ANTENNEX, © Bram van Daal
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ANTENNEX is a spin-off of the TU Eindhoven antenna measurement group. In recent years, the group got more and more requests from large companies to measure their antenna systems, so, at some point, it seemed logical to establish a real company. That’s what happened in May 2021. “It sounds very paradoxical, but companies are generally very good at making antennas but not good at measuring them”, founder and CEO Anouk Hubrechsen says.

  • The Gerard & Anton Awards ceremony highlights 10 promising start-ups each year.
  • ANTENNEX was one of the 2023 winners.
  • This start-up has found a way to measure the next-generation antennas that couldn’t be measured before.

Measuring is a totally different business; almost no one can properly measure the latest 5G and 6G systems. ANTENNEX could do the job because it had made its unique measurement systems. So, the company started measuring services in those systems to use the profits for product development. At that time, it was mainly a ‘side project’ of scientists, and students performed the measurement services. Although it gave the founders a lot of market insight, it didn’t turn out to be very scalable in terms of the business model, and there wasn’t enough profit left over to really develop the products.

“It was clear that a turnaround was needed in the company to make it a success and to disconnect from the TU/e”, Mrs. Hubrechsen explains. “I had a new vision for the company in which we would fully focus on product development. This also had a lot to do with meeting an American serial entrepreneur and professor in our field, who started helping us more and more. After some months of discussion about the future of the company, we decided to make a fresh start, and I put together a new and hugely diverse team of founders. All shares were redistributed, and we could officially start in January 2023 with a clean slate, new ideas, and a completely new product.”

Speed up the process

The company’s goal is to speed up measuring processes. “Measuring antennas is an incredibly slow and outdated process. Our goal is to be able to characterize them with the speed and precision at which chips are characterized. In fact, the test market really has to move in that direction because in 5G/6G systems, the antennas and chips are integrated, so there is no other way. Both chips and antennas must be measured in one go, quickly and accurately.”

ANTENNEX operates in the test and measurement market for radio-frequency (RF) systems. The applications are endless, as this market targets almost all wireless devices. “Right now, we mainly focus on next-generation devices. These include applications that, for example, have not yet been widely rolled out – think of wireless data centers or VR and AR. They are applications requiring enormously high data rates and different antennas.”

Each generation (referring to the ‘G’ in 4G, 5G, 6G, etc.) lasts about ten years, Hubrechsen adds. “That means that every ten years, the market in which we operate is fairly shaken up, which makes it important to keep innovating antenna test methods. An interesting development for 6G is that we will now make antennas-on-a-chip with full integration. That makes testing incredibly difficult because you can only test the chips and antennas over a wireless connection. This brings a lot of challenges, but we believe we have the right solution for that right now. We are, therefore, also involved in the 6G consortium of the Dutch Growth Fund.”

Every start-up has bumps on the road, causing energy, money, or even pivots. “For us, the biggest ‘bump’ was to ‘kill our darlings’. We had built three incredibly beautiful systems, but it was best to focus only on one product for the company. That was a difficult step, especially for the scientists in our team, but an important one. In addition, we have a new technique that finally allows us to put all measurement capabilities into one product after all, so that’s a lot more interesting for customers. We are extremely proud to have successfully defined, designed, and built this within five months. In June, we released the system at the biggest tradeshow in our field (the IMS in San Diego). It was truly a team effort of which we are immensely proud. Plus, it looks like we got our first order!”

Brainport Eindhoven

The Brainport Eindhoven ecosystem has been precious to ANTENNEX, Hubrechsen says. “We notice that all the investors are involved with each other and have a short line to The Gate at TU/e. As a TU/e spin-off, this has helped us a lot. The business developers at The Gate also helped us greatly during the new start in January. Still, we also experienced the value of having an American colleague on our team. The American mindset is a bit different. It puts more value on how you introduce a product to the market, such as how it comes across to customers, the psychology behind it, marketing & branding. I think that is given a little less value in our local tech bubble but is hugely important for market traction. Since our new branding, we are taken a lot more seriously, which fits the high quality of our product. Engineers also look much further than just the spec sheet, even though they often say otherwise themselves.”

Amber and Vention

As a winner in the ninth round of the Gerard & Anton Awards, ANTENNEX is part of an already strong tradition. Which of the eighty former winners stands out for Anouk Hubrechsen? Without hesitation: “Amber! Perhaps I’m not completely unbiased because two of the founders (Hans de Penning and Frank Poort) are very close to us through investments and advice. Funny enough, they were in my first year of Electrical Engineering at TU/e, and coincidentally, our paths crossed again a few months ago. The story behind their company and the founders is inspiring – I hardly know anyone who has worked so hard to make their vision a reality. Before Amber, Hans and Frank founded Vention Technologies, which works on product development for many companies, including ANTENNEX. We work with a lot of people, but Hans and Frank are outstanding individuals and really know what they are talking about – whether it is a printed circuit board design or an investor memorandum. At the same time as us, Hans started a new company called Neople, which is already very successful in the short time it has been around. Frank helps many start-ups with their product developments as a system architect. It’s incredible how they can help us so much in addition to all those activities. That’s why they are our favorite!”