From Challenge to Change: How SMEs are Shaping the Future of Chemical Innovation

The Role and Challenges of SMEs in Chemical Innovation

Marius Mühlenberg has been CEO of the LEVACO Chemicals Group, based at Chempark in Leverkusen, Germany, for about 2 years. LEVACO is a manufacturer of specialty process chemicals for agrochemicals, fiber production, cable industry and food production as well as for paper manufacturing and coatings. Today, Marius is primarily responsible for sales, production, R&D and supply chain. After studying economics and chemistry at the University of Passau, San Diego and the Technical University of Munich, Marius took his first steps at Clariant. However, he was soon drawn to medium-sized companies and, after various stations, finally to LEVACO Chemicals. LEVACO was founded in 2014 after several intermediate stops as a former part of the Bayer Group and is now part of the Diersch & Schröder group of companies.

CIEX: Without giving too much away – what is the core message of your talk and what would you like delegates to remember?

M. Mühlenberg: One of the core messages is that the industry understands the potentially different challenges SMEs face in this “revolution” compared to larger companies and groups. SMEs continue to play an important role in the overall value creation of the whole chemical industry. Especially in today’s environment, the change in perspective is crucial: we can only be successful as an industry with more collaboration within the branch. Participants will take away that SMEs are also able to react quickly to these changing conditions in the industry and that they can contribute innovative ideas and elements to the transformation process.

CIEX: What motivates you to join the Chemical Innovation Conference – CIEX Europe this year?

M. Mühlenberg: First of all, it is always nice to have the chance to speak in such a highly decorated forum and audience. Once again, a big thank you for that.
In my opinion, the need for the voice of SMEs to be heard gets more and more important, especially in discussions about the changes taking place in the chemical industry nowadays. If we risk that our SMEs are not functioning well, it would strongly influence the entire industry and therefore needs to be reconciled. We must be aware that in Germany in particular, the majority of the chemical industry is made up of SMEs.

CIEX: How do you envision the future of the chemical industry? What are the key challenges to overcome and the opportunities to harness?

M. Mühlenberg: It is very important that we find out which new paths will actually bring us to the goal of a sustainable chemical industry. The big challenge will be to define feasible, realistic and goal oriented targets together with authorities. In my view, this orientation is still lacking at many levels.In addition, it is important that effective political and economic conditions are created so that the green transformation can also be implemented. The level of bureaucratic obstacles is immense. Above all, the slow political decision-making processes is not supporting this path.
Most likely the associated costs for a majority of companies will be very high. Accordingly, the bottom line is that the transformation will only be successful from a position of economic strength. Therefore we have to reconcile ecological and economic goals. Otherwise, I see a significant dissonance that is impairing to the process.

CIEX: When looking to other regional markets, what lessons can the European chemical industry learn, adapt or perhaps even use to differentiate itself?

M. Mühlenberg: Basically, I can see regions where the goals of the industry and the political level are far more closely aligned than it is currently the case in Europe. We see that faster reaction times are possible and that the agility needed in such challenging times is available. We have many great companies in Europe that could bring great innovations to the market in a shorter time. This needs to be supported if we want to continue to play an important role in the long term.

CIEX: What is one project or initiative in the industry, outside of your own company and associations that really inspired you, and why?

M. Mühlenberg: The TFS initiative is a fairly broad attempt to define a standardization of goals and work on them accordingly. This is the right signal and a very good initiative from my point of view. I also see many great approaches in the chemical industry in replacing questionable raw materials with green alternatives, for example, in our surfactant chemistry market. Although not all approaches can be implemented commercially yet, it shows what great approaches can be developed in such a short time. I am very sure that if we promote innovations even more intensively, many products can be placed on the market from European companies that will amaze us. I would like to see more of this confidence in our industry, especially from official sources.


Chemical Innovation