The issue of climate protection permeates virtually all areas of daily life these days. The way we consume and what we consume is of immense importance to many people, so how their products reach the end consumer is more important than ever for many companies. This niche has been recognised by Berlin-based startup Digimind, who have developed an AI-powered platform that helps producers co-create more sustainable packaging to save on materials and CO2. #ki_berlin spoke with founder and CEO Dr. Katharina Eissing about the origin of her idea, the encouragement from the industry and the capital's AI and deep tech ecosystem.
Hello Dr Eissing, your company uses AI in a very smart way, namely to make other customers' packaging sustainable. Where did the idea to combine sustainability and AI come from?
Thank you for the question. Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity with potentially dramatic consequences, and it is the responsibility of all of us to work towards a holistic solution. I have been campaigning for a plastic-free world for many years. With increasing insight and experience, I have learned that plastic will not go away and that a push towards a circular economy for plastic packaging is the solution. At this point, I understood that the use of advanced machine learning could help industry design and develop circular packaging. As a quantum physicist by training, I then had no hesitation in seizing the opportunity and founding Digimind with my co-founder to bring this technology to the industry.
In the meantime, Digimind has launched four products on the market. What was the path to the final result like?
We have worked closely with the packaging industry from the very beginning. We have learned a lot from our customers and tried to identify their problems and develop smart software solutions for them. This is a continuous process and we are very grateful for the collaborative and open mindset of the industry to work with new ideas from technology companies. The good news is that our SaaS platform is growing and we are constantly developing new solutions based on our customers' needs. The way to achieve these results can be summed up in one term in my view: "co-creation".
How can potential customers imagine the function of your solution?
Our CirNet SaaS platform is an open cloud architecture where all stakeholders in the plastic packaging industry can find solutions to their questions or problems. It is an open platform for collaboration and development. The main players in the plastic packaging industry can benefit from it: Brand owners, converters, designers, machine builders and finally material suppliers.
Our users range from purchasing managers, sustainability managers and packaging designers to packaging engineers.
Take, for example, a purchasing manager who is looking for ways to reduce packaging costs. With our Lightweight application, he could determine the potential savings in a matter of minutes. He can then pass the results on to his design or product manager who, with the help of our design consultant, can design the packaging in minutes and ensure it meets specifications. Our application can also help the packaging product manager find the most sustainable materials and suppliers, and ultimately identify the right manufacturer where this new, fully recyclable packaging can be produced.
The goal of our platform is to ensure that any barriers to packaging circularity are addressed in a collaborative way, using AI and by design.
What has happened within Digimind since its foundation? How was your concept received?
A lot has happened since we were founded in 2020. We generate a significant amount of traction, we serve some of the biggest FMCGs in the world. We have grown our team and are still looking for top talent to join us. We have been awarded the WomanTech Award by the EU, which will help us expand our offering. We have partnered with industry in Germany and applied for a major 3-year BMBF call to advance plastics sustainability using AI, which is at the core of our offering. We are in the process of establishing a long-term partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute to support SMEs in their sustainable transformation. I think that in less than two years, the industry has well adopted our solution and we have achieved an encouraging "product market fit".
We recently partnered with Navasto, a company that combines the expertise and experience of engineers, researchers and software developers. What were the motivations for the collaboration? Are there already concrete plans for new products?
Navasto is a leader in harnessing the power of accelerated AI for technology. Dr Bauer and I share the same view on how AI will contribute to a more sustainable future. Our teams work intensively together and I am very pleased to share with you that our products are already integrated and helping customers design more recyclable packaging.
What is your opinion of the Berlin AI ecosystem, especially with regard to your own project?
We really believe in the ecosystem. Berlin is the best city in Europe when it comes to deep tech and AI startups. We benefit a lot from this dynamic, the cooperation with Navasto is proof of that. Digimind is an active member of the AI federal association GreenTech Alliance, and we plan to be very active in this ecosystem and network locally in Berlin with other AI companies. I would like to mention here how important the role of Berlin Partner is in making this possible, and I would also like to thank them very much.
What about the status quo and support for female founders in the deep tech sector? Recently you were selected for the #WomenTechEU call with Digimind and 1000 Kelvin, where you are involved as CTO. How did this happen and what does it mean for you?
We are proud that our startups have been doubly rewarded with this prestigious recognition. I personally believe that the EU is doing a great job in recognising that there is a problem when it comes to women's representation in tech startups. In the meantime, we have to be honest and make the right assessment: Today, it is not easy for women and minorities in Europe and especially in Germany to start a tech company. For example, female founders in Central and Eastern Europe raised less than one percent of the available capital in 2021.
Where do you see Digimind in the future? What products and developments can still be expected?
We are only at the beginning of our journey and our ultimate goal is to become the global platform that enables sustainable packaging as a service and transform Digimind from a bootstrapped tech startup to a major global player in this industry. After two years of successful bootstrapping, we have recently started to execute our strategy for the next phase of growth.