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In this interview, Jérémy Picot-Clémente, EPIC’s Photonics Technologies Program Manager, talks to Bárbara Buades, CEO at Meetoptics, a Barcelona-based search and comparison website for photonics products and services from trusted suppliers.

What’s the background to you co-founding Meetoptics as CEO?

In 2007, I went to the University of Barcelona to do a BSc/Masters in Physics, and during my studies I became fascinated with light and how much photonics had to offer. Accordingly, in 2012, I finished my Masters at Imperial College London, where I worked as a researcher in optics and photonics focussing on building a dark field spectroscopy set-up to measure optical changes in plasmon resonances due to ion bombardment. A year later, I moved back to Barcelona to do a PhD in in attoscience and ultrafast optics at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO).

At ICFO, I focused on attosecond X-ray absorption fine-structure spectroscopy in condensed matter and led experiments based on the generation, control and applications of attosecond soft X-ray pulses using high intensity lasers for ultrafast electron dynamics in solids. Apart from the complexity of the experiments themselves, a major problem was the difficulty in finding specific optical components to continue my work.

I realised that this problem not only affected me, but also many other engineers and researchers who were frustrated by bottlenecks that prevented them from doing their research. I concluded that what we needed was a comparison website similar to those available for finding flights, insurance etc. that would make photonics more accessible and enable engineers and researchers to find the optics they needed. I discussed the idea with James Douglas, a fellow researcher at ICFO, and in 2019, we co-founded MEETOPTICS with the aim of creating a central platform with a highly customizable search engine designed especially for researchers and optical engineers, making it easy and fast to find and compare optical components from suppliers around the world.

Barbara and James

What were your main challenges the beginning?

The first was cash flow, because it took us much longer than anticipated to get the site up and running. It was basically a chicken and egg situation: in order to get suppliers to pay to be on the platform, we needed visitors to the site, but people wouldn’t use the platform unless there were products available. To overcome this problem, we had to work for free for the first year and a half persuading suppliers to come onto the platform. Eventually, we succeeded, firstly with companies like Asphericon and Edmund Optics, and then others followed. The second challenge was getting investment as only a few investors understood photonics and the photonics market and as a result, it took us a while to convince investors to join the project. Additionally, as my background was 100% in science, I had to learn how to talk to them.

How has MEETOPTICS developed?

In the first year, there were just me James and Marc, a web developer. In the second year we were seven and over the last two years we’ve slowly increased to a workforce of 20, which we expect will increase to 25 at the beginning of next 2024. Over the last 5 years, we’ve attracted over 100 suppliers and now have the largest database in the photonics industry offering more than 100,000 standardised and up-to-date products covering optics, light sources, opto-mechanics, fiber optics, detection devices, electronics, raw materials, design software and custom manufacturers.

Today, in November 2023, the MEETOPTICS website has 21k monthly users and receives 63k monthly page views, 500k product impressions, and 21k product details views. Users are growing at a rate of 12% per month and supplier referrals at 10%

What are the factors of your success?

Meetoptics was created by researchers for researchers. The advantage for the user is that all products on the platform are up to date from trusted suppliers, and users can search for products that are sorted by the user's preferences for technical specifications, without any bias towards a specific brand. Users simply enter their wish list of specs and then find the product, which is very handy for researchers or engineers when they are designing prototypes. And if they can’t find a particular product from our portfolio, we operate a feedback system so they can easily get in touch with us for advice. The same applies to custom photonics services: users put in their custom request and get matched a community vetted supplier with whom they can start a direct conversation.

Additionally, users can subscribe to our newsletter to find out about new products, new providers and new functionalities that are soon to become available. Finally, we provide a forum for suppliers and users to connect, learn and stay updated with the latest trends and developments in optics & photonics.

The advantage for the supplier is that once validated and recommended by our qualified community, we take care of their product integration and real-time updates, and through our user-friendly interface the supplier can reach thousands of potential customers who are actively searching for photonics products.

What have been your main personal challenges as CEO?

To grow a company, you need to delegate a lot, and my biggest challenge has been to make sure that all the teams, i.e., web development, sales and marketing have the necessary knowledge and motivation to work well together internally as well as externally towards the same company goals. For this to happen, I’ve had to improve communication both within and between teams so that everyone is properly informed about what the others are doing.

How do you see the future?

We’ve already helped thousands of engineers and researchers find the optics they need, and we plan to help more by increasing suppliers and our product portfolio. Secondly, until now, when a user wants to buy a product, they go direct to the supplier, but what we want to do is enable users buy through the platform, which will take Meetoptics to a new level. Thirdly, Meetoptics is only in English so we’re going to translate the platform into other languages, which will also bring more people on board.

Finally, we are currently highly focused in Europe and North America, but we’ve always had the dream of helping the Asian market. We’ve already had many people from India, China, Japan, Singapore, and Korea asking us why we don’t have suppliers from their regions, and we intend to address this issue in the very near future.

If you started again, what would you do differently?

Looking back, I would have done more networking within the industry at the beginning. Although I came from a research background, I thought I knew the photonics industry well enough, but I soon found out this was not the case and had to learn things step by step.

What’s your advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs?

You'll need to have your personal finances covered during the process which might take longer than expected until you have a salary.

For me, it’s been like doing a second PhD. I would encourage you to go for your dreams expecting that you'll work hard and learn a lot.

Written by Jérémy Picot-Clémente, EPIC’s Photonics Technologies Program Manager

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