together with a six-year-old start-up? Common goals, collaboration on an equal footing and good partners are key aspects in this regard. That is at least according to Jens Altmann, President Business Unit Data Business at Dräger, and Tobias Gebhardt, CEO at GWA Hygiene. Dräger, a global corporation, recently invested in High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF) portfolio company GWA Hygiene. In this interview, Altmann and Gebhardt speak about their new-found cooperation, the challenge of hygiene in the day-to-day running of hospitals, and their collaboration with HTGF.

Mr Gebhardt, can you give us a brief insight into the work of your start-up GWA Hygiene?

Tobias Gebhardt: The issue of hygiene in hospitals has not yet been brought into the digital age in many places. Hygiene teams often spend half their time collecting and evaluating data by hand, despite not being trained statisticians. We are helping to change this situation by fitting sensors to hand sanitiser dispensers, thus creating smart hygiene dispensers. We can ascertain how often and regularly hygiene stations are being used by staff and how much sanitiser is being dispensed. We then aggregate all this data and assess where there is potential for improvement in terms of hand hygiene. This helps to ensure that everyone involved is keenly aware of the issue of hygiene.

Mr Altmann, Dräger is very active in the field of state-of-the-art hospital systems, such as connected medical technology and services, and is helping to drive forward digitalisation.

Jens Altmann: Anyone who has been in hospital has likely seen or come into contact with a Dräger system. In our business unit “Data Business”, we are focused on applying digital processes to our devices and the procedures in place in hospitals, always with the aim of improving treatment and clinical outcomes. We rely on the increased use of data-driven solutions and on collaboration with partners such as GWA Hygiene.

GWA Hygiene Draeger Interview
from left to right: Jens Altmann, President Business Unit Data Business at Dräger, and Tobias Gebhardt, CEO at GWA Hygiene

How did your companies find each other?

Tobias Gebhardt: I spoke to a hospital hygiene specialist about the high risk of infection among premature babies; hygiene plays a particularly important role at incubator stations for newborns. As a HTGF portfolio company, we were invited to the High-Tech Partnering Conference where we got talking to Dräger very specifically about this problem. A few weeks later, we had our first meeting with Dräger in Lübeck. This resulted in an initial project being established at the start of 2021; since then a number of additional issues have been targeted.

So HTGF played a pivotal role. What added benefits do you gain from your collaboration with High-Tech Gründerfonds?

Tobias Gebhardt: Above all, credibility. If we just blindly sent out cold emails to large corporates, then the likelihood of us being listened to would be greatly reduced.

Jens Altmann: HTGF’s network is a massive help. HTGF has an incredible deal funnel. That helps companies like ours to gain impetus and ideas. Some fantastic projects have been established, such as our investment in GWA Hygiene.

How did you come to hear about the start-up, Mr Altmann? You obviously didn’t know about the company from day one of the collaboration.

Jens Altmann: That’s right. But we started to hear about the capabilities of GWA Hygiene. Last year someone came up to me and said: “Take a look at this company – they’re a cool team.” Shortly afterwards I was in the car on the way to Stralsund to meet GWA Hygiene. We hit it off straight away.

Right from day one?

Yes, I spent almost the whole day there. We discussed a great deal and developed many project ideas together. We were very much on the same wavelength. And then I headed back to Lübeck with all these ideas in my head. From my car I called our mergers and acquisitions team and said that we absolutely had to do something with GWA Hygiene.

How did you reach a decision to invest in GWA Hygiene?

Jens Altmann: It is really important for us to expand our knowledge and technology platform in the long term and to gain fresh impetus. I was always involved in very in-depth discussions with GWA Hygiene – right from my very first meeting. We see great synergies; together, the two companies offer all the right ingredients to create something new. We want to trace and digitalise chains of infection, while also automating the process. These are the firm foundations of our collaboration.

And what was your experience of the process, Mr Gebhardt?

Tobias Gebhardt: I found it to be very open, very transparent. We never felt like we had to plead, ask for money or worry that everything will hopefully be ok. We collaborate very much on an equal footing. For us, Dräger’s investment is a huge step forward; ultimately it’s the first strategic investor we now have on board. But what makes it feel extremely good is that Dräger has an exceptionally good technological understanding in our field.

Beyond the technological fit, would you say that culture is another very important aspect?

Jens Altmann: It is, of course, ultimately people that also drive developments and support cooperation. If everyone’s pulling in the same direction, then you can achieve a great deal. But if the fit isn’t quite right, then it doesn’t matter how many excellent capabilities you have – it just won’t work. The intensive exchange between the companies in terms of digitalisation is really important. And also cooperation – this only works on an equal footing.

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