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Business & Education COVID-19

A Ray of Light

sponsored by Knauer

How has the pandemic affected life in Berlin?

COVID-19 has led to drastic changes for Germany, and these are visible across all industries and social groups. Vibrant Berlin has not been doing much better than other major cities in the world. Our universities have stopped offering normal in-class courses, and this will remain mostly the case during the winter semester.

The financial situation for students is also very difficult because many of their classic temporary jobs are not available at the moment. And it would seem that more students than expected do not have a computer with sufficient performance for online conferences.

Donations were needed, so a fund was started to counteract the problem. KNAUER has itself donated to provide appropriate equipment or improved internet access to those students in need in Berlin. I think this is the spirit we must all embody this year. As long as societies and partners stick together and show that they care, there will always be a ray of light in these troubling times.

Sounds like a lovely initiative – have you been involved in any others?

Yes, we have! A number of contacts from institutions in the region – including the head of a women’s shelter, the director of a local school, a kindergarten director, and employees of a neighboring refugee home – have all got in touch because they needed disinfectant.

Given the scarcity of disinfectant back in March, KNAUER employees suggested that we could produce it ourselves. After some investigation and approval, we mixed and bottled “Dr. KNAUER’s disinfectant for hands” in line with a WHO recipe in our central laboratory. From May, we then provided this disinfectant (for free!) to suppliers, schools and so on, sometimes along with masks, gloves, and 3D-printed protective visors.

What were your main concerns as a business when the pandemic began?

I have a team of more than 150 employees and was of course concerned about how we could ensure their safety while maintaining business. We immediately set up a crisis management team that has planned, and is still planning, all pandemic-related measures.

We also feared that our supply chains and the availability of parts would cause us problems; such issues would have directly compromised our ability to deliver products. But we make three quarters of our purchases in Germany; many of them in Berlin and the surrounding area. Though it can be a financial disadvantage at times, we are motivated by the close cooperation it drives with our suppliers – as well as rapid delivery. It also means we can ensure fair and environmentally-friendly production conditions according to German and EU standards.

Our regional focus has proven to be a great advantage during the current crisis, allowing us to avoid many of the bottlenecks that could have arisen when trying to acquire parts from distant geographies in various states of disruption.

And how has business been in general?

We have actually been very relieved regarding business development. LC is an important tool in the research of vaccines and active ingredients, including those related to SARS-CoV-2. Our many years in the field of LC have allowed us to provide excellent support to such ventures.

Accordingly, we have been able to acquire major customers both last year and this year. And that success has resulted in a need to increase production, which we have already planned. But now comes the implementation; we have integrated many precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 interfering with our plans – and we hope things will go as smoothly as possible.

One existing customer, a Berlin-based manufacturer of oligonucleotides, was also able to introduce a test for SARS-CoV-2 very early on in the pandemic. In this particular case, it is very rewarding to know that we are making a contribution to the fight against the virus with our FPLC systems. Our other products will likely be used for COVID-19 vaccine production, but that’s all I can say for now!

Have you had to make any difficult decisions in these trying times?

KNAUER is a family business, established 58 years ago. The founders – that is, my parents, Roswitha and Herbert – still feel very attached to the company and play an active role. Having to tell them in April, at the peak of the pandemic, that they were no longer allowed to visit the company was not easy. They didn’t like being sent to work from home for a number of weeks, and they quickly returned when the infection figures dropped in May!

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