‘It’s like Lego.’ German entrepreneur seeks $269 million to revamp container ships for new modular floating hospitals

German health-care entrepreneur Ulrich Marseille is seeking to raise €250 million ($269 million) to fund a new company that builds and operates customized hospital ships to provide emergency medical aid around the globe.

The venture, Worldwide Hospitals, converts container ships into modular floating hospitals that can be swiftly deployed to coastal areas in need, much like those stationed in the eastern Mediterranean to try to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Worldwide Hospitals is the first for-profit project of its kind, according to Marseille, and the challenge will be to recoup the initial investment and make the medical operations profitable. The first two of seven ships will be deployed off Sierra Leone and Cameroon for free early next year, a publicity move intended to pave the way for contracts with governments or organizations like the United Nations.

The vessels get outfitted with container-like modules that carry medical gear selected to best fit the latest emergency. They can operate at sea but their main use will be on land, where the elements can be joined together to form field hospitals.

“It’s like Lego,” Marseille said in an interview in Berlin. “There really is a huge need worldwide.”

It’s the millionaire’s first major move after selling a core part of his nursing home company MK-Kliniken AG in 2017. Marseille plowed about €300 million of his proceeds into Worldwide Hospitals, funding the modules’ development, the acquisition of two factories and the ships.

The company, based in Switzerland, expects to break even by the end of next year, according to Marseille. For now, he admits no client has signed on. With UBS Group AG as financial adviser, the 67-year-old entrepreneur is embarking on a first €250 million financing round.

The fund set up for the project, managed by Luxembourg-based European Capital Partners, requires a minimum investment of €1 million. It offers a dividend of up to 7% starting in the third year, depending on how well business is going. There’ll likely be another six similar funding rounds, Marseille said. He would also consider an initial public offering in the next five to seven years.

After the first two ships set off early next year, another pair will be refitted so that they are ready for use as early as 2025, according to Marseille. That year, he expects his company to generate some €2.3 billion in revenue.

The target is to transform seven vessels, he said, because “with seven hospital ships you have the world market well under control.”

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