CEO leaves Photondelta with one last piece of advice: “Never think you’ve won”

Paul van Gerven
Reading time: 4 minutes

Ewit Roos, the man who at the helm of Photondelta helