Jorge Christie - “If you don’t believe your idea will succeed, nobody else will either”
“The challenge of making a beneficial contribution to the development of society appeals to me,” remarks Jorge Christie. He is developing sustainable timber-based construction solutions with his start-up, Strong by form. “The aim is to make the construction industry more eco-friendly.”
Mr Christie, are you hoping your start-up will make you rich?
No. Personally, having exorbitant amounts of money is of no interest to me. However, as far as our start-up is concerned, money is clearly vitally important. It enables us to achieve progress, develop new solutions and continue pursuing our goals. Although, I can’t get enough of it as long as it’s being invested in something beneficial.
What’s the business idea behind your start-up?
We develop technology that enables us to work together with nature, rather than against it. We’re currently using timber-framed construction – wood is extremely well suited to this purpose as it’s a lightweight, sustainable and attractive raw material. We have developed a design-to-manufacturing technology to implement the intelligent principles of wood in building construction. Our core goal is to continuously develop new and sustainable technologies to replace CO2-intensive materials, such as concrete and steel.
What does that mean exactly?
We’re focusing on trees and the fibre structure of wood. Trees are high-performance structures. They withstand remarkable strain from wind and snow because they have the right form, density and fibre orientation. We use them to produce constructions which achieve optimal performance at minimum weight. For example, we have developed prototypes of a timber-framed shell which bears loads of over 300kg with minimal deflection, while only weighing 854 grams itself. Based on these findings, we’re developing joining elements or load-bearing structures for the construction industry. Using our production technology, we determine the correct position of an individual timber component with the right density, fibre orientation and thickness. This means it will also be possible in future to manufacture a lightweight, but highly stable chassis for an electric car from timber. This makes electric mobility an extremely sustainable technology.
Why is that a good business idea?
Because many sectors of industry have to adopt a more sustainable approach. The construction industry alone accounts for just under 40% of global environmental pollution. We can help this sector to become more environmentally friendly. That’s our key sales argument.
You launched the start-up in 2018 with two Chilean colleagues. Why did you come to Europe?
Because we realised that Europe is currently our main market. There is a greater level of environmental awareness here and the financial and technical conditions for developing sustainable technology are much better in Europe. I did a master’s degree in architecture and then completed a master’s programme in digital fabrication at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. I’m currently working on my doctoral thesis in structural architectural design at the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design of the University of Stuttgart. The major advantage is that I can focus on our products here.
What milestones has your start-up achieved so far?
The most important thing of all is my partners. We’re three old friends who can rely on one another completely. We complement each other extremely well from a technical perspective and are all extremely committed to our project. If these boxes are not ticked in the team, then it can be challenging. We won our first start-up prize in Chile and then started focusing entirely on our start-up. We’ve won other prizes and recently secured investors in Chile and Switzerland. As I mentioned at the start, securing new capital allows you to take the next steps in development. This will enable us to conduct research into other materials and develop software solutions and manufacturing methods. That requires a lot of investment.
What role is BFH playing here?
An extremely important one. Our collaboration means we benefit from the vast expertise of BFH staff in architecture and timber construction. We can also make our products there as the infrastructure is excellent. Together with the Swiss real estate company ‘Mowe Haus’, which is also a partner of BFH, we’re currently developing a small wooden cabin which can be used as a home office. ‘Mowe Haus’ is one of our investors but also our first customers for these cabins. That’s an ideal situation for us: the first product a start-up brings to market is extremely important. We’re able to develop and modify ours by working directly with our first customer which is a very favourable situation. This also gives us greater control over the development. We aim to start our sales activities at the end of 2022.
Did you often have doubts?
Yes and no. I only ever had doubts about specific decisions on how to implement something. I never doubted the business idea itself though. On the contrary, I always believed we should carry it through, otherwise someone else would.
What appeals to you about your role as a start-up founder?
The challenge of making a beneficial contribution to the development of society appeals to me. I also enjoy working with my two friends. I benefit from their intelligence and creativity. It’s incredible how many fascinating people you meet along the way when setting up a company.
What should people setting up their own companies pay particular attention to?
The importance of finding the right partners and employees. In particular, people with different skills that complement your own. The business idea might be brilliant, but it won’t go anywhere unless you find the right people. Furthermore, you really have to believe your idea will succeed. If you don’t believe in it then nobody else will.
School of Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering
Strong by form
Chief Technical Officer CTO