Is va-Q-tec a hidden European energy champion, Joachim Kuhn?

va-Q-tec is a European company that could be interesting for investors looking for opportunities in the energy crisis. The company specializes in energy savings with its unique isolation technology.

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Introduction to Joachim Kuhn

[00:00:40] Tilman Versch: Dear viewers of Good Investing Talks, it’s great to have you back on the podcast. Today I’m having another European company on and Mr Joachim Kuhn of va-Q-tec is here today. How are you doing in Würzburg?

[00:00:54] Joachim Kuhn: Yes, all fine here. Nice weather today and we are looking forward to an exciting wintertime.

Founding days of va-Q-tec in Würzburg, Germany

[00:01:03] Tilman Versch: It’s an interesting bridge already to the topic of energy because the weather currently is like super warm here and you might even see it at my glasses which are… where air condensates and it’s not a usual October in Europe, and this might also be a good thing because it saves us energy and va-Q-tec as a company, is a very interesting European company. That’s why I invited you because your mission is also to save energy. Was this all of a sudden vision year founded in va-Q-tec in 2001 with like 20 years ago you founded the company in Würzburg. What has led you to it?

[00:01:41] Joachim Kuhn: At that time, back in the year 2001, we had the vision that the world needs more energy saving and we produce and invented a vacuum insulation panel, which is a super insulating panel with 10 times better insulation. And it can save energy in so many applications and this mission of the year 2001 still drives us today and sometimes, unfortunately, it becomes every day more and more truth and valuable.

At that time, back in the year 2001, we had the vision that the world needs more energy saving and we produce and invented vacuum insulation panel, which is a super insulating panel with 10 times better insulation. And it can save energy in so many applications and this mission of the year 2001 still drives us today and sometimes unfortunately it becomes every day more and more truth and valuable.

[00:02:20] Tilman Versch: What was the kind of setup you founded the company in… You came out of a research institution that was founded by the Bavarian state. Is also there an advantage to be a founder in Würzburg which isn’t like the city many people know? But yeah.

[00:02:39] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, here in Wurzburg we have a great and also big university with in total we have 35,000 students. And this creates a very nice spirit and a good environment for innovation. And that’s where we come from. So we have still this surrounding today. I have created a nice company with a lot of employees here in the town and we are in central Europe and so we can deliver our product everywhere. So we are very happy with this environment here.

[00:03:18] Tilman Versch: Is there also an advantage coming from being placed in Würzburg in university city?

[00:03:24] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, of course, we know the environment here. We are well known. We have interaction with a lot of cultural and social– yeah, society here and we are well known as an employer as well.

[00:03:41] Tilman Versch: And you have a nice light on describing your technology. And this way you use the thermal mac or like the kind of an atmospheric load of the thermal mac. You’ve put it into this, this plate or this element you’re selling and that’s your patented technology. And what kind of problems can this technology solve?

[00:04:05] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, in general, we reproduce a highly efficient thermal insulation panel, and as you showed in this graph vacuum thermal insulation is well known since the thermos bottle which has been invented, let’s say about 100 years ago or 120 years ago. And we have mastered now making this cylindrical-shaped vacuum insulation into panel-shaped insulation, which is a very big step. And we mastered this technology and apply now vacuum insulation panels in many, many applications.

Yeah, in general, we reproduce a highly efficient thermal insulation panel, and as you showed in this graph vacuum thermal insulation is well known since the thermos bottle which has been invented, let’s say about 100 years ago or 120 years ago. And we have mastered now making this cylindrical-shaped vacuum insulation into panel-shaped insulation, which is a very big step. And we mastered this technology and apply now vacuum insulation panels in many, many applications.

The technology of vacuum thermal insulation

[00:04:48] Tilman Versch: How much time did it need for you to develop this technology from like maybe first starting with research and then making something you could think, this could be a product?

[00:04:59] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, so since the ‘90s or late ‘80s we developed at the university, the physics, or we try to cover the physics of thermal insulation. And while working on that, we, of course, discovered that getting rid of the air in the insulation gives you another level of insulation, and from that innovation, we developed the production line so we brought it into the application. We produced it literally and we pioneered this type of innovation.

