What is biomimicry

Biomimicry: Innovations inspired by nature

One thing is certain: the planet's resources are limited. We are well on the way to irreversibly destroying our livelihoods. Fortunately, there has been positive movement in the matter for some time. In the literal sense. More and more people are setting out, looking for meaning in what they do, taking on responsibility, becoming future discoverers, trying out new things, instigators, improving people. Future, new, better business practices play a decisive role in this. The holistic view of companies, economy and society includes nature as the greatest lever. We are all part of nature, too often we are not aware of that. Only when we understand how to treat our planet with dignity will our children and grandchildren have a future worth living in. I learned most of nature from my grandparents and from people who work in and with nature. The source of knowledge plays less and less a role in the highly industrialized and digital world. A blind spot I believe - a lack of future skill that we should work on - because biomimicry shows us everything we can learn from nature.

So I'm particularly looking forward to Paul Hofmann and Fabian Feutlinske, the founders of the Biomimicry Academy Germany and the COBIOM innovation network. I talked to both of them about what Biomimicry everything is and causes. Have fun while reading.

Learning from nature. Innovations that are sustainable, efficient and adaptable - an interview with Paul Hofmann and Fabian Feutlinske

Stephan Grabmeier (SG): Let's start with a few brief words: What exactly is biomimicry?

Paul Hofmann (PH): Biomimicry is one Innovation methodologywho find their inspiration in solving human challenges and problems from nature and scientific knowledge wins. The aim of this methodology is to make the extensive knowledge of biology and natural sciences tangible for human applications. We rely on the scientific knowledge process in combination with the innovation technology of design thinking in order to create sustainable innovations.

Fabian Feutlinske (FF): We can learn a lot from nature because nature experimented 3.8 billion years to find out what sustainable, efficient, resilient and at the same time adaptable is. If we want to learn from it, we need science and engineering as well as social innovation and psychology, mindfulness, openness and agility. All of this is included in the Biomimicry methodology.

SG: What is your personal relationship to it?

PH: As a trained biology laboratory assistant and studied biotechnology, I have always been interested in the interface between design, technology and biology. Through my years of professional experience in research, I was able to learn a lot about biological organisms and ecosystems. When, in 2016, I met Arndt Pechstein, who studied neurobiology himself, with the World of bio-inspired innovation came into contact, it was natural for me to continue to deal with this topic. That's how I finally got to know Fabian - my co-founder. The interest in the topic has meanwhile become one of my professions. With the Biomimicry Academy we now have the Opportunity to pass this wonderful methodology on to others

FF: I've always wanted to understand how we make our life and the life around us better can. That's why I became a natural scientist and at the same time dealt with systems theory, philosophy and the cultures of the world. With Biomimicry I have a Framework found which unites all of this. My friend and mentor Arndt Pechstein trained me and I've been following this path with enthusiasm ever since.

Learn from a wealth of experience of 3.8 billion years of research and development

SG: What is your what for? Why are you so busy with it?

PH: My intrinsic motivation is that we as humans are part of nature and should therefore live and work in harmony with it. A sustainable, grandchildren economy can only take place in the interplay of nature and the man-made economy. I myself am the father of two children. I would like to leave them a planet where they can lead a fulfilling life and where they can continue to marvel at the wonders of nature. As Fabian already mentioned: Nature had 3.8 billion years for research and development in order to make the organisms that surround us as efficient as possible - and they are also perfectly adapted to the ecosystems that dominate on earth. From this you can conclude that all bio-inspired innovations are inherently efficient and sustainable

FF: My inner drive has always made me Expanding boundaries and apparent contradictions bring together. So, looking back, it's natural that I became an entrepreneur who make the world a better place would like to. Biomimicry and the methodologies, programs and projects we have developed from it are an expression of my soul. They mean a lot to me and give me strength. This is especially true since I have my daughter. Our children deserve one livable future and must at the same time learn to think and act differently than their grandparents.

Nature-inspired swarm innovations

SG: Let's get specific. What examples are there that help make better products or services through inspiration from nature?

FF: First of all, there are those classic examples of bionics: Lotus Paint, a wall paint with a beading effect that automatically cleans facades; Automotive industry studies of shapes that reduce wind drag; Movable aircraft wings that adapt to the air conditions like a bird's wing. The use of biological phenomena such as the fractal growth of plasmodia, i.e. slime molds that optimize their locomotion and structure through random variations, is particularly impressive. This evolutionary principle it will then analyzed and simulated by artificial intelligenceso that the algorithm can create tens of thousands of patterns. Light-weight, extremely stable structures for the aviation or construction industry were created in this way.

