5 energised European innovators to watch

12 Oct 2022

The 2022 EIT Awards. Image: European Institute of Innovation & Technology/Twitter

Innovations in energy and sustainability dominated the 2022 EIT Awards, while one founder was rewarded for supporting others.

The EIT Summit concluded on Tuesday (11 October) with an awards ceremony in Brussels.

These awards from the European Institute of Innovation & Technology seek out the most innovative ventures, entrepreneurial graduates and leadership role models from the EIT community, with a particular focus on those who can significantly contribute to Europe’s green transition.

Christoph Berger

Christoph Berger, the CEO and co-founder of Vilisto, took first prize in the Venture Award category. The Hamburg start-up has developed a self-learning radiator thermostat to minimise waste heat.

During the pitch session, Berger explained how Vilisto uses sensors to detect when a room is in use and, based on this data, can formulate predictions on that use and turn the heat on and off accordingly. The company is already working with real estate portfolios across Germany and has been supported by EIT InnoEnergy.

Accepting his award, Berger thanked the “48 people [who] make this possible”.

“We’re going to grow a lot,” he added. “This is going to be a milestone for having huge impact.”

Bernhard Adler

The Innovator Award also went to an EIT InnoEnergy-supported entrepreneur. Bernhard Adler, CEO of Ecop, explained to the audience how his company’s rotation heat pump combines the advantages of heat pump technology with a centrifuge, making a device typically used for home-heating powerful enough for industrial use.

The Austrian start-up has already secured €20m in public and private equity funding and is currently preparing for a €10m investment round.

“Our vision is that in a couple of years heat recycling in the industry will be the new normal,” said Adler. “If we would recycle only one-third of worldwide waste heat, we would reduce worldwide carbon emissions by 2pc, and we are very ready to address the challenge.”

Catherine Schreiber

The winner of the Woman Leadership Award, Catherine Schreiber, is deputy CEO and COO of Advitos. This Munich-based medtech has developed the Advos multi-organ support device, which can support a critically ill patient’s lungs, liver and kidneys while also correcting blood pH.

Schreiber developed the device from scratch with her co-founder Dr Bernhard Kreymann, who was her mentor. She now pays it forward as a mentor to others and is also an advocate for founders’ mental health. Having been brought close to burnout several times by the stresses of scaling a start-up, she decided to launch and self-finance the Mental Strength for Founders programme.

Accepting the award, Schreiber paid tribute to her “strongest supporter and closest companion”, Kreymann. “Sadly, he died last July from a sudden heart attack, so I want to dedicate this prize to him. Because without him I wouldn’t be standing here,” she said.

Anna Vanderbruggen

Researcher Anna Vanderbruggen was recognised with the Change Award, which celebrates graduates of EIT education programmes who are creating a sustainable future.

Vanderbruggen is an EIT RawMaterials graduate with a revolutionary new way to extract graphite from lithium-ion batteries. High volumes of anode graphite will be needed for a battery-powered future, but this material is typically sent to landfill or burnt off instead of being recycled. Vanderbruggen has developed a ‘separation jacuzzi’ that recovers up to 98pc of graphite, along with some valuable metals, from crushed lithium-ion batteries, bringing us a step closer to a circular battery supply chain.

“As you may know, more and more recycling companies are being built in Europe, and I would like to reach these recyclers and tell them we can, and we have to, recycle graphite,” she said.

Sabrina Malpede

More than 3,000 votes were cast for the Public Award, which was presented by European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to Sabrina Malpede, co-founder and managing director of ACT Blade. Yet another EIT InnoEnergy-supported start-up, ACT Blade is developing a lighter, more sustainable wind turbine blade based on Malpede’s PhD research.

While taking this tech to market, Malpede also supports the drive to attract young women to STEM careers and is a proud member of the Women Founders Forum started by Gabriel.

“Something that I learned in my entrepreneurship journey is actually creating what we call an innovation ecosystem. It’s the way we developed the company, by creating collaboration partners,” Malpede said as she accepted her award. “This is a big lesson for me.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.