On 15 and16 September 2014, EPIC (European Photonics Industry Consortium) and Berlin Partner organized a panel discussion to address the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurs in the photonics industry. After a keynote by Milton Chang who started by setting the scene with his talk “Money Is King”, Carlos Lee, EPIC Director General, moderated a panel discussion with entrepreneurs who had been through the process of creating companies, selling companies, and transitioning companies during their growth period.
Entrepreneurs are drivers of innovation and the economic society, and the photonics industry offers a myriad of opportunities.
The interactive session that followed raised some points worth reminding such as: make sure to have sufficient starting capital to allow for mistakes, China is an opportunity more than a threat, developing new technologies take longer so focus on your existing expertise, the funding models in US and Europe are different but there are many regional/national/European supports schemes available in Europe. And try to re-invent your business when things are going well rather than when you are facing a wall. Entrepreneurs are drivers of innovation and the economic society, and the photonics industry offers a myriad of opportunities. But sometimes we try to go too far too fast, a modest successful start is better than a big flop as Milton reminded the audience. He also reminded that starting a business is nearly risk free when you capitalize on your expertise to serve a niche market in an industry you know well.
The following day, EPIC organized a more intimate workshop among 16 CEOs of its member companies, where they could discuss and exchange in a more private environment their issues and opportunities to manage the growth of their respective business. It was a great sharing of best practice, as each participant share the learnings from his personal experience. For instance how to approach new customers in USA, China and Korea? While sales reps are great at opening doors and establishing the initial contact, for more niche and specialized applications, it is the technology or company leaders that settle the deal. It is all about being trustworthy, building a relationship with the customer where there is mutual respect. This will come by systematically making the customer your priority, and focus on his needs. When you focus on product differentiation, then the client will allow the supplier to make a profit margin and not try to squeeze every possible penny as for some standard products in more mature markets.
With regard to investment, the question was not only on how to raise capital but also on how to select investors and the criteria to consider, and how and when to get out. Any entrepreneur will do well by first reading Milton Chang’s book and the return on your investment will be many times, guaranteed!
EPIC Entrepreneurship Day speakers:
- Andreas Nitze, CEO, Berliner Glas
- Bjoern Wedel, CEO, PT Photonic Tools
- Milton Chang, CEO and serial entrepreneur, Incubic
- Thomas Laurent, CTO and Founder, Eagleyard Photonics
- Wolfgang Gries, CEO and Founder, DirectPhotonics
Written by Carlos Lee, Director General of EPIC