Document Actions

You are here: Home Online Magazine invent & establish Freiburg Start-up Aims to Improve …

Freiburg Start-up Aims to Improve Numerous Applications with a New Type of Microvalve and -pump

muVaP GmbH was founded three years ago as a University of Freiburg spin-off – now a strategic investor is on board

Freiburg, Feb 13, 2024

Microvalves and -pumps are used in numerous applications – from mobile blood pressure monitors to inkjet printers and the mechanisms in car seats. The Freiburg start-up muVaP has developed a new technology for microvalves and -pumps based on the doctoral dissertation of its founder and CEO Dr. Ardavan Shabanian. This technology is designed to make a variety of applications more robust, powerful, and energy-efficient. The company emerged from the University of Freiburg’s Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) three years ago. Now muVaP has succeeded in attracting a Milanese family business as a strategic investor – the first series of microvalves will soon be launched on the market.

‘That’s exactly what a start-up wishes for’, says Shabanian. What he means is the investment of Fluid-o-Tech S.r.l. The Milan-based family business is specialized in the development and manufacture of pump systems, for instance for the medical technology and automobile industries – and acquired a stake in the Freiburg start-up last summer. The Milanese are not after quick financial gains, says Dr. Philipp Köster, who is responsible for taking care of the finances at muVaP: ‘They’re interested in the further development of the technology and want to expand their portfolio by investing in microvalves and -pumps.’

For muVaP, the investment by the Italian company means new financial leeway and better market access; the long-term plan is that the Freiburg company be integrated into the group of Fluid-o-Tech companies. The parties have agreed not to disclose the amounts involved, muVaP founder Shabanian says: ‘We still have the majority and thus also the control.’ That also makes sense, says Köster: ‘Our core team is crucial for our success – our knowledge lies with the founders, they’re the inventors. The investment also enabled us to establish a team with a common spirit.’ That’s also the view of the company in Milan, which is very research-and-development oriented and also invested in memetis GmbH, a spin-off of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), around two years ago.

muVaP is still very closely connected with the University of Freiburg, says Shabanian: The office and laboratories are still located at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK); muVaP has rented them. The start-up also supervises students writing their master’s thesis in the area of microfluidics or electronic control. ‘We started with science, but we’re very much application oriented – that makes our work very attractive for many students’, says Shabanian.

The company still maintains very close contact with Prof. Dr. Peter Woias, professor for the design of microsystems at IMTEK, and his collaborator Dr. Frank Goldschmidtböing. ‘And the University was extremely important for founding our company’, says Shabanian, ‘particularly the cooperation with the Founders Office and the Patent Office at the Centre for Technology Transfer.’ In addition, muVaP received around one million euros of start-up funding in the ‘EXIST Research Transfer’ programme of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy in 2019.

The special feature of the microvalves and pumps the Freiburg spin-off is developing is the novel use of so-called piezo elements, which move when an electric voltage is applied to them. In his doctoral dissertation, Shabanian already developed a novel method for attaching a piezo element to a membrane in such a way that it deflects in a specific way – a movement that is well suited for use with very small valves and pumps. This technology gives the microvalves developed by muVaP many advantages, says Shabanian: They’re less expensive to produce than conventional models, withstand higher pressure, have a higher flowrate, and are also ultra-energy efficient – which plays a particularly important role for mobile applications.

Now muVaP wants to convince the market of these advantages and also rearrange and expand its team, which currently consists of five people. Graduates of IMTEK could also be potential new employees, says Shabanian. The investor’s involvement now offers new opportunities for this – while primarily lowers the financial risk: ‘Even brilliant ideas are at risk of dying, because start-ups spend most of their money on staff and development.’ That’s why you always have to keep an eye on the market, says the entrepreneur, and eventually turn the ideas into applications that also work for customers. ‘That’s often a big challenge for scientists in particular.’

To meet this challenge, muVaP is already collaborating with another partner, which will produce an initial series of various microvalves. It’s set to be launched in mid-2024. Köster is optimistic: ‘There are a whole lot of different applications in which micro valves are used.’ He cites medical technology as an exciting example, including devices for in-vitro-diagnostics and for overall laboratory automation, but also dialysis machines or applications that can precisely dose medications.

‘Our valves can change many things, they can make things possible that were previously impossible, and they can thus ultimately enhance the quality of life of patients’, says Shabanian. Ideally, he would like to enter the market with many applications and in different areas at the same time, but a small start-up shouldn’t try to do too many things at once, even with an investor in the back. ‘You have to take things step by step and start in one area, and that’s what we’re doing with our first series’, he says. ‘But we also already see all the things that are possible – that’s very exciting and motivates us to keep it up.’