Patents

[00:05:39] Tilman Versch: How is your technology protected? Are there patterns that you have that protect this technology?

[00:05:47] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, the principle of vacuum insulation is not patentable. But we have a lot of patterns around about various types of this technology, about how to produce it, how to check the quality for example. So in total, our company masters about 220, I think, patterns and patterns applications.

Yeah, the principle of vacuum insulation is not patentable. But we have a lot of patterns around about various types of this technology, about how to produce it, how to check the quality for example. So in total, our company masters about 220, I think, patterns and patterns applications.

[00:06:12] Tilman Versch: Is there any risk that they will run out if they have been done in 2001, 2002?

[00:06:20] Joachim Kuhn: We have subsequently filed new patterns and patent applications, so of course, some will run out, others will come, and by nature, a patent is only valid for about 20 years.

[00:06:34] Tilman Versch: If these patterns run out, how hard is it for other companies to yeah, build the same quality as you do?

[00:06:43] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, you may never forget that the pattern is not alone, we have a lot of knowledge around it. It’s in the brains of our great team. It’s in the company, so even if you can read the patent and if it runs out, many patterns are not easily reproducible.

Obtaining a business sensibility

[00:07:06] Tilman Versch: So you are a founder and the owner-operator and you came out of university and like universities are usually not the place where you learn the business. It’s more about research and writing papers. In the last 20 years, how did you develop the skills to be a business builder or a businessman, and how did you make this transformation?

[00:07:28] Joachim Kuhn: So a little bit of learning by doing I would say, but I had already a strong foundation. I’m a physicist. Yeah, I did my PhD in physics, but I also started business administration and also sports to some extent and all this flows together on a good basis, and the rest you can learn by doing.

So a little bit of learning by doing I would say, but I had already a strong foundation. I’m a physicist. Yeah, I did my PhD in physics, but I also started business administration and also sports to some extent and all this flows together in a good basis, and the rest you can learn by doing.

Also today, there’s no university education. No master class on how to be an entrepreneur, or how to be a managing director. All these things have to be learned by doing.

[00:08:11] Tilman Versch: What was the hardest thing for you to get right as a businessman? And maybe we are still struggling with like…?

[00:08:21] Joachim Kuhn: Getting better, yeah, you always can improve. You always can improve your leadership quality. You always can improve, of course, your knowledge and your skills.

Getting better, yeah, you always can improve. You always can improve your leadership quality. You always can improve, of course, your knowledge and your skills.

Only this week they had several meetings where I really learned a lot of new things for me in business administration as well. In legal matters, for example, as well. So the world is full of new things you can learn and you should be ready. The most important thing is you should be ready to adapt to them and to be open to apply the new things you learn.

[00:09:16] What drives Joachim Kuhn

[00:09:02] Tilman Versch: What drives you to go to work every morning and like not say, okay, I sell my shares and I go to go and have a nice life?

[00:09:13] Joachim Kuhn: Actually, I have a nice life actually because I feel absolutely comfortable and what drives me every morning and every night is I think that we still have a great technology base, a disruptive one, which still has a lot of potentials to be applied in several industries and we are working on this division and it’s still division when we started the company we can save an enormous amount of energy.

Actually, I have a nice life actually because I feel absolutely comfortable and what drives me every morning and every night is I think that we still have a great technology base, a disruptive one, which still has a lot of potential to be applied in several industries and we are working on this division and it’s still division when we started the company we can save an enormous amount of energy.

And as you know, by daily use, the world needs that. We need to save energy that does not mean that we have to lose some comfort. Yeah, our life will be still comfortable, but in another way, but it will be less energy-consuming.

Going public on the stock market

[00:10:08] Tilman Versch: You decided to go public in 2016. Why was this in the best interest of the company to become public then?

[00:10:18] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, we spoke about awareness of people and when we went public it brought a lot of awareness to the public about our company, about our technology, which was really needed and we have not only created the super insulation panel as you know, but we have also pioneered a hyper formal thermal packaging and boxes and containers where which are used to ship pharmaceutical goods or vaccines around the world. We had a major part in COVID vaccine distribution internationally. So I think this technology is something that the world needs and every day it’s more needed and the technology we have will be distributed in the world.

