So far, we’ve closely followed the developments unfolding at Berlin-based fuel cell supplier Heliocentris and the takeover of its locations in Germany (see H2-international, May 2017 and January 2018). We also reported about the comeback of FutureE and the spin-off of Home Power Solutions. And recently, we sat down with Sebastian-Justus Schmidt, owner of Enapter, to find out what happened to Heliocentris’ subsidiary in Tuscany.
Mr. Schmidt, the story is that it all started in Pisa, with an Italian business named Acta. First, please tell us what became of this company.
Schmidt: Acta, which was later renamed Heliocentris Italy and is now Enapter, entered AIM, the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange, in 2004. At the end of 2014, it lost a court case and was ordered to pay EUR 1.35 million. Since the company had already slipped into the red, it filed for “concordato preventivo,” Italy’s version of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States. After all, it had burned through more than EUR 35.9 million in vital cash reserves from AIM gains and various other investments.
What had Acta been working on?
Schmidt: With a small team made up of chemical engineers, Acta had begun to develop fuel cells, but refocused its attention in 2007, turning instead to alkaline water electrolysis. Initial results looked promising, and in 2010, management decided to make electrolyzers the company’s only line of business. One year later, Acta started delivering units to a few institutes and signed a distribution agreement with German supplier Heliocentris Energy Solutions.
It seems that working with Heliocentris was rather beneficial for Acta, at least initially.
Schmidt: Yes, it was. After Acta had filed for bankruptcy protection, Heliocentris set up a subsidiary, Heliocentris Italy, which rented Acta’s assets for a year. In early 2015, the subsidiary acquired all of the company and signed an agreement with the trustee.
Schmidt: Unfortunately, the next thing that happened was the bankruptcy filing of the parent corporation in October 2016. But Inabata, a Japanese trading company in business with both Acta and Heliocentris, had secured a floating-rate loan and a minority stake in Heliocentris Italy, so it received some of the shares.
Odasco’s alleged rescue attempt did not work out as planned, did it?
Schmidt: Last January, the trustee managing Heliocentris’ bankruptcy case signed an agreement with Odasco, based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, to allow the corporation to establish Odasco Heliocentris Europe, registered in Düsseldorf, Germany, and take control of Heliocentris Italy. Odasco Heliocentris brought in fresh capital for a few weeks, but then, payments suddenly stopped, without notice, leaving the Italian offshoot unable to meet its financial obligations. Since Odasco had paid less than the full amount for the takeover, the trustee declared it “not consummated” in October. He asked me whether I was interested in purchasing most of the shares – an offer I just couldn’t resist.
Why was that?
Schmidt: Since 2015, I’ve been using Acta’s electrolyzers for my sustainable living project, Phi Suea House [phisueahouse.com]. I have seen how the devices work, know their benefits and drawbacks. Also, I strongly believe that hydrogen will be big in the coming years.
Schmidt: We retained all 11 employees and hired five more for our headquarters in Pisa. We likewise hired new staff and contracted freelancers for our Software, UX and UI division. We got started on extensive and urgently needed renovations, some of which have already been completed. In March, we will begin planning for our Berlin office, and we will introduce our new company, Enapter, to Hannover Messe goers in April (Hall 27, Booth D57). We’ve been very pleased with how everything, including the company and the team, has turned out. But, of course, there is still a lot of work to be done.