A unique university spinoff’s journey to the Top 250 Scaleups of 2021

18 August 2021

Optics11 was founded in 2011 as a spinoff from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) based on a promising fiberoptic sensing technology developed by experimental physics professor Davide Iannuzzi. In order to commercialise the technology, VU’s innovative policy supporting spinoffs brought in entrepreneur Hans Brouwer from the semiconductor world to complement Davide’s award-winning academic expertise in  the field. Shortly after Prof. Davide and Hans started the company, Niek Rijnveld (CEO) joined the team as the very first employee. Since then, the startup managed to consistently grow in revenue and employees to become one of the fastest growing companies in the Netherlands with an international reach.  

Fast-growing fiber optic sensing solutions in Life Sciences and Industrials  

Niek describes the beginning of Optics11 as “a solution looking for a problem”, with the development of   a game changing technology looking for the right market. Since their successful product launch, the scaleup developed multiple product lines in different application fields bringing unique fiber sensing technology to the Life Science and Industrial markets. Optics11 has skillfully navigated in these markets by successfully transforming high-tech innovations into an extensive product portfolio. 

Optics11 Life provides measurement instrumentation that will drastically improve medical treatment in the near future, leading to faster and more effective drug development, better diagnostics and novel treatment methods. Optics11 product portfolio provides number of industries with systems that allow safe and remote measurements, control assets condition, and prevent equipment failures with an unmatched level of performance. 

Overcoming the challenges of transforming promising technologies into the right products  

Although lot of people reacted enthusiastically to Optics11 innovative technology since the beginning, their first challenge was to make it into a product. As Niek explains it: “you can’t sell technology but you sell a product”. After finding their launching customer, the next challenge was to turn this specific customer into a market. At the same time, the Optics11 team was growing: it became then crucial to build a structured company with the right people to scale up their product.  

According to Niek, Optics11’s fast-growth experience is like “building an airplane while you’re flying”: “You have this analogy, ‘it’s like building a car while you drive’ – it is not like that. It’s more like building an airplane while you’re flying. With growth, there are so many elements that need to be put in place to achieve sustainable and lasting growth — you need the customers, you need the product, the tech, the production, the parts, the people, the structure, the cash and there’s always something that’s not there.”   

The upper hand of being embedded within a university setting 

Spinning off from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) has helped Optics11 fast-track their growth trajectory. Not only has the mutually beneficial agreement offered plenty of room to grow, but the location also proved to be helpful. As a breeding ground for talent and a testing ground for their products, VU presents Optics11 with plenty of opportunities to continue growing.      

Further growth opportunities 

With every university in the Netherlands already on board with their Life Sciences solutions, Optics11 plans for further international expansion and grow to a team of 130-150 in the next 2 years. Niek’s advice to aspiring scaleup entrepreneurs is to find those who have the passion and drive to make impact.  

Optics11 has been able to attract and keep right people through the impact they can make and the (personal and technological) growth potential that they offer. Niek explains that Optics11’s talented and driven team is key to sustaining their fast-growth trajectory.

“Everyone in the company has a passion for technology – this is something we want to nurture. When you’re a scaleup, you’re always a little bit out of balance and never have full capacity for every activity that you need. At the same time, you always need to be on the lookout for the next opportunity to grow. One by one, we put our focus on the next big thing we need to keep on growing.”  

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