These are great inventions. However, they are individual solutions that have not managed to take over the market or the innovation departments over the past 50 years.Our approaches are more systematic, we work in clusters of experts and companies and develop innovations - from the invention to the business model and market implementation.

PH: Another example of bio-inspired innovation can be the Bio-Utilization be: In doing so, one uses biological organisms or systems and their properties to perform a specific task for humans. With BECCS, i.e. biomass-based CO2-Separation and storage, plants - for example trees or algae - are used to generate CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in biomass. If this biomass is then used to generate energy, for example through combustion, and the flue gas, for example, through catalysts based on metal compounds from CO2 is released, this CO2 then, for example, store them in underground storage facilities. This creates a form of energy generation that even CO2- is negative. We are currently building one together with actors in the BECCS field Swarm clusters to scale the technology industrially.

Bioinspiration is not only used in the development of products, technologies or services, it can also be used in connection with Organizational development be used. For our swarm innovation platform COBIOM, we naturally found our inspiration in nature. When we were faced with the question of how a larger number of individuals in nature work together in a targeted manner, we came across the diverse mechanisms of communication in schools of insects and fish. One factor was particularly important here in order to keep the swarm functioning properly, namely that the collaboration of individuals is rewarded. This means that there is an advantage for the individual individual through the cooperation with other individuals from the swarm.

This is an advantage that the individual would not have without cooperation with others. At COBIOM we have that all in one Token system implemented. This system rewards our experts, to work together on the challenges of our customers instead of developing independent solutions as individual teams. The advantage is that we can Make full use of collective knowledge, to the best solution to create for the customer.

With biomimicry, companies benefit from the advantages of a systemic approach

SG: What are the advantages for companies to deal with biomimicry?

PH: Biology - or rather the natural sciences - always look at a research object in terms of embedding it in a more complex system. There are no isolated individual organisms in biology, everything is interdependent. Unlike economics. Today we also find these complex dependencies in our economy. Nevertheless, nature has managed to find efficient and sustainable solutions for emerging problems, taking the system into account as an influencing factor.

These systemic view of the embedding in a higher-level system is often absent today when it comes to the subject of economic activity. This begins, for example, with the fact that many companies do not even know their overriding purpose, i.e. the real added value they add to the system. Another important aspect is that Consider your own company as a systemto identify new sources of income, for example. A good example here is that British Sugar Company and their industrial symbiosis: By taking a systemic view of one's own company, alleged waste products could be used as recyclables. This enabled new sources of income to be generated for the company. The highlight here is that you can more sustainable will and at the same time increases sales.

FF: I have little to add to that. Everything is interrelated: economy, society, environment. All of this forms a system and systems follow natural laws. If you ignore this, you will die out because it is simply too inefficient. Nobody can last long to swim against the current - and I don't mean public opinion or political currents. As destructive as the presidents of this world may behave, that too will pass. No, I mean more subtle trends - those that we may perceive as megatrends. When we understand systems, we can more easily identify and possibly predict these trends. Nature is the perfect example of this. In addition, there is of course a lot to learn about companies, materials, chemical processes and so on. Without a systemic understanding, these are good beginnings, but not yet sustainable innovations.

SG: How do you perceive the previous understanding in business?

PH: Everyone we talk to about biomimicry is initially totally interested. The economy is generally open to the topic. Because the approach of looking for inspiration in nature in order to drive sustainable innovations forward is quite plausible for many. Unfortunately this is Methodology not so well known, especially in Europe, so it's time to get a little more attention.

In the US where this Innovation method originally developed, biomimicry is also much more widespread as a term in the field of innovation than in Europe. I think the European market is often a little too timid is about taking new approaches. In my opinion, this is also one of the reasons why we are falling more and more behind in the innovation area. We focus too much on business as usual and optimizing our existing products and services instead of bringing new innovative solutions to the market. Biomimicry is a good method to combine innovation and sustainability in order to develop products that secure companies long-term future opportunities. 

