March 10, 2017
“I’ve always been interested in start-ups,” says Kent Bridgewater with a subtle smile. The German-American was a member of the pioneer class of Jacobs University, those who began working toward their degrees in 2001, the year the then International University Bremen was founded. Just recently the 36-year-old founded his own company. Not one that deals with apps or Internet applications. But a start-up in the area of mechanical engineering, which wants to improve the cleaning of conveyor systems.
“Brige” is the name of the company, which began operations in November of last year and maintains a demonstration hall on the site of the old wool combing works near Jacobs University in Bremen. There you can see boxes, a meter long and half a meter wide and tall, which are placed on the suspended conveyor belt. They are a combination washing system and high-pressure dryer. “We use them to clean and dry conveyor chains during operation. Nobody else can do that,” explains Bridgewater.
In many plants, conveyor belts are the arteries of production. Usually, they transport raw product for further processing; that can be anything from pork sides to sheet metal for coating. But along the way they take up dust and dirt particles, which can contaminate the product. Until now, the conveyor chains could only be wet-cleaned and not dried, or they were disassembled completely and sent for external cleaning. Brige now offers an alternative that is cleaner and more affordable.
The new development, which emanated from talks with the mechanical engineer and soon-to-be physicist Sven Simeitis, a friend from Bridgewater’s youth in Frankfurt, represents a good 5000 hours of engineering. Simeitis is responsible for the design; Bridgewater, who studied integrated social sciences at Jacobs University in Bremen and worked among others in the sector of shipping companies, handles sales.
The idea for the new cleaning system was born back in 2013. The fact that it took until the end of last year to get Brige started is due, among other things, to the capital requirements, which are distinctly higher in mechanical engineering than, for instance, for app developers. “Without a functioning prototype, the banks won’t provide any money. But we were only able to build a prototype with the help of external capital,” reports Bridgewater.
On the way to entrepreneurship, the Startup Competition at Jacobs University proved to be very helpful. In 2014, Bridgewater presented his business idea there for the first time; representatives of banks approached him and helped him prepare a business plan. A year later, Brige won second place at BRIDGE, an idea competition for company founders at the Bremen universities. A bank provided the initial financing; the City of Hamburg accepted the duo in their Innovation Starter Program. And another contact from his college days also proved very valuable: Bridgewater’s former host family from Bremen joined Brige as co-partners.
Last year, Brige exhibited at the Hannover Trade Fair for the first time and was even represented as a start-up at the opening press conference. At the world’s most important industrial fair, the duo got to talk with large manufacturers of conveyor systems, as well as with companies who themselves face the challenge of dirty conveyor chains. Bridgewater is optimistic. The start-up wants to sell 15 systems this year; that would be a great success.
Throughout the years, Bridgewater has always maintained contact with Jacobs University. He also feels at home at the University of Bremen, where he got his Master in Business Psychology. “I know both worlds,” says he – and he would like to bring them even closer together. And he already has an idea: A big soccer tournament of all the Bremen universities. Brige will donate the challenge cup.
Thomas Joppig | Brand Management, Marketing & Communications
t.joppig [at] jacobs-university.de | Tel.: +49 421 200-4504