Two German Companies Join Soft Landings Program at Innovation Lab

Dec. 3, 2020.  Two companies based in Germany, senswork Inc. and Steel Service Krefeld, USA,

are receiving an accelerated introduction to United States business practices, regulations, and culture through the Soft Landings Designation held by the East Tennessee State University Innovation Lab.  Since 2015, the Innovation Lab, a high-tech business incubator located at 2109 W. Market St., has been a member of the International Business Innovation Association’s (InBIA) Soft Landings network that offers support for businesses entering or expanding into a new country. Soft Landings designees help companies make contacts in a new country more quickly and efficiently while providing access to the resources necessary to meet their business goals. Only 26 business incubators worldwide have a Soft Landings designation.

senswork inc and steel service krefeld members of ETSU innovation labBased in Burghausen, Germany, senswork Inc. is an expert in machine vision systems and specializes in optical inspection, industrial image processing and testing equipment manufacturing. Its ready-to-use camera technologies for automation and quality assurance are used every day in numerous sectors, including the automotive and medical industries.

Roman Reiger, managing director at senswork GmbH, first contacted the ETSU Innovation Lab in November of 2018 to see how the two entities could work together. Dr. Audrey Depelteau, director of the Innovation Lab, assisted senswork Inc. in securing a grant from the Bavarian government. Since then, the two have worked together with the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association (NETVRIDA); Hebmüller Aerospace; and Steffen Bayer, director for Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development business development for Germany, Austria and Switzerland; to bring senswork Inc. to the United States. It became an affiliate member of the Innovation Lab in August.

Steel Service Krefeld, USA (SSK), based in Krefeld, Germany, is one of the largest independent warehouse traders for precision flat steels. One of its innovative products includes a high-grade metal powder for 21st century applications such as metal injection molding, powder metal metallurgy, plasma-spraying, laser cladding, and 3D-printing. The company also manufactures milling machines and 3D-printing machines for additive manufacturing. Steel Service Krefeld joined the Innovation Lab as a residential member in July.

Jürgen Beesen, managing director of Steel Service Krefeld, says the company adheres to a “vision of a symbiosis of steel competence and innovative e-commerce.”
Due in part to the ongoing partnership with NETVRIDA Executive Director Alan Bridwell and partnerships listed above, both German companies were recruited and chose the ETSU Innovation Lab as its entry point into the U.S. and surrounding markets.

NETVRIDA President Lee H. Brown says the Innovation Lab’s Soft Landings site is one-of-a-kind and the efforts of Depelteau and Bridwell have had great success due to their cooperation and collaboration.

“They truly work as a team recruiting international companies to Northeast Tennessee, a testament to their commitment to regionalism” he added.
Other collaborative efforts include:

  • Wetekam Monofilaments, a German Company that makes high quality, progressive monofilaments for the global market located to a manufacturing facility in Dandridge, Tennessee in 2014. Wetekam has created more than 20 jobs.
  • FWG Special Springs graduated from the Innovation Lab in 2015 when it purchased an 18,000 square foot facility in Johnson City. The company currently employs three people and has the long-term goal of establishing a manufacturing facility at the site.
  • Hebmüller Aerospace, which develops valve solutions for modern flow control in aircraft, joined the Innovation Lab at the beginning of 2019 and continues to gain new business in the U.S. each year. Axel Hebmüller is partnering with NETVRIDA and the Innovation Lab as an international contact for companies wishing to start in the United States.

For more information about the ETSU Innovation Lab or the InBIA Soft Landings network, visit or contact Dr. Audrey Depelteau at