Sustainability for the planet

[00:11:12] Tilman Versch: Some of the boxes are behind you, so you’re always thinking out of the box?

[00:11:16] Joachim Kuhn: Yes, very good. Also, behind you, I see on your left and the graph. I think it’s the hockey stick temperature development of the world.

[00:11:24] Tilman Versch: The climate stripes, yeah.

[00:11:27] Joachim Kuhn: I know this painting and that is also what drives me. I have one presentation which is called the world is the box. And it is like that we are very close environment and on the graph behind you, you see that the temperatures in the last years have risen more than ever before, and we don’t know the end yet. That is also a little bit frightening. We hope it has an end and we can adapt to it and we have a lot of possibilities to do, and one is our technology.

Challenges of the stock market

[00:12:00] Tilman Versch: That’s good to hear. Let me jump back to the point with the stock market. You are now public five, six years. And that’s a good point to some to make him cut and think what was good in your performance. And where would you think you did mistakes and underestimated the challenges on the stock market?

[00:12:22] Joachim Kuhn: Of course, it’s challenging, but I think we have done quite well. Sometimes we didn’t succeed in educating the market as well as we should have done. Then that brought us some let’s say drawbacks, but I think we have been in a very good position. We store our stock rising and falling. At the moment, we are a little bit lower, and the markets probably have their own problems. Partly maybe, we didn’t give them enough knowledge about our technology in our company. But in total, I think it was a very good journey what we saw in the last six years. For us, awareness has risen immediately. We have a very good connection with the international financial markets, which are kind of the driver. They give you the fuel, or you need to develop, and it has been even if the share price today is slow, it has been in total. I would say a story of success.

What people should know about va-Q-tec

[00:13:37] Tilman Versch: Coming back to the point on education, what are three things the market has to know about you to really get a sense for the stock into business performance?

[00:13:49] Joachim Kuhn: First thing is, we master a disruptive technology to save energy. And the second is we have a very good quality product made in Germany and we also have a great team which wants to internationally expand. And the second is the future will need our technology more and more. We are not related to, let’s say, quarterly events. We have a long-term vision and that is what you should know when you buy our shares.

First thing is, we master a disruptive technology to save energy. And the second is we have a very good quality product made in Germany and we also have a great team which wants to internationally expand. And the second is the future will need our technology more and more. We are not related to, let’s say, quarterly events. We have a long-term vision and that is what you should know when you buy our shares.

Business field

[00:14:29] Tilman Versch: I want to now jump a bit on the business fields, and you have this nice lighting in your presentation so that shows that you have two kinds of classes of business field, more TempChain and also like to the energy efficiency part and I would be interested how these business fields came about. So you have this new technology developed and you look for applications and how did you find entry points and ideas to go into new business fields?

[00:15:06] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, so we still have our great disruptive technology of super insulation and when we started with this in 2001 after two, three years, we found that the business doesn’t grow strongly enough to get a sustainable. So we try to get ourselves in some application and we pioneered the high-performance thermal insulation box, a box which can keep temperatures super stable without any energy supply during transport for five to 10 days.

And so, we created this box and that’s how we stepped into this TempChain market. So temperature-controlled packaging solutions. And nowadays, we are a very high-level provider, probably one of the leading companies in the world. And that’s how we stepped in and at that time, when we went into this business back in 2003, four, the biotech in the pharma industry started to develop. So our offering of high-performance thermal boxes came together with the birth of biotechnology on a large scale and they needed these high-performance boxes for to ship their products around the world, so a coincidence, a good coincidence and that’s how we grew.

A cost-efficient technology

[00:16:42] Tilman Versch: What I’ve learned from previous presentations and talks with you, you’re offering a more expensive product than conventional solutions, so to say, but it seems it has a higher, longer lifetime and a higher quality. But a lot of the industries that were on the slide, they’re price competitive. For instance, if you think about freezers and people decide on the price of the freezer. Also in energy, how do you manage this tension between a more expensive product compared to other solutions, but a higher quality product?