FF: When we talk about the fascinating phenomena in nature, most people react positively surprised. People associate beauty and harmony with nature. This is called biophilia (love for the living) and so biomimicry is of course a good narrative. It is, however, that one a lot of work must be in good design and holistic solutions, precisely because they have to be economically competitive. This pays off, just as circular business models, energy efficiency or ESG investments pay off in the medium term. Biomimicry does not deliver the quick solutions that many managers in an industrial environment want. Biomimicry brings sustainable, long-term solutions with quality - actually exactly what the German economy stood for for a long time.

Bio-inspired innovations in knowledge transfer and public education

SG: What are you doing to put this topic higher on the agenda and to create an understanding of biological inspiration?

PH: In addition to our training facility, the Biomimicry Academy, we still run the non-profit initiative Biomimicry Germany. With this initiative we are a member of the European Biomimicry Alliance. The goal of the alliance is that Promote collaboration between national initiatives for bio-inspired innovation and the creation of joint campaignsto advance biomimicry as an innovation method in Europe.

FF: We have been operating for six years now public education in bio-inspiration, especially together with the Natural History Museum Berlin and the European Biomimicry Alliance. We also teach students and professional innovators how to from human-centered design to life-centered design comes to the Next big thing in the innovation industry, and how to build business models on it. Ultimately, you only have a great influence if you reach many or the right people. And business is a powerful approach to this. But we are also in that academic training and with GermanZero also in political environment on road. These are all parts of a system, and what we need is systemic change. Together we can do it.

SG: How specifically can companies learn with or from you?

PH: Businesses can on four types learn from us and work with us. The first option is ours online-based courses on the fundamentals of bio-inspired innovation. Here we offer a program consisting of three modules on the topics of Responsible Innovation, Bioinspired Circular Innovation and Value-Driven Business. There is also the possibility of using our Certification program to develop a solution for an existing challenge of the company with the help of our students. Of course we also offer tailor-made workshops on the subject of biomimicry, which we carry out online and offline in consultation with the customer.

The fourth way to work with us and create bio-inspired innovations for a company is ours Swarm innovation platform COBIOM. With COBIOM we help future-oriented companies to master the next step on their way to sustainability. We achieve this by using the collective innovative strength of our swarm of experts.

A valuable innovation method for a grandchildren future

SG: Where should (or must) be the subject of bio-inspired innovation in three years from your point of view?

PH: Our goal is to have bio-inspired innovation in three years firmly established innovation method in Europe is. This gives us the opportunity Sustainability as a new standard for innovation define. The transdisciplinary collaboration between experts from a wide variety of disciplines should become a fundamental pillar for the development of sustainable solutions to the challenges of the sustainability decade.

FF: Our focus is on quickly creating solutions that show that Bio-inspiration, sustainable business models and swarm innovation are the keys to a future that we want for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. A lot has to change for that. Those who take such changes as opportunities will be successful. So there will be a huge change of heart in the next few years and bio-inspiration is part of that.I also wish that the topics we talked about - the need for radical sustainability, the awareness that we are part of the global ecosystem, and the entrepreneurship thinking that we can all make a difference - part of the education for every child will be. Collaboration and responsible, sustainable innovation must become the standard, better in three years than 2030 or 2050.

SG: Dear Paul, dear Fabian, wow, that was a great insight into your work. Thank you for the exciting interview! I am very happy that you took your timeand would like to point out our common topics, which we implement together.

Learn about biomimicry and the power of bio-inspired innovations

I have in common with Florian Kondert from the Zukunftsinstitut as well as with Paul Hofmann and Fabian Feutlinske the Biomimicry Academy one Webinar series that we will implement together in October. The three dates are:

  • Friday, October 2nd, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.
  • Friday, October 16, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.
  • Friday, October 30, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.

The first appointment is about one overview"Learn to learn from nature" - on the methods of bio-inspired innovations, in the second and third part the focus is on how the different approaches in the implementation by "Bio-inspired circular and system design" can be brought. To register, click here. I am happy when you are there.

About Paul Hofmann and Fabian Feutlinske

Paul Hofmann and Fabian Feutlinske are the co-founders of the Biomimicry Academy and COBIOM, a swarm innovation platform in which future-oriented companies master the next step towards sustainability. The basis for this is provided by the collective intelligence and innovative strength of a network of sustainability experts from a wide variety of areas, from supply chain management and circular economy to bio-inspired innovation and system thinking to packaging and materials science, CO2-Footprint measurement and many more.

Source cover picture: © Biomimicry Academy and COBIOM