The development of products such as displays for smartphones, TVs and computers is now a time-consuming and expensive process. “A researcher has an idea, makes a prototype based on that, which is then tested extensively in the hope of learning something about the materials and other properties of the new display,” says Siebe van Mensfoort, founder and CEO of Simbeyond. “With our technology, this process is much faster and also far more accurate.”
The company, a spin-off from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), actually develops simulation software. “We can make a digital twin with this. This is actually just a virtual version of a product,” he explains. A company or research institute can use that digital version to carry out various experiments and make calculations for different materials. Van Mensfoort: “That goes a lot faster than in actual practice. Using a digital twin, companies can eliminate flaws from a design more quickly. That ensures that it can be taken to market faster and more error-free.”
Simbeyond has successfully completed an investment round aimed at carrying out more (scientific) research into the technology and look for sales related opportunities. ECFG, an independent investment company in mainly SMEs, has bought a minority stake in the spin-off.
Several companies are working on the development of digital twins. What makes Simbeyond unique is that its simulation technology can make computations for products down to the nano level – the very smallest scale of physics. This includes products such as displays and batteries, but also nanolithography, the technology that ASML uses to develop chips. Simbeyond’s clientele include screen manufacturers, but also research institutes, such as the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO).
Currently, Simbeyond is primarily focused on the display industry. For example, the company supplies software to Asian countries where a great deal of development is taking place in the field of OLED, the technology used in displays. ” It is important for the development of displays to see and understand the laws of physics on the very smallest scale. For example, we see how an electron, a negatively charged particle, jumps from molecule to molecule, thereby helping to create current,” says Van Mensfoort. “An end user will not see that phenomenon in action, but it is necessary to be able to understand it in order to develop a new generation of display pixels.”
New generation of products
The technology from Simbeyond can help manufacturers make displays in the future more energy efficient and achieve a longer lifespan and a better image quality. “The use of our technology will lead to an improvement in the competitive position. It is, of course, important to bring a new generation of a product to the market before the competitor does,” says Van Mensfoort. “In the field of displays, for example, you could also consider the development of bendable or even foldable ones.”
Also interesting: Building batteries and displays atomic layer by atomic layer
Entrepreneurship as a great adventure
Simbeyond was founded in late 2015. Before that, Van Mensfoort was already working on the technology underpinning this spin-off. “There was a collaboration between TU/e and Philips at the time to see how we could improve OLED displays,” he recalls. His PhD research had been part of this collaboration. “In 2015, Philips made the decision to stop developing OLED products and to sell off this branch of the company. That got the team who were working on the simulation software thinking. Interest from other companies and organizations in this technology was growing.” So the idea of building a company around the simulation software was born. Van Mensfoort and his associate set up a business model and applied for a grant to fund valorization. “When that was awarded, we really hit the ground running then,” he says.
Van Mensfoort sees entrepreneurship as a great adventure. “As a student I had already taken a course on entrepreneurship. So, I leant a few things, it has always held my interest ever since,” he notes. ” Except that I thought you had to have a golden idea before you could start a business. Turns out that’s not the case at all. At the university, several seed funds (like Simbeyond’s, ed.) are already in place. It’s just a matter of doing it.” The support of the university has been instrumental in this, he says. “When we set up the company, we received a lot of advice and coaching from TU/e Innovation Lab, which is now The Gate,” he adds.
“In addition, we were lucky that the spin-off stemmed from years of research out of a collaboration between Philips and TU/e’s M2N research group. This immediately gave us a commercial product that enabled us to enter the market,” he goes on to say. “After that, of course, we continued to develop the product and the company quite a bit further, but we already had a product at the time of our foundation that we could use to attract customers. That is really a privilege as a spin-off. Most young companies do not have that luxury.”
Ups and downs
The further development and growth of the company has been going through ups and downs. “We have already accomplished some great milestones,” Van Mensfoort states. For example, a bottle of champagne was cracked open when Simbeyond reached the break-even point. The most important moment of all, according to the CEO, was the signature of a major client under a multi-year contract. “That’s when we really celebrated. When you reach that point, a whole bunch of risks fall by the wayside. But obviously, we are still a relatively young and small company, so there are always new risks lurking around the corner.”
The corona crisis is a case in point. “We have a lot of potential customers in Asia who we couldn’t visit because of the corona measures. We haven’t seen some customers for two years,” he says. “In Asia, a video call is often not considered a worthy alternative to a meeting. It’s especially important to build up a good relationship there, and it’s almost impossible to do this remotely. They miss the small talk.”
Van Mensfoort has not had a single moment’s regret about his leap into the deep end as an entrepreneur. “I think it’s important that knowledge from the university finds its way to the market. Sometimes a large company can integrate a new idea from science into existing products or services. But there are also situations where that is not feasible or where a new invention does not fit in with the strategy of a company. Then that’s a splendid moment to set up your own company. A new technology can be very promising if it is picked up by a start-up or spin-off that is operating as a niche player with a good team and a clear vision,” the CEO explains.
He has every confidence in the future. “We believe that the development of nanotechnology does not have to be time-consuming and expensive. We want to become the supplier of simulation technology in this field. This will save time and money because fewer physical prototypes will need to be made. That’s good news for the environment.”