A start-up in the middle of the grey zone

Lars Müller wants to open up the young market for cannabinoids with Synbiotic. Above all, this requires stamina.

Lars Müller cannot help but groan briefly when asked how much convincing he has to do with the authorities for his start-up. Müller briefly averts his gaze from the camera on his laptop and looks at the ceiling, then says: "On a scale of one to ten, it's probably more like an eleven." That's because, despite numerous discussions, much of what his startup does is still in the gray area, he says. "I'm often in contact with food agencies. They think we're selling drugs on the Internet," he says.

The reason for the distrust: His company Synbiotic makes products from cannabinoids, which quickly sounds like cannabis and smoking pot, even though he's on a completely different path. Dietary supplements he produces - and that's what it means for him, a constant battle, with lawyers against authorities. "Essentially, they write us nasty letters and we write nasty letters back." In the meantime, he says, his team of lawyers is very well positioned in that regard, after all. For the founder, however, it is also a fight against politically entrenched views and for the acceptance of the population - because it is precisely this population that will one day become Müller's potential clients.

With Synbiotic SE, Müller wants to build a Europe-wide cannabinoid empire, or as he puts it: "We want to become the leading provider of all cannabinoid products in Europe." This first requires a lot of educational work. Too often the terms cannabinoids, cannabis, THC and CBD are confused: cannabinoids are found in many plants, not only in hemp. The best known cannabinoid is probably THC, if only for its intoxicating effects. Another cannabinoid is CBD, which can help with cramps and inflammation. But cocoa beans and hops also contain cannabinoids that have no intoxicating effect. Müller is targeting these.

A prominent investor is already on board

Research on this topic is still in its infancy, and a lot of pioneering work needs to be done. However, Lars Müller is already convinced that the plant-based products that can be produced from these substances are far superior to some chemical products. He therefore wants to find more and more applications and use more and more plants for this purpose. But how does he achieve this?

Four years ago, Lars Müller became one of the few cannabis patients in Germany. Because he suffered from bronchial asthma, he was allowed to use cannabis as medicine. For a long time, it was not easy to get the right prescriptions. "Doctors looked very closely back then," he recalls. Today, there are an estimated 100,000 cannabis patients in Germany. There are no official statistics, but Germany is already considered a pioneer in Europe.

If others absolutely want to be stoned by THC, then that is their discussion. My task is to find cannabinoids that have a good effect but do not make you dizzy.

Synbiotic CEO Lars Müller

It was through this time that Müller's interest in cannabinoids was finally fueled. In 2018, he and the Solidmind Group GmbH he founded bought the then small brand Hempamed. Since then, he has been producing and selling various oils, capsules or pastilles made from the cannabis plant. The oils are said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties, CBD capsules are said to be beneficial for the body, and the pastilles contain vitamin C or B6 in addition to CBD.

Since last summer, Müller's Solidmind Group GmbH has been part of Synbiotic SE and thus listed on the stock exchange. Until then, Synbiotic was just an empty shell, without any operative business. Behind the listed company is prominent investor Christian Angermayer, who immediately made Lars Müller CEO after the takeover. "We are on the lookout for exciting companies around the world, and we want to make acquisitions where they fit or develop the next products ourselves," says Müller, describing the company's long-term goal.

Politics must play along

So far, Synbiotic SE consists to a large extent of the acquired Solidmind Group GmbH. According to a securities prospectus dated 01 December 2020, it also holds 50.004 percent of the shares in Cannexo Pharma GmbH and 25 percent in Pharmaceuticals Limited. Cannexo GmbH is expected to later become a B2B vehicle for all brands from the Synbiotic world. So far, however, the company is still operating under the radar. Pharmaceuticals Limited, which was founded back in 1989, produces products in the skin care sector, among others.

For many founders, the step to the stock exchange represents the exit, for Müller it is just the beginning. "As a listed company, we have to face some regulations, but we also have a completely different traction," he says. For example, he was able to raise €6.4 million via a capital increase in December. His SE is now listed on the primary market of the Düsseldorf Stock Exchange, on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and on the Xetra trading platform.

Can Müller's plan work? Recently, politics and the judiciary have been playing along - at least a little: the UN Commission decided to remove cannabis from the list of the most dangerous drugs and the European Court of Justice ruled that CBD is not a narcotic. "These decisions open up the opportunity for us to pursue our mission even further," says Müller, who doesn't really want to get involved in political discussions. That's because they often revolve around the cannabinoid THC, he says. "If others want to be stoned on THC at all costs, then that's their discussion. My job is to find cannabinoids that have a good effect, but just don't make you woozy."

Müller therefore prefers to talk about a multi-billion market, in which he would like to have as large a share as possible with Synbiotic SE. "We have a good 750 million people in Europe, 150 million of them suffer from sleep problems, 120 million regularly complain of pain and up to 80 million suffer from anxiety disorders." If one day these people can be treated with a product based on cannabinoids instead of chemical drugs, Müller's calculation might work out: his company could then earn a lot of money and cannabinoids would finally come out of the grey area.

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