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(v. l.): Bastian Kühnel, Anton Kohlbauer, Stefanie Hettmann, Alexander Treml, Simon Nestmeier © Regiothek

Regiothek: A digital platform for the regional food industry

With its Regiothek, the Passau start-up has provided a bridge linking regional food producers and consumers. The online platform allows customers to search for suppliers of regional products and gain insight into the supply chains all the way from the farm to the store. By doing so, the Regiothek supports transparency in the food industry and gives small businesses in the region greater visibility.

We sat down with Alexander Treml, one of the Regiothek's creators, to learn about the motivations behind founding the company, essential support opportunities for the business' launch phase and their plans for the future.

Alexander, could you explain what specifically goes into the Regiothek?

The Regiothek is an online platform offering a presence in the digital world to small to medium-sized companies in the independent food industry and connecting them with each other. Regional businesses can present themselves and their products there and share which products they offer, which ingredients they use and who supplies them. This results in a transparent supply chain network, something consumers are more and more interested in. Through the Regiothek, they can find out which regional restaurants they can eat at and which weekly markets they can visit, all while having easy access to how the suppliers obtain their products. WIth this transparency, our platform brings the regional supplier and the customer together.

You guys started out as a university project in 2018. What motivated you to form the company back then?

The idea came to me at my part time job while I was studying computer science. I was working for an organic bakery at a weekly market and up until then had never thought much about organic farming or regional business chains. But I quickly noticed that the customers are very interested in how products are made, what ingredients are used and where they come from. I also realized that companies have really hard time marketing themselves well. Even if they know that online marketing is especially important, they often lack the time, expertise or budget to hire someone to take care of it. This is how the idea of an online platform that solves both of those challenges was born. We wanted to create transparency and connect producers with consumers.

With my team of founders, I was very fortunate to have found great people who not only had time, but were just as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. And then we just got started.

“With my team of founders, I was very fortunate to have found great people who not only had time, but were just as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. And then we just got started.”

How are you financing yourselves, and how is business going for you?

In terms of tech, the Regiothek is based on a self-developed digital platform, on which companies can sign up, log in and maintain their profiles. The center point is an interactive map that lays out the connections between the various suppliers and helps customers navigate the platform. We work with a subscription model, which means that  participating companies pay a monthly fee to display their business on the Regiothek as well as their offers and suppliers. The size of the fee depends on the size of the business. Last year, the growth of our business was very positive. By the end of the year, 90 cooperative enterprises had signed up to be in the Regiothek, which was a major success for such a short time. And our trajectory shows more growth is to come. Even 2018 was a successful year for us. Although we hadn't properly launched yet, we made it into the top 3 in the 'Concept' category of the Bavarian Founders Award and won the Europe-wide Innovation in Politics Award in the 'Ecology' category. That was incredibly motivating and gave us quite a boost.

What are some of your upcoming milestones?

The Regiothek has become the main homepage for many Lower Bavarian companies, while others use it in addition to their own online presence. Our next goal is to make the Regiothek well known throughout Bavaria. To achieve this, we are currently expanding our partner networks in the Uppper Palatinate and Swabia regions and hope to see a similar growth rate to Lower Bavaria over the next few months. Going forward, we expect our target markets to expand into southern Germany, but also into Austria, northern Italy and France. Our dream would be to establish the Regiothek all across Europe while helping regional businesses with their visibility and overall providing more transparency in the food industry.

"Before we were able to finance ourselves with subscription payments, we received start-up financing from funding programs like EXIST, Flügge and Start?Zuschuss!. Without them the Regiothek wouldn't exist."

Which support programmes and networks were particularly helpful to you when you started?

Before we were able to finance ourselves with subscription payments, we received start-up financing from funding programs like EXIST, Flügge and Start?Zuschuss!. Without them the Regiothek wouldn't exist. Start?Zuschuss! in particular, was a great help in getting the business model off the ground. If you've got a good product, there' s nothing more important than a good network. Without direct referral-driven marketing and access to some of the major players in the industry, you have no way to gather your first customers. In the early phase, the Start-up centre digitalization Lower Bavarian (GZDN) (Gründerzentrum Digitalisierung Niederbayern, GZDN) and the “Heimatunternehmen" initiative were a great help to us. Thanks to our connection to the University of Passau we received a lot of professional support. That was and still is very valuable for our future steps in product development, especially when we want to test out new features.

Which skills do you think are most important for starting your own business?

Our starting team is made up of four people with different backgrounds. It's best if the team complement each other in terms of professional skills. Covering all of the important aspects of the industry should be part of the core team, and definitely have a basic knowledge of business administration. Our team of founders is particularly strong and wide-ranging in the IT sector. Besides that, it's important to be able to acquire the necessary expertise in your field, like in our case, in the food trade and organic farming sector. A few more basic requirements are a good dose of curiosity, willingness to learn and above all, perseverance. A good team is characterized by its flexibility in dealing with problems and its solution-oriented approach to overcoming difficult situations. This often determines whether a project will last in the long term and can hold its own in the market.

https://www.regiothek.de