Startups are needed to transform newly developed technologies into solutions: An interview with Carlos Lee of EPIC – European Photonics Industry Consortium
Carlos Lee, a EuroNanoForum 2015 IAG member, has an extensive background in microelectronics. Currently, he works as Director General of EPIC, the industry association that promotes the sustainable development of organisations working in the field of photonics in Europe. The members of EPIC encompass the entire value chain from LED lighting, Photovoltaic solar energy, Photonics Integrated Circuits, Optical components, Lasers, Sensors, Imaging, Displays, Projectors, Optic fiber, and other photonic related technologies. Mr. Lee has a BBA in Finance and an MBA in Leadership & Change Management from United Business Institutes. He is a sherpa representative on the European Commission Key Enabling Technologies High Level Expert Group.
Awareness about key enabling technologies often exiguous
Carlos Lee sees nanotechnology as important by its nature: it is a key enabling technology like his field, photonics. According to him, nanotechnology applications are found everywhere, their presence is ubiquitous and they impact the well-being of the public in many ways. In addition, they overlap various fields to produce a common technology: such as photonics and nanophotonics.
However, Mr. Lee sees it as a problem that the significance of nanotechnology, much like other key technologies that enable final products, is not often visible to the general public. Presently, there is not much awareness about nanotechnology, as people only see end products like solar panels and smart phone displays. Thus, a conference like EuroNanoForum that highlights recent nanotechnology developments and applications is essential in raising general public awareness on nanotechnologies, he states.
Advances in new technologies can enable better diagnosis and treatment of diseases
According to Mr. Lee, some technologies are going to be truly revolutionary. As an area of great potential he mentions the medical field, where advances in nanotechnology, coupled with biophotonics technology, can enable faster and more precise diagnosis and treatment of diseases. As an example he mentions that researchers from the University of Leeds have recently demonstrated successful treatment of cancerous human cell growth in laboratory mice models using gold nanotube technology.
Small companies play an enormous role in the European innovation ecosystem
“A lot of ideas are developed by scientists in universities and research technology organisations. However, they only create technology and do not systematically convert it to innovation and products – this is where small companies, particularly startups, would come into the picture”, Mr. Lee explains. “These startups, usually university spin-offs, are needed to transform newly developed technologies into solutions. Such commercialization of technology may be achieved by procuring a license or by the more effective method of creating a startup company”, he continues.
Unlike in the old days, the importance of technology is no longer necessarily related to the size of a company. Today, there are thousands of young and small innovative companies in Europe that the European Commission should nurture, support and sustain, Mr. Lee believes. However, he notes that small but bright companies and entrepreneurs will not be able to deliver on their promises without appropriate help. Conversely, an outpouring of support will enable these small companies to develop technologies and enable products that will benefit citizens at large, he finishes.
Advice to young people: Develop a strong technical and engineering background in a field where you are passionate
Mr. Lee believes that it is important for young people to have a solid understanding on how the physical world works. “In the past, it was enough if one studied a particular field and worked on that area for the rest of his or her life”, he says. “The forecast for the future is different, people will have various careers and re-learning, re-training, and re-skilling will be very important.”
Thus, Mr. Lee’s advice to young people is as follows: “Develop a strong technical and engineering background in a field where you are passionate. When you graduate, look at the needs of the times. Figure out what should be developed for the moment and devote your full attention to that – needs change and evolve over time.”
According to Mr. Lee, students and young professionals involved in key enabling technologies should always try to be curious about learning application fields: medical, energy, and so on. They should welcome the challenge to combine knowledge and understanding of various fields of science and technology to address the needs, he continues.
However, Mr. Lee wants to remind that a strong background in science and technology is not the only skill appreciated by industry players. A lot of work is now being done in teams. That is why he recommends young people to early improve on the soft skills needed to perform well in a team environment, including the ability to listen and communicate effectively, and to openly share knowledge and information with their team-members.