Vinzenz Bichler © Betterguards Technology GmbH
Vinzenz Bichler and Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin have something in common: they both invented the safety belt. Bohlin invented the one used in cars, while Bichler invented the one used on joints. Bohlin was accepted into the Automotive Hall of Fame for his work, while Bichler hasn‘t gotten quite that far. The 32-year-old entrepreneur and his co-founders Max Müseler and Timo Stumper have, however, received many stipends and founders awards. These led their company Betterguards to the Innovationszentrum CHIC in Charlottenburg, where the startup now rents offices.
Bichler stands in front of a glass test station and spans the model of a foot into the apparatus. This allows him and his team to simulate the high speeds that arise during a fall or sprain, which is exactly what Betterguards seeks to combat. „Our mission is to prevent joint injuries,“ says Bichler with a rolling ‚r.‘ Indeed, this Bavarian knows exactly what his invention should be able to do. He has dislocated his shoulder often snowboarding; he‘s also injured his knee playing soccer many times. In other words, he knows how annoying it is to have to try to sprint wearing conventional splints. They are annoying, too stiff.
Back in 2011, he thought to himself, somebody should invent something more mobile – something that becomes rigid only in the decisive moment. As a plastics engineer, he knew there were fluids that behaved in precisely this manner, so-called dilatant fluids. „Their strength increases suddenly when you pull on them. The particles hook into one another and it creates a blockade effect,“ explains Bichler, while he rotates a small module in his hand. Wherever it is used – it can be built into bandages, orthotics, hiking boots, gloves, etc. – it exerts its protective effect.
From above there comes a buzzing and clanking sound. If one follows the sound up the spiral stairs, one eventually comes to a small room where an entire fleet of 3D printers are humming away. Here, wrist and hand models are also being made for Bichler. The devices belong to 3YOURMIND, another startup that the Betterguards team got to know in the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at the Technische Universität Berlin (TU).
„I‘m still very grateful to the TU Berlin, to my professor Prof. Dr. Kraft and the CFE. Back then, a colleague called me and told me there were only two days left to submit to a business-plan competition, and she said I should participate. I did, and I won, and that‘s when everything really got going,“ remembers Bichler. He had come to Berlin to study at the TU Berlin and get another Masters degree in medical technology. Here, too, everyone was excited about the his idea. „Betterguards was able to attract an experienced Business Angel from the med-tech sector in the form of Alexander Fischer. Also involved in the product are workers and students who are writing their graduating theses at the startup. „Among them, by the way, are many volleyball and soccer players, who are also tired of their injuries,“ says Bichler. He also mentions the close City West network: university, office, cafeteria, other startups – everything is within easy reach.
Bichler, his team and well-known investors have long since discovered the tremendous application potential of the adaptor. At this point, their goal is to negotiate contracts and get the product ready for serial production. Private industry has already expressed an interest. By the way, Volvo started serial production on Bohlin‘s three-point seatbelt in 1959. So it‘s just a matter of time.