Whether it's bitterness, acidity or alcohol content, Groningen-based SG Papertronics developed a special technology for brewers to easily, quickly and reliably test the quality of their specialty beer. With a second funding from the NOM, the company plans to launch its first product next year: the Beer-O-Meter. "Ultimately, we want to make lab testing accessible to everyone.
The specialty beer market is still booming and breweries are springing up like mushrooms. But whereas the big beer brands can easily streamline and automate their quality control, it is a lot harder for the many smaller breweries to guarantee consistent quality. 'Small breweries often don't have the money, resources or knowledge to be able to really test the quality of their beer properly and consistently themselves,' says CEO Maciej Grajewski. 'And often it's also not cost-effective to outsource it to a lab all the time. That's why we designed a mobile lab that allows you to easily and quickly test different things without needing a chemistry background.'
This mobile lab, called the Beer-O-Meter, works much the same as a coffee machine, according to COO Richard Rushby: "We work with different cups or pods, which you can test different things with, such as acidity, bitterness, sugar content or alcohol content. Over the past year, we have tested our prototype extensively together with the Groningen breweries Bax and Martinus, to make sure it is not only very accurate, but also really intuitive to use. We plan to launch the Beer-O-Meter as a subscription form in the second quarter of 2022, giving brewers the freedom to choose what they want to test for.'
From science to entrepreneurship
As with many products that are simple to use, the scientific principle behind them is often a lot more complicated. For Maciej, the idea came during his PhD research in microfluidics at the RuG: "I was always interested in commercial applications of research, because that happens too little in science anyway. Still, the step to entrepreneurship took some getting used to at first. 'You no longer have the safety net and comfort of doing research on your own, and at first it felt like learning a whole new language.' Richard agrees, "That, while simultaneously riding a unicycle and juggling plates, haha.
'All the steps you take must not only work in the base and in the moment, but also be scalable later in the future. You are additionally working on your patent, putting a product on the market, and you have to hire new people all at once yourself,' Richard continues. 'And often go back to the drawing board,' Maciej adds. 'Researchers sometimes think they can do this on their own, but they can't. It takes a lot of time. You need a team with people who complement each other.'
The fact that Maciej and Richard complement each other well was also one of the deciding factors for NOM. 'Maciej is one of the most analytical people I know,' says Investment Manager Ytsen van der Meer. 'And Richard is really super hands on and works closely with breweries to really market the product well. In addition, it is a very scalable application, with potential in the medical sector, for example.'
'With the initial funding, we already knew that Maciej already had all the pieces of the technical puzzle very well in his mind. That just needed time and money, so they could solve that puzzle together, and we had confidence in that. For this niche it is more difficult to attract other investors, so we and RUG Ventures deliberately took a little more risk ourselves and took a leading role in this. Now, with a second funding, we can actually launch the product and further expand the company.
For Richard and Maciej, the Beer-O-Meter is the starting point for SG Papertronics, but certainly not the end point. That one is a lot more ambitious: 'The principle behind it can also be used for monitoring groundwater quality in the agricultural sector, for example, or for testing the quality of drinking water in developing countries or disaster areas,' says Maciej. 'Ultimately, we want to make lab research affordable and accessible to everyone.'
The first steps in this have also already been taken, according to Richard: "Last year and early this year we received two MIT R&D grants. The first is together with EV Biotech, where we are developing glucose sensors for microorganisms. This was also the highest scoring application in the Northern Netherlands. And for the second, we are working with Levels Diagnostics and Omnigen, to develop a test that can quickly and easily recognize early indications of liver damage. But first, of course, we want to start helping smaller breweries make delicious specialty beer without the high costs.'