[00:17:15] Joachim Kuhn: So expensive is a relative word, and if you really compare costs per square metre which is very rough and basic, let’s say, comparison, then maybe we are more expensive. But if you look at total costs, it’s actually our solution which in many cases is very much cost-saving. And this is exactly how we try to educate the market to really think about their total costs of energy consumption of total ownership including transport including product losses for example, and then you will easily see that our technology is not the most expensive one, but I’d say the most economic one.

[00:18:05] Tilman Versch: What kind of cost savings can you achieve over a lifetime? It’s highly input-dependent, but yeah.

[00:18:12] Joachim Kuhn: That depends on the various industries and you have of course simply spoken. For example, if you apply the panels in the fridge, you save a lot of energy and the kWh five years ago, there’s another price than today, so the last these energy crisis leads people to save energy and we have the right products to do that. So in other applications, you save product losses. Many of the vaccines or pharmaceutical products before it could not be used because they saw temperature deviations, too cold, too hot. We have not had any temperature losses, or any product losses up today in our product. So these are alone hundreds of millions or billions what you save compared to the previous solutions. Two examples.

Scaling production

[00:19:07] Tilman Versch: You are a quite young company and have an intense company with the boxes and the panels. And so you have to scale up production to a certain extent and this also leads to unit costs might be higher as if you’re fully scaled up. So do you see over time that the price you offer if your products could go down as you go to scale or is there anything that works against this trend?

[00:19:33] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, I think we can of course improve and scale down prices for some products. But I think all those other products have already reached a quite good market level which will sustain. But in other areas, we can definitely improve. That depends a little bit on the products where you apply the panels.

TempChain Logistics

[00:20:01] Tilman Versch: Let’s jump back into the business fields and look at the TempChain business field. It differs a bit from the other business. In my eyes are smaller logistical business. Why did this business line which is now 75% of your revenues take off that much compared to other business lines? You already mentioned a bit but…

[00:20:24] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, as mentioned before, it came when we develop these boxes, everybody asks us why do you need these super high-performance boxes five to 10 days without any energy supply. Who needs that? The stability who needs that? But then the biotech industry came generating a vast majority of new products, new drugs, and so the TempChain business was rising with the biotech industry. And today, I would say of the top hundred selling pharmaceutical products 80 or 90 are biotech-based and need this high-temperature control during storage and shipment. And that’s why this took off and, and I want to say that we have a strong technology base and that’s also the message for our common that we can have other fields where our technology will be used which can take off in a similar way, maybe a bit later, maybe in another area, but the potential is there.

[00:21:35] Tilman Versch: I’m also interested in understanding the company and you as a business builder, so parts of these TempChain logistics is logistics play you’re doing. So how have you built this competency in logistics? And how much competency do you need yourself and how much is given from partners?

[00:21:56] Joachim Kuhn: So we are doing not logistics, we are only providing the tools to have good thermal logistics, but we are not the logistics company at all.

So we are doing not logistic, we are only providing the tools to have a good thermal logistics, but we are not the logistics company at all.

And so when we offered our product, our tools, our services, we speak with exactly these logistic companies. And the guys who wanted to do need the logistics, for example, the pharmaceutical shippers. But we also speak with the forwarders, with the airlines, with the integrators of this world and tell them about the advantages, how they can save costs, how they can save product losses, how they can have predictable shipments with no deviations, and that’s what we tell them and that’s why I think we are very successful in this area.

Moving on from the pandemic with TempChain

[00:22:52] Tilman Versch: Parts of the success or of the story it’s also a bit bound to the pandemic in the vaccine delivery. We will see it in this kind of segment of your business a decline if the pandemic normalises, or what is your future estimate for this part of the business?

[00:23:10] Joachim Kuhn: So we also grow in the underlying business so the business accepts the influences of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. That was a little bit overestimated in the last years that we are COVID-pure players, but this is not true. So under our underlying business, even last year where we had great growth of the company with 44%, yes, the majority is coming for the growth was coming from COVID but also the underlying business grew double-digit.

[00:23:51] Tilman Versch: You have to get a realistic assumption about the impact of the pandemic even in the future with this business line. What is your assumption about this?

