Whether it's bitterness, acidity or alcohol percentage, the Groningen-based SG Papertronics developed a special technology for beer brewers to easily, quickly and reliably test the quality of their craft beer. With a second financing round from NOM, the company wants to launch its first product next year: the Beer-O-Meter. 'Ultimately, we want to make lab testing accessible for everyone.'
The craft beer market is booming and breweries are still springing up like mushrooms. But while the big beer brands can easily streamline and automate their quality control, it’s a lot harder for the many smaller breweries to guarantee consistent quality. 'Small breweries often don't have the money, resources or expertise to really test the quality of their beer properly and consistently themselves,' says CEO Maciej Grajewski. ‘And it's also not very cost-effective to outsource it to a lab all the time. That's why we designed a mobile lab that allows you to test for different things easily and quickly, without needing a chemistry degree to understand the results.'
According to COO Richard Rushby, this mobile lab, called the Beer-O-Meter, can be used in much the same way as a coffee machine: 'We work with different cups or pods, which can be used to test different things, such as acidity, bitterness, sugar content or alcohol percentage. This past year, we tested our prototype together with the Groningen breweries Bax and Martinus, to ensure that it’s not only very accurate, but also really intuitive to use. We want to launch the Beer-O-Meter in the second quarter of 2022 as a subscription service, giving brewers the freedom to choose what they want to test for.'
From science to market
As with many products that are easy to use, the scientific principle behind them is often a lot more complicated. For Maciej, the idea came during his PhD research in the field of microfluidics at the University of Groningen: ‘I was always interested in commercial applications of research, because I think it doesn't happen enough in science.’ Still, the switch to entrepreneurship took some getting used to at first. ‘You no longer have the safety net and comfort of doing research on your own, and early on it felt like having to learn a whole new language.’ Richard agrees: 'That, while simultaneously cycling on a unicycle and juggling plates, haha.'
'All those critical steps you need to take have to work now, but also need to be able to scale in the future. And you’re also working on filing your patent, putting a product in the market, and you have to hire new people yourself,' Richard continues. 'And you also need to go back to the drawing board again from time to time,' Maciej adds. 'Researchers sometimes think they can do all this on their own, but they can't. It's a lot of work. A lot of pivoting. It takes a lot of time. You need a team of people with complementary skill sets .’
The fact that Maciej and Richard have these complementary skill sets, was also one of the deciding factors for NOM. ‘Maciej is one of the most analytical people I know,' says Investment Manager Ytsen van der Meer. And Richard is really super hands on and works closely with breweries to really find the best market fit for the product. It’s also a very scalable application, with potential in the medical sector, for example.'
'At the time of the first funding round, we knew that Maciej already had all the pieces of the technical puzzle in his head. They just needed time and money, so that they could solve the puzzle together, and we had faith in that. It’s also a more difficult niche to attract other investors, so we deliberately took more risk ourselves and took a leading investor role in this. Now, with this second round of financing, we can launch the product and start building the company.’
For Richard and Maciej, the Beer-O-Meter is the starting point for SG Papertronics, but certainly not the finish line, which is more ambitious: 'The principle behind it can also be used to check the quality of groundwater in the agricultural sector, for example, or to test the quality of drinking water in developing countries or disaster areas,' says Maciej. 'Ultimately, we want to make lab testing affordable and accessible to everyone.'
The first steps in working towards their ambition have already been taken, according to Richard: ‘Last year and at the beginning of this year we received two MIT R&D grants. The first was together with EV Biotech, where we’re developing a glucose test for monitoring fermentations in bioreactors. This was also the highest scoring grant application in the Northern Netherlands. And for the second, we’re working with Levels Diagnostics and Omnigen, to develop a test that can quickly and easily recognize early indications of liver damage. But first things first, we want to help smaller breweries make great craft beers without breaking the bank.'