In this article, José Pozo, EPIC‘s CTO, interviews Bárbara Buades, co-founder and CEO of Meetoptica highly customizable search engine to find and compare optical components and connect with specialized photonics service providers.
After a BSc/MSc in physics at the University of Barcelona, in 2013, Bárbara obtained an MSc in optics and photonics from Imperial College London in England. She then studied a PhD in Photonics and Physics at ICFO – The Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona.
His doctoral thesis focused on experiments concerning the generation, control and applications of attosecond soft X-ray pulses using high-intensity lasers for ultrafast electronic dynamics in solids. These experiments required cameras, spectrometers and other specialized optical equipment, and obtaining these devices was often a slow and laborious process, as one had to go company by company in search of devices with the right specifications.
To solve this problem, after completing her doctorate, Barbara came up with the idea of implementing a search engine to facilitate and speed up the process of finding and comparing photonic components. So, in 2018, she and ICFO researcher James Douglas founded Meetoptics.
The idea was to provide a highly customizable search engine, like Skyscanner does for flight searches, to allow researchers and optical engineers to quickly find and compare optical components and contact photonics service providers. The site would be monetized through affiliate marketing contracts with photonics component vendors as well as service provider commissions.
Key features of Meetoptics
Meetoptics is a specialized photonics search engine listing more than 35,000 a year after launch, is highly customizable and specializes in handling technical product details, enabling optical engineers, researchers, technicians and photonics innovators to quickly find products they need to build their photonics technology and access any other photonics-based technologies and services, while photonics manufacturers can advertise their products and services centrally.
Some products: The website currently contains seven types of catalog products (mirrors, optical filters, windows and wedges, beam splitters, polarizing optics and waveplates), which can be compared and then purchased directly from the supplier. If custom optics are required, the user can either check the capabilities of various custom providers or submit a custom optics request form to MEETPOTICS who then matches the user with a service provider based on the technical requirements of the service provider. ‘user.
Services: Likewise, users can apply for various photonics-related services, ranging from optical design and system integrations to equipment testing, optics repair and IP assessment.
Trusted providers: Unlike search engines operated by electronics distributors like Mouser, MEETOPTICS does not prioritize one optical manufacturer over another and there is no corporate bias. The only criteria for including a supplier is that the company and its products must be verified by users and/or members of the photonics community. In this way, MEETOPTICS can help ensure quality assurance and, importantly for the photonics community, the website can give visibility to small businesses and start-ups that are not normally included in the commercial search engines.
User Comments: From the outset, more than 600 user feedback was crucial in selecting providers, developing search functionality and determining the type of services offered.
Composition of the team: The website currently employs 8 people with expertise in software development, web design, business strategy and photonics experts to connect users with service providers and custom optics. For many photonics start-ups, recruiting photonics experts is often problematic. But for MEETOPTICS, thanks to its vast network of research contacts, finding the right talent was not difficult.
Features: A major problem in photonics is the lack of manufacturing standards. For this reason, most of their suppliers are from Europe and North America and are only included on the site if a user or member of the photonics community can verify that the supplier’s product specifications are within limits. acceptable. Additionally, MEETOPTICs has built smart algorithms to standardize high technical specifications between vendors to help engineers compare product standards.
Transition from researcher to CEO: For Barbara, moving from research to running a website was a personal challenge. Initially, she missed out on the hands-on work of building experiments in the lab, but this was partially compensated by helping users solve technical problems and develop their projects that mostly involve high-end technology.
A second issue has been the responsibility that comes with being a CEO, although, as she explains, leading a research project and being a CEO are broadly similar: “With leading a research team, you are inspired by other researchers, but ultimately responsible for designing and building experiments and for the success of end results. As a CEO, the feeling is the same that you have to build a business from scratch by taking inspiration from other start-ups, mentors and investors, and ultimately the success of the business rests on your shoulders.
Expansion of the product range: In 2021, MEETOPTICS plans to expand its product line to include opto-mechanics, laser sources and light detection devices. This will allow METOPTICS to accomplish its mission of making the photonics industry more accessible by creating a central point of available products and technologies.
Classification of suppliers and products: In order to bring more transparency, MEETOPTICS also plans to set up a product testing system which, together with user reviews, will provide users with a ranking system for the products offered.
Photonics for all: Although the site was designed for photonics specialists, more and more people are using photonics at home, for example with 3D printers. As this trend continues, Barbara hopes that MEETOPTICS will help make photonics easy and accessible to everyone and bring photonics to the mainstream.
What is your advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
“Dream big, but be sure to test your ideas on your clients as you go along. Find people who can help and advise you and don’t try to do it all on your own.”
“Getting funding can be difficult and the best way to approach an investor is like you would for a job interview. To get hired, you have to convince the employer that you can bring value to the business and the same goes for investors because they need to be confident that you can deliver enough value to make their investment profitable, so prepare your investor cover letter the same way you would a job application. Understand the investor’s motivations, what they want and approach it with empathy”.
“Listening to the market to understand its needs”.
Written by Jose Pozo, Director of Technology and Innovation at EPIC (European Photonics Industry Consortium).