From Science to Startup: Martin Rahmel’s Journey in Green Chemistry Entrepreneurship

From Science to Startup: Martin Rahmel’s Journey in Green Chemistry Entrepreneurship

Together with Martin Rahmel, an industry expert on a mission to make chemistry green and sustainable, we discussed what it takes to successfully found and grow a startup in the realm of deep tech and chemistry.

Martin Rahmel graduated as an industrial engineer with a major in technical chemistry from Technische Universität Berlin in 2005. Rahmel’s professional journey led him through various industry positions, including roles at Schering and Berlex Biosciences Inc. His pivotal role came as Managing Director of DexLeChem GmbH, a startup specializing in homogeneous catalysis. Additionally, he co-founded Dude Chem, serving as CEO and aiming to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry’s environmental footprint. Rahmel’s entrepreneurial spirit and expertise ultimately led to his appointment as the Director of the Chemical Invention Factory at TU Berlin in 2020.

Scientific Breakthroughs and Business: How it all started with Martin’s role at DexLeChem

Martin Rahmel joined DexLeChem GmbH, initially hired as the business development lead, and eventually transitioned to the role of Managing Director. The company was founded in 2013 by Sonja Jost as a spin-off of the German Cluster of Excellence UniCat, specializing in green chemistry, particularly in the field of homogeneous catalysis. Leveraging a breakthrough discovery from the UNI-SYS-CUT Cluster of Excellence, Sonja found a way to treat liquid catalysts in water, a process previously deemed infeasible. This innovation allowed for the reuse of catalysts, significantly reducing costs for industries where these catalysts are utilized. By implementing this solution into industrial production processes, DexLeChem not only saves costs but also promotes sustainability by using water and other eco-friendly solvents. Martin always understood his role as translating the technical solution into a feasible product mission and business model, ultimately leading DexLeChem to commercial success.

“Once I understand the solution, then I’m pretty good at translating that into a business case and convincing people to try it out. So that was basically my role, I call it business development.” 

From Lab to Launch: 3 key challenges Martin faced during his time at Chem-Tech Startups

When asked about the challenges he faced during his time at the startup, Martin describes three main difficulties. First, there was the task of translating highly technical solutions into a viable business case, which requires bridging the gap between complex research findings and a language that industry stakeholders and investors can understand. Second, establishing the necessary infrastructure in terms of laboratory analytics proved crucial for conducting research and development effectively. It certainly is a challenge to get access to lab equipment and facilities. Lastly, Martin points out the lack of experience in founding a company, particularly for scientific founders or teams, who must learn and grow into the business side of operations, including industry access and business management complexities. These challenges are common among startups rooted in scientific discoveries, highlighting the importance of tailored support and resources.

“Bringing research findings into a language that industry understands and deploying them into a viable business model is a journey, not a simple flip of a switch. You discuss, you develop, you grow. And that’s quite a long path.”

The Power of Mindset: Balancing Conviction and Critical Reflection for Startup Success

Martin introduced “Mindset” as the third M-word to complement the podcast’s theme, emphasizing its significance in founding a successful company, especially in the deep tech sector. He highlighted the importance of perseverance, confidence, and conviction in overcoming challenges inherent in innovation. Entrepreneurs must navigate doubts, pressures, and skepticism while maintaining belief in their ideas to drive impact. However, he also acknowledges critical thinking and self-reflection as equally important, noting the potential conflict and balance between these aspects. Particularly, scientists excel at questioning everything but may struggle to confidently convey their ideas to clients and investors. Drawing from personal experience, Martin recommended switching roles between “supporters” and “critics” within the team to learn how to articulate both perspectives effectively.

“There are lots of exit signs, every day you can say I quit. And that’s why I chose mindset because it’s only your belief that will bring the idea to life. And that holds true for an entrepreneur who is spinning out from university or for someone in a big corporation who wants to drive change.”

Catalyzing Change: The transformative role of the Chemical Invention Factory for Green Chemistry

With his experience in founding chemical startups, Martin knows about the key challenges in transferring technology from research to applications. Motivated to bridge this gap, he initiated the Chemical Invention Factory (CIF), Germany’s pioneering green chemistry incubator. Initially, CIF launched with IncuLab, a container laboratory concept at TU Berlin, providing infrastructure for startups in the field. Now, it garners significant support from industry figures like John Warner, founder of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, and Prof. Dr. Geraldine Rauch, president of TU Berlin, along with the Federal Ministry of Research, investing 16 million euros in the incubator space at the Charlottenburg campus. Beyond physical infrastructure, CIF aims to cultivate an ecosystem of startups and technology transfer teams, fostering collaboration, mentorship, and industry access to propel scientific discoveries into real-world applications and ultimately drive sustainability in the chemical industry.

“I think we have the responsibility and obligation to use our freedom and our liberty to innovate and lead the change and not argue about.”


Tune in to the podcast to delve into the full conversation, including Martin’s motivations behind these initiatives and their connection to his NGO dedicated to the renaturation and reintroduction of Atlantic salmon in Brandenburg.

Spotify – Season 1, Episode 10, Martin Rahmel

Youtube – Season 1, Episode 10, Martin Rahmel

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