UT spinoff IamFluidics: “So many market opportunities, now let’s keep the focus”
IamFluidics, the UT spinoff in microfluidics, is on a roll.
They recently published their discovery in the journal “Science Advances”, incorporated their business last month, and received enough funding to further develop their technology. IamFluidics, the UT spinoff in microfluidics, is on a roll. As general manager, entrepreneur Menno Noorlander assists the scientific team on their way to the market. Business developer Peter Hoekstra from Novel-T helps keep them focused.
“It started with unconventional extracurricular experiments by UT researchers Tom Kamperman and Claas Willem Visser,” explains Menno Noorlander about the start of IamFluidics. “About three years ago they developed a new technology with which they can produce small drops and particles up to a thousand times faster. This is a disruptive technology in a market that is still fully in development.” Professor Marcel Karperien from Developmental BioEngineering recognised the potential of the techniques and deployed entrepreneur Menno Noorlander to help introduce it to the market.
Mixing fluids into new emulsions
Microfluidics works at manipulating fluids on a micrometer scale. Mastering these small fluid flows means you can produce miniscule drops and particles. These drops form raw materials whose use includes medications, cosmetics and chemical products. Special chips with fluid channels now produce these small particles. “Although such a chip can make a good emulsion – drops that contain another fluid – the speed and thus the capacity of this chip is limited. That means they are not suitable for most clinical and industrial applications,” explains Menno. “Whereas such a chip takes nearly 17 hours, with our new method it only takes a few minutes.”
From chip to in-air microfluidics
What makes the new method so fast? The researchers studied physics principles in detail with high-speed cameras, and asked themselves whether they could also manipulate fluids in the air instead of on a chip. And that went well. By using two jets of fluid, they “shoot” one drop into another. In this way, new drops of different materials are created. Menno: “By choosing smart combinations of fluids that interreact, the drops can also be converted into solid, printable building stones. This yields all kinds of new applications, e.g. the 3D printing of live cells.”
Novel-T involved from the start
The new technique offers so many opportunities, that it is important to make choices. The business development team of Novel-T has an advisory role in this process. “After Roy Kolkman assisted us with the patent application, we got started with the commercial aspects: how are we going to make money with this finding?” tells Menno about the trajectory. “For example, from the beginning we had contact with BASF. For this chemical company, the large scale at which we can produce is really interesting. The question is, then, do we want the chemical angle in our business development at this point in time?”
Focus on the market
“Fortunately, business developer Peter Hoekstra kept asking questions about the market in order to sharply define the business case – almost ad nauseam,” laughs Menno. Peter explains: “The step from an academic environment and a method that solves something concrete into a business that makes money is an enormous one. IamFluidics is not the first startup that we help in this process. We know how to get funding, and know what investors pay attention to. This is how we arrive at a convincing business case.”
What is the business case?
Peter goes on to explain: “In the beginning you keep all the options open, until you start doing business – then you have to make choices. Do you deliver containers with drops, or do you create a machine with which the client himself can make the drops?” The team of IamFluidics is now choosing two directions. Menno: “We are going to make this machine so that other academic groups can use it and we can gather experiences. And we are going to approach the pharmaceutical industry with our method to produce high-quality medications quickly.” The first contacts with that sector have already been made. “Twente is a microfluidics hub in Europe. There is enough knowledge and experience here to feed upon.”
To research the commercial viability of their startup, they received €40,000 in early 2017. This subsidy is the first part of the STW Take-off regulation. The team of Novel-T supported the process of subsidy applications. “We’ve already been given part two, a loan of €250,000,” says Menno enthusiastically. “This budget accelerates the development of our product and our startup.” Due to the recently received EFRO subsidy, the team can also further develop parallelization of the technique. The startup is working on this together with the University of Twente and two other companies. “A year from now we want to have our product ready for the market and be sending out the first invoices,” Menno states.
Cash in or be entrepreneurs?
They were this close to selling their invention. Menno: “We had almost sent in an application for an NWO Demonstrator trajectory. Until, on the day of the deadline, Peter asked: “Why pass on the technology so soon?”” Peter: “IamFluidics is getting so many opportunities that keeping the focus is very important right now. The underlying technique is very good, so it will find traction somewhere. If it isn’t Plan A, it will be Plan B. We believe in them and support them in their steps toward a successful business.”
Do you also have a scientific breakthrough that you want to introduce to the market? Check out here in which we can support you.