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From start-up to global venture

Cambridge Ignite programme a catalyst for Polish entrepreneurial ambitions.

Michał BieniekPolish start-up Apeiron Synthesis, a provider of fine chemicals and catalysts, has raised $5m (US) from grants and investors to become the first European metathesis technology business to establish a branch in the USA. The overseas expansion will see the company establish a global centre from which to compete in North American markets.

The move follows founder and CEO Michał Bieniek’s participation in the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning’s (CfEL) entrepreneurship training programme Ignite, hosted at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and supported by the Foundation for Polish Science.

Apeiron Synthesis, founded in 2009 by Michał Bieniek and his business partner Łukasz Gułajski, is a privately owned chemical synthesis company based in Wroclaw, Poland. The company focuses on the development and application of breakthrough metathesis catalysts -technology now used daily in industry for the efficient and more environmentally-friendly production of important pharmaceuticals, fuels, polymers, flavours and fragrances and many other products.

In 2011, supported by the Foundation for Polish Science, Michał attended CfEL’s Ignite programme in Cambridge, UK. Ignite is an intensive, one-week training programme designed for aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate innovators to trial and prepare business ideas for the commercial environment. It has a track record of inspiring and enabling new technology business ventures. At the time, Apeiron Synthesis was in the process of developing new, highly active metathesis catalysts – products that are now commercially available.

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who is of Polish descent, said:

It is gratifying to see the impact of our Ignite programme though the realisation and growth of start-ups based on exciting new technologies. The success of companies like Apeiron Synthesis illustrates the benefits of collaborations between the University and Polish institutions.

Michał said the Ignite programme helped realise his entrepreneurial ambitions: “We knew there was a demand for the technology and that the business had great potential. The problem in 2011 was that we did not yet have a strategy for entering the market or establishing co-operation with key players in the field in the USA and Western Europe. Three years ago we needed to advance our skills in high-tech business development and sales.”

“The Ignite programme experience gave me a far broader outlook and provided me with critical strategy guidance for entering global markets. I developed a wider network, gaining advice from experienced entrepreneurs and experts who have proved very helpful while making strategic decisions about attracting new investors and signing contracts with clients. I also further advanced my knowledge of prosecuting and protecting Intellectual Property (IP) and how important successful IP management can be in determining the outcome of collaborations with large corporations. Thanks to Ignite, Apeiron Synthesis has managed our growing IP portfolio in the best possible way from the start.”

In the three years following Ignite, Apeiron Synthesis has raised over $5m (US), including grants from the Foundation for Polish Science, the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, the National Science Centre, and the National Research and Development Centre, which has enabled dynamic development of the company.

To date, Apeiron Synthesis has five patent applications pending and two licenses. Michal explains the 2014 move into the USA will allow the company to continue emerging as a leader in metathesis technology development for pharmaceutical and chemical companies: “Apeiron intends to deliver unique metathesis catalysts for our customers enabling significant increases in efficiency and large cost reductions. The corollary reductions in energy inputs and toxics provide additional benefits for environmentally-focused companies attempting to achieve more sustainable practices.”

Katarzyna Pronobis, External Relations Officer of the SKILLS Project at the Foundation for Polish Science, said, “Michał is a great example of what can be achieved by Polish entrepreneurs through training in entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. The Foundation has sponsored places for 35 Polish scientists, researchers and innovators at Ignite since 2011. We’re delighted that our partnership with the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning has enabled them to develop their skills and advance technologies to commercial reality. It is important to continue supporting start-up development for the benefit of the Polish economy in the longer term.”