His company is the world's only manufacturer of graphene-based supercapacitors. Based in Großröhrsdorf, today Hucke and his team shape the energy storage market of tomorrow. Another major factor behind his return to Dresden was coming home to his family and old friends. A success story with not a bump in the road.

Skeleton Technologies

A quiet, low-frequency hum is in the air. Apart from the sound of the tyres on the asphalt, nothing else can be heard. On the car dashboard, a pulsating battery symbol is shown in bright colours. The battery display rises with every tap on the brakes: less energy is being used. Electric cars are the future of the automotive industry and play a key role in Germany's energy transition. And Thomas Hucke, CTO and Managing Director at Skeleton Technologies, is involved in an important part of the technology. As well as extending the life of electric vehicles’ batteries, Saxon supercapacitors come into use, for instance, in systems for storing the renewable energy generated by wind parks and solar farms.

All in all, I have been dealing with the subject of batteries and energy storage for almost 20 years.

Wind of change

It all began when Hucke studied process engineering at TU Dresden and in Freiberg. On graduating, he started work as a development engineer in Pirna, but his work then took him to Switzerland for five years, and later to Frankfurt for another three and a half years. All the time, he was driven by the goal of professional development. “All in all, I have been dealing with the subject of batteries and energy storage in general – and using graphene and carbon in particular – for almost 20 years”, Hucke explains. “But when you have your own, growing family, you always rely increasingly on family support. Skeleton in Dresden met both those demands.”

The way back

That was how, at the start of 2018, he entered into initial discussions with Skeleton and its CEO Taavi Madiberk. “The step of joining a start-up company requires careful consideration, but the decision was actually relatively easy to make, in part because Skeleton is established on the market, and various well-known industrial companies have shown great interest in the technologies.” Thomas Hucke soon also spotted the many advantages of the start-up structure: processes run more dynamically, people have more flexibility and more say than in traditional corporate structures. “That gives even the younger employees a chance to play a productive role”, adds Sophie Genschow, who supports Skeleton Technologies in the field of HR.

In some respects, working at a start-up is definitely somewhat unconventional. “I signed my employment contract at the airport McDonalds, as Mr Madiberk was passing through”, Hucke says with a smile. But that is exactly what he has come to appreciate. Effective work always comes first: the aim is to get jobs done, and workers can manage their time freely.

Not a bump in the road home

Bucking the trend, the Huckes’ return went entirely smoothly. "We only applied for one flat in Dresden, and we actually got it. Within a good 4 weeks, our children had places in daycare facilities basically just round the corner”, Hucke recounts. People who move a lot develop a kind of routine and know what to do, and how. They thus planned the move to Dresden for the start of May, when the job at Skeleton began. Warmly welcomed back into the circle of their family and old friends, the returnees are now enjoying Dresden's cultural offerings and the countryside of Saxon Switzerland. “The city and its environs have developed a good deal” Thomas Hucke comments, before linking the topic back in with his field of work: “One big advantage here is the support provided by the regional government and the economic development office. In the technology sector, the region can stand up tall alongside the big players in Germany.”

Ms Genschow adds that thanks to the nearby technology cluster, there are plenty of connections to be made in the local area. The people there are open-minded and focused on doing good work and building lasting partnerships. The two believe that these advantages deserve even more marketing, as the region could use a slightly more “polished” image. “Unfortunately, it still leaves a different impression if a year in Munich or a year in Dresden appears on your CV”, Sophie Genschow says. However, the burgeoning region is is developing in leaps and bounds, attracting innovative start-ups such as Skeleton.

A competitive market

In the technology sector, skilled workers are in demand and rarely stay on the job market for long. “You have to move quickly and connect with potential skilled workers while they are still in training”, Sophie Genschow explains. To do so, the company makes use of every opportunity available, i.e. not only high-reach online portals but also, increasingly, local and regional schemes. At the same time, there are signs that the company is becoming more well-known. “We are getting more and more enquiries from potential applicants approaching us on their own initiative”, Ms Genschow smiles. Nonetheless, she warns, the progressive shortage of skilled labour will still pose a risk in future, as a company’s successful development hinges on its staff. In this context, projects such as “Wachstumregion Dresden” (Dresden, a fast-growing region) are very important partners.

By now the green battery symbol on the dashboard is green, and no longer flashing. The car is fully powered up and ready to go. Pressing down the gas pedal pushes you back into the driver's seat; you can feel the car making progress. It is that progress which brought Thomas Hucke back to his homeland. Back to the burgeoning region of Dresden. Back to the future.

This story is also told on the website so-geht-sächsisch.deInterview: Peter GlumbickPhotographs: Skeleton Technologies GmbH