Miriam Luizink, Technical-Commercial Director of MESA+, Director High Tech Factory and Fund, MANCEF member
Dr. Steven Walsh, Regents Professor at UNM and Past President at MANCEF
It seems appropriate to write a commercialisation corner article on the High Tech Factory that coincides somewhat with the international entrepreneurship week. The University of Twente and MESA+ have long been interested in supporting micro and nano technology startups and they have possibly nurtured the largest number of startups in that arena in Europe. MESA+ is generating three to four entrepreneurial spin-outs annually. Indeed, the University of Twente was called the entrepreneurial university for well over a quarter of a century and has generated well over 600 high tech startups in the last two decades alone. Is it any wonder with that background that MESA+ has embraced the larger definition of entrepreneurship by including entrepreneurial action of larger firms as well as still emphasising the support of Schumpeterian Greenfield high tech startups? Further, does it surprise when it was the first to initiate a next generation effort to assist startups bases on micro and nano technologies by developing a new facility named the High Tech Factory? This next generation effort is embedded in the region’s entrepreneurial friendly culture and is spearheaded by Miriam Luizink.
The High Tech Factory is a production facility that provides the infrastructure and cleanrooms required for the commercialisation of small technologies but it is much more that that. First, it is located near the new NanoLab MESA+ research institute, one of the world’s largest research institutes in the field of nano technology. Next, there is constant interaction between firms small and large which helps inventors and innovators sharpen their value statements. Further, it provides mentorship and support from serial entrepreneurs and active consultants experienced in small technology commercialisation. And yes, it provides access to funding. How does this system work?
The High Tech Factory provides access to world class researchers, which can be achieved via many of the world’s over 600 micro and nano technology research centres, with the caveat that MESA+ researchers are in the top 1% of all research facilities on most measures of excellence. It also provides novel debt and equity instruments. One is the High Tech Fund and the way it works depicts just how much control the High Tech Factory tenants have over the future of their funding, research and production facility. The High Tech Fund provides companies with the opportunity to lease expensive production equipment for a period of five to eight years. In other words, they need not make a huge one-off investment and they are relieved of what can generally be regarded as an insurmountable pre-financing problem. Tenants can submit applications for funding several times a year. Individual companies are limited to a maximum of €500,000; if a joint application is made, this amount can be increased to a purchase value of €1.5 million. Few facilities provide this value. Yet it is interesting that the decision process for accepting or rejecting proposals is subject to a committee of entrepreneurs and investors who assess the application and advise the High Tech Fund Board. This activity further embeds the small tech firms with potential stakeholders. It is home to serial entrepreneurs, portfolio entrepreneurs, large firm entrepreneurial activity as well as entrepreneurs initiating their first effort.
The High Tech Factory includes facilities for both back and front end equipment. Currently a cluster of firms with the expertise not only in silicon, plastics and glass but also in nano materials, micro and nano fluidics, optics, information technology and other technologies create a vibrant community that allow firms to reach the market much faster than they might otherwise. Many firms find that this cluster provides an advantage for them, enabling them to concentrate and focus on their competence or expertise area and rely on others for differing competences required to quickly get their products to market. We highlight two firms SolMateS and Medspray that have benefited from the High Tech Factory concept and have utilised the High Tech Fund.
Dr. J.M. Wissink is the managing director of Medspray and has utilised both the High Tech Fund and the High Tech Factory in his search for competitive advantage. Medspray utilises innovative aerosol technology focusing on nozzle development for drug delivery and other applications. Most of the spray nozzles developed by Medspray are based on silicon chips with micro holes. It often teams up with other enterprises for specific applications and its nozzle technology is patented and ISO certified. It uses the High Tech Factory at MESA+ Nanolabs to mass produce thousands of nozzles at a time. They are using the High Tech Fund to purchase additional equipment in order to move toward a much larger production rate in 2013, when one of their products moves into commercial production. This ‘super inhaler’ allows patients like those that suffer from asthma, COPD and other lung based maladies to obtain a five times improvement in the effective dosing of medication when compared to traditional inhalers. Figure 1 shows the results of using a Medspray nozzle.
SolMateS was established in 2006 and has developed a systemised solution for a well-known problem in the chip industry. Director Arjen Janssens and the team of SolMateS manufacture and sell capital equipment that provides exceptional piezo layers (that moves under the influence of an electrical charge). The coating is essential in order to allow the minute chip components to move. This superior piezo coating technologies allow for a superior pathway for numerous new applications. For instance, this technology provides the necessary manufacturing infrastructure for higher resolution print heads, small auto focusing lenses that make it possible to take better photos with mobile phones and many others. This success was supported by financing obtained from High Tech Fund and development at the High Tech Factory. The company has built both Alpha and Beta units and has attracted venture financing. It is currently producing its equipment for customers (see figure 2). The grand opening of the High Tech Factory and the High Tech Fund will have an exceptional impact on this already innovator-friendly community and the world of small technology commercilisation.
Ir. Miriam Luizink
Miriam Luizink has been the technical-commercial director of MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology since 2006. She also became the director of the shared production facility High Tech Factory, and the operational lease facility High Tech Fund, both targeted at micro and nano tech based companies. Miriam Luizink serves as president of the board of NanoLabNL, the national nano tech facility and consortium since 2012. Miriam graduated in Applied Physics at the University of Twente in 1998. She has worked at Akzo Nobel Central Research on the topic of optical switches from 1996 until 1998. She then worked at the Dutch Telecom company KPN on optical network innovations; at first as a researcher in the Netherlands followed by a two-year period as consultant in Costa Rica from 1998 until 2001. Miriam further worked as project manager for regional economic development at Development Agency East Netherlands from 2002 to 2006.