[00:24:00] Joachim Kuhn: So it all depends on how vaccination processes will continue. And as you know, there’s a lot of discussion in our society about vaccinations, about boosters, about the variants of the virus, and so on, so very hard to predict. We have low visibility here. We are quite sure that we do not, let’s say, yes, that we do not have to have to worry. There will be always a business to distribute, but I think in the long run, of course, COVID business, COVID vaccination business will go definitely down.

Breaking into new markets

[00:24:51] Tilman Versch: Let’s come back to the other business line and look again at this light, appliances, building mobility. Are there topics that give this business lines? How long does it usually take for you to get into these markets and get your technology applied in the customer’s products? What are the time frame in those markets?

[00:25:16] Joachim Kuhn: Oh, the time frames can be very different, for example, the longest time frame of course is the automotive industry or the aeroplane industry. I think in the building industry we see good momentum, good traction, but still takes a little bit to discover in the market to spread more in the markets. Very different time frames here, ranging from two years to 10 years.

Overview of solutions

[00:25:51] Tilman Versch: We already discussed features a bit, so I think it’s easy. What kind of problem do you solve here, but what kind of problems are you solving in techniques in industry and building and mobility? Can you maybe give some details here?

[00:26:03] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, in this area as we can solve, for example, it’s all about energy saving. And in the fridge, we can save up to 50, 60% of energy depending on how many panels, of our panels the rich producer uses. We have definitely in other areas, for example, in mobility, we can better insulate. For example, the skin, the chassis of a car. We can insulate batteries leading to much-improved thermal management of these of the car or its components. These are just some examples here.

[00:26:47] Tilman Versch: So in the kind of street usually like they, they do their planning five years ahead for the production lines of three to five years ahead, and so the uptake in your business will be seen also in this kind of time frames if their electronic mobility becomes more dominant?

[00:26:58] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, or longer, we don’t know exactly because the European car industry who would be our first client is now, let’s say, still struggling with immobility. They have launched their first set of products. Now they are in a second phase where they improve these products and maybe in the third phase which will come in five years, they will definitely have a need and improved some of the management of the car and its components. And I think in this wave, maybe up to five to 10 years, we will be in.

Working with customers

[00:27:42] Tilman Versch: How much testing and back and forth will you have with your customers when implementing the new panels to, for instance, the building sector, which is a quite conservative sector for instance?

[00:27:56] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, you can apply it at any time. We have already now all the approvals needed to be the matter of approval here in the building sector. We have a lot of approvals needed. For example, we just recently got the approval of the Italian industry for their energy-saving programmes. So we are already in a good, in a good shape. What we have to do here is to integrate our panels and more in systems and we have to wait a little bit until we have done this system approval that is more done by the system providers and that can take one, two years.

Working with sales partners

[00:28:34] Tilman Versch: Driven through the energy crisis, is there also like a higher demand that’s coming to you, or is it more like that you have to build a sales organisation for the different fields and really go do the heart underground work to promote your product and get in touch with the customers?

[00:28:51] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, definitely. So we need to build up the sales organisation. It’s not all done by ourselves. We need also sales partners or system partners who include our products in their systems, in their sales process. I think we have a lot of interesting partners here. And we have to penetrate more these markets. It’s a big job and we have limited resources. Of course, we are trying to focus our resources on the field where we see in near future the biggest success. That’s our strategy.

[00:29:28] Tilman Versch: How do you come to the conclusion that success is more likely in this sub-segment of the market?

[00:29:37] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, we see how the customers react and how readily it’s accepted and implemented in their industry. And, you know, we always have a first mover in the markets typically, someone who is the first adapter of the technology, and when he appears in the market and shows really advantages of his newly designed product with the VIPs included then others follow.

Yeah, we see how the customers react and how readily it’s accepted and implemented in their industry. And, you know, we always have a first mover in the markets typically, someone who is the first adapter of the technology, and when he appears in the market and shows really advantages of his newly designed product with the VIPs included then others follow.

[00:30:06] Impact of the energy crisis

[00:30:05] Tilman Versch: Okay. Has the energy crisis changed the playing field or are all the planning orbits more in shock? An example, in the building sector project, have to be postponed because of rising costs or is there already something you see where the playing field has changed in your favour?

[00:30:25] Joachim Kuhn: So we have our own costs are, let’s say, pretty much under control as good as this can be. We have no supply issues at the moment. And I think in future we will also develop greatly in this field. We see now an increasing awareness and I would say our panels are used when you have no space, but you need a very good insulation. You need these two factors. No space, very good insulation. And of course, with the rising awareness, also with the regulations, with new energy efficiency regulations, we are more and more into focus and in a typical building, it’s only maybe 3–5% of the total area to be insulated where we can apply our panels with these circumstances. No space, but very good insulation. A problem solver and but these 2–5% of the market are massive and that is our goal to penetrate these massive 2–5% of these market.

[00:31:41] Tilman Versch: What does it mean in terms of revenue massive?

[00:31:44] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, it’s definitely if you feel all this literally these niches. The niche in the building sector is a multi-billion market.

[00:32:01] Life cycle of the products

[00:31:55] Tilman Versch: Okay, it sounds quite interesting and promising. Thinking about a bit for the end of our interview about the life cycle of the product. It’s a bit of a rough question, but maybe you have some examples that come to mind. How much energy do you need to build a panel or product, and how much can it save over a lifetime? Do we have any ratios for some use cases for this?

[00:32:20] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, first of all, we are a carbon-neutral company. All our products are produced in a carbon-neutral way, still, since 2021. And we are proud about that and looking at the variety of our portfolio with more than 200, 300 product boxes, panels, everything. I cannot give you a general answer here. But I would say, in the lifetime of the application where we use our panels, the panel can save much more energy than it needed to produce it. Also, our energy bill to produce the panels, of course not including the raw materials, but our energy bill is maybe 1.5% of our overall turnover and that also gives you imagination of how energy-saving our products are also in production.

[00:33:19] Tilman Versch: Thinking again about the lifetime of the product, also across different use cases, how long is the lifetime is? For example, the box behind you, how long can it last? If it’s in high intense use and when should there be new purchases?

[00:33:38] Joachim Kuhn: I think that depends also on the product. We have boxes or containers with a lifetime of 10 years easily or even more. And we have boxes and containers which are also designed and don’t get me wrong for one-way use. That doesn’t mean that they are thrown away, but they are then one-way and then they are reused, for example, locally in another application. But we have all of that, and so our lifetime of our products including boxes, panels, ranges from let’s say, two years up to 50 years.

[00:34:19] Closing thoughts

[00:34:17] Tilman Versch: That’s good to hear. For the end of our interview, I always give the chance for my guest to add something we haven’t discussed. So is there anything you want to add?

[00:34:27] Joachim Kuhn: Yeah, I just want to emphasise again that we have a great technology basis to pioneer and revolutionise several more industries. We are now very well known for our TempChain business providing tools for pharmaceutical and vaccine distributions. But I think many, many other sectors will come. We have the potential to revolutionise any type of TempChain logistics. It can also be in food industry. It can be in any other industry and we have also the possibility to revolutionise a lot of where you save thermal energy. Sixty percent of our primary energy consumption in industrial countries is used today for thermal purposes. Sixty percent, it’s not mobility. It’s not IT. It’s not light, it’s thermal, it’s thermal properties where you use most of the energy, and that is our playground. So there’s a big field where we can play. And we are absolutely committed and dedicated to save a very much amount of thermal energy in the future.

Thank you

[00:35:41] Tilman Versch: Sounds like an interesting story to follow. Thank you very much for your time, Mr Kuhn. And thank you very much to the audience for staying till here and bye-bye from my side.

[00:35:50] Joachim Kuhn: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

Disclaimer

[00:35:53] Tilman Versch: As another video, also here is the disclaimer. You can find the link to the disclaimer below in the show notes. The disclaimer says, always do your own work. What we’re doing here is no recommendation and no advice, so please always do your own work. Thank you very much.

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Tilman is a very enthusiastic, long-term investor. Over the last years he has taught himself important investing concepts autodidactically. He tries to combine a positive climate and environmental impact with his investments.
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