In this interview, Antonio Castelo, EPIC’s Technology Manager for Bio-Medical and Lasers, talks to Evaldas Stralkus, CEO of QS Lasers, a Lithuanian manufacturer of compact, sub-nanosecond high energy diode pumped lasers.
What`s the background to your appointment as CEO of QS lasers?
In 2010, after an MSC in Engineering of Manufacturing from Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania, I worked in different positions of manufacturing companies, such as Production Manager assistance at FASA, a Lithuanian manufacturer of packaging equipment for the dairy industry. Being close to various production processes I gained some useful experience, and after a couple of years, I moved to Vilnius, to work as Head of Projects Department for Arginta Engineering, an integrated manufacturing company. In 2016 I was promoted to Head of Sales and Projects. This was also a great earning experience as I learned a lot about project management and sales, which helped me to understand how a business grows and the importance of taking care of customers.
I stayed at Arginta Engineering for eight years until 2019, when I was appointed CEO of Lithuanian Mint, a state-owned enterprise, responsible for the minting of collector and circulation coins. It was a completely different experience because it was really a niche business, but it was interesting and it added to my knowledge of sales and company performance, and how to grow a business.
Two years later, I met the owner of QS Lasers who was looking for someone to run the company. I was looking for a new opportunity and so in September 2022, I became QS lasers’ CEO.
How did you find the transition from mechanical engineering to photonics?
My previous experience had taught me that whether it’s glass, machinery, or high-tech production, company processes are more or less similar, and the main role of a CEO is to have a broad picture of how a company should function and to help and motivate the team to achieve the company goals. Of course, photonics was completely new to me and I’m still learning about lasers and photonics technologies. But a CEO can’t know everything, and what’s important is to have people in the team who can cover if you don't have a deep knowledge of a particular area.
My main first task was to reorganise the company so that everything worked like a system that would enable us to provide a better and more reliable service for customers and have a sustainable future.
Although the technical and process side hasn’t been too much of a challenge, I’m thinking of doing some management studies to develop some soft skills in areas such as communication, teamwork, leadership, and emotional intelligence, as I think they are critical for effective people management.
How has the company developed?
QS Lasers was founded in 2018, and our main activities involve the development, production, and sales of compact, sub-nanosecond or picosecond high-energy diode-pumped lasers. Our primary focus lies in producing advanced Q-switched air-cooled lasers. The main applications are where high pulse energy and low repetition rates are needed, such as Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), OLED repair, and medical applications, particularly skin care.
Over the last five years, our workforce has grown to just under 30 employees, and our turnover in 2022 was around €2 million. During this period, we have developed several innovative products to meet the needs of our customers. In 2019, we launched a handheld, picosecond, air-cooled laser MPL1310 (< 350 ps, 1mJ, 1 – 100 Hz) for medical integrators. Later that year, we introduced the high-energy, DPSS, passively Q-switched, sub-nanosecond MPL300 series with more than 50 mJ pulse energy at 1053 nm for LIBS, LiDAR, surface cleaning, ablation, micromachining and medical applications. This was followed in 2020 by a DPSS, high repetition rate laser at 1342 nm wavelength, delivering more than 100 μJ at a 1 kHz repetition rate for OLED, medical, and LiDAR applications. Most recently, in 2022, we launched a new DPSS passively Q-switched picosecond laser with a pulse duration of less than 250 ps for skincare, LIBS, DNA analysis, pollution monitoring, and remote sensing.
We are dedicated to continuously improving our products to meet the evolving needs of our customers. We are always open to exploring new collaboration ideas and partnerships that can enhance our offerings. Furthermore, we are committed to developing lasers with parameters tailored to the specific requirements of our customers, as we strive to create greater value for them.
In 2022, we moved to new and bigger facilities in Vilnius, which have enabled us to improve our manufacturing and widen our production range.
What are your main regional markets?
While we have sales in Europe and the US, the Asian market is the most important, particularly in dermatology. We primarily sell to OEM integrators but also to scientific markets where customers can adopt different wavelengths (447nm – 1064nm), for example, for precision measurement and material processing.
Are there any challenges of being in Vilnius with a lot of other laser companies?
We see this more of a benefit as we can cooperate and learn from each other. Through the Lithuanian laser association, which was set up in 2004, we have friendly relationships and work together to promote and grow the Lithuanian laser industry.
We’re also members of LITEK (Laser & Engineering technologies cluster) which was established in Vilnius in 2010. The aim was to enable local companies and scientific institutions to combine different areas of knowledge, cooperate at an interdisciplinary level (in photonics and engineering fields), and share ideas. Being a part of the cluster allows us not to compete with each other but to combine resources and knowledge so we can compete in international markets and enter new ones more easily.
Of course, everybody wants new talent, but in general, we’re all pleased and proud to see how Lithuanian laser companies are being promoted around the world.
How do you see the future?
Until now, we’ve doubled our turnover every year, and I expect this trend to continue. Our long-standing experience and expertise in lasers will enable us to meet the rising demand for sophisticated and reliable lasers at a competitive cost for existing applications like LIBS and skin care. But we also see potential growth for newer applications such as LiDAR, DNA analysis and pollution monitoring and micromachining.
Our customers have always been the driving force behind our product development and product innovations, and one of our immediate aims is to get closer to our customers, particularly in Asia, by developing a strong service network to facilitate better and more cooperative relationships.
Ultimately, further growth can only be achieved by raising the profile of the company among the world laser community and position QS Lasers as a strong and reliable brand. To this end, we will continue to attend EPIC events as they are an excellent way to promote our company and products and find new customers.
What’s your advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
First, you need to like what you’re doing because your enthusiasm for your job will motivate your team. Secondly, a CEO must lead by example, so that everybody in the company can see and understand the company values, their responsibilities, and the way of thinking and behaving. Thirdly, I believe that trust is extremely important in business: you need to trust others and show your team that they can trust you, for example, by keeping your word and being fair and consistent.
Written by Antonio Castelo, EPIC’s Technology Manager for Bio-Medical and Lasers.