16 April 2012

Floor van de Pavert: seeing the (almost) invisible with nano-wires quality - part 2

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How three young entrepreneurs have transformed a brilliant invention into a commercial product.

The story began a few years ago, when two scientists from the University of Delft (see related story) developed a way to double the efficiency of currently available single photons detectors. These devices, which are used in research and in the industry, can detect infinitesimal amounts of light, down to a single photon. In late 2011, the researchers teamed up with Floor van de Pavert, an expert in technological transfer with a background in physics. Together they founded Single Quantum, a start-up company that commercializes the invention. We talked with van de Pavert, the company's CEO, to know more about their business approach.

Ms. van de Pavert, how did you move from the laboratory results to a commercial endeavour?
The company spun off from the research work of Sander Dorenbos and Val Zwiller (currently CTO and Scientific Adviser of Single Quantum - editor's note) at the University of Delft. After they developed their single photon detector, Sander and Val gave it to other laboratories. At one point, the device became so popular that they were getting requests from scientists all over the world. This is when they realize it could become a commercial product, and I came on board. The device was an improvement of an existing detector, so we had to obtain a licence with the owners of the original patent. The coaching we got from the Pronano project was very helpful to establish the company and to negotiate the licence deal.

What is your business model?
Since we have a functioning product, we decided to commercialize it directly. We are already selling our device successfully, which provides us with a cash flow since the beginning. This is certainly a very fortunate situation compared to most start-ups.

How are you planning to grow in the near future?
At this stage it is crucial to establish a professional company structure. We also want to identify new markets and new applications and to look for commercial products in which our technology could be embedded.

In your experience, what is the hardest part of the job when establishing a start-up?
I believe the most difficult part is to make a good team and to have people with complementary expertise. Having a physics background was helpful for me to understand the technology, but when moving from the laboratory to the market, you also need different sets of non-technical skills like communication or networking capabilities. We were lucky to be a good, synergetic team. It's just a pleasure working together.

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