„To simply make something is not enough“ The 57-year-old is the only one of the four founders who still works with LAR, which is steadily growing with now 50 employees, and which above all develops and produces highly complex technologies for water analysis. But LAR, which has its headquarters not far from coffee roasters and cigarette companies in Neukölln, did not only experience a varied history during its early stages. „We did make a lot of mistakes, which we could have avoided “says the grey-haired LAR President, who sits casually dressed in jeans and comfortable slippers at the big conference table. „To simply make something is not enough. You cannot base your business on one single idea, you have to know the market and be familiar with marketing and sales, too.''
In the mid-80ies, when Arts founded his business, there was hardly any consulation provided by the university or Business Angels, the young scientists were on their own. Additionaly, Werner Arts had never thought about self-employment at the beginning of his apprenticeship. For a long time his career did not indicate that either: After elementary school - “with 14 I left school“- the native Ratinger began an apprenticeship as a draughtsman. Within a short time he became a design engineer, resat his secondary school certificate and studied process engineering at the technical university in Düsseldorf. „An uncle of mine kept telling me that apprenticeship is not everything. Perhaps, without him I would not have been that motivated“, remembers Werner Arts.
One person should call the shots But his academic career did not stop after graduating from technical university. Arts moved to Berlin studied enviromental technology at the TU Berlin. There he met his co-founders during work on a research project. It was about lead pollution in water, because the water ran through lead pipes in many apartments since the beginnig of the 20th century. „Scientist had known for some time that heavy metal was unhealthy but could not clearly explain how the contamination was occurring. After completing this indisciplinary research project, the young scientists joined forces and started up the company – with the first project's result already mentioned previously. „We had the problem that we were five founders with equal rights, whose competences always overlapped“ tells Arts. „Companies may have several chief executives but in the end one has to call the shots.“
Other products were introduced onto the market prematurely. The developers were proud of their achievement and wanted to show experts how good their product had become. „For young companies, in particular, it is important to find reference customers in order to maintain a technological edge“ explains Arts. A lot of products do not reach maturity until there is contact with potential buyers. „Customers do know best what they need. Consequently, our technologies are constantly changing.“
Today, Arts, who regained a majority share in his company through a management buyout after an investor stepped in during the 90ies, learned from his mistakes. But founding a company is definetively something he would do again: „Despite all my experiences, which have not always been easy, the liberty which I have gained through this is too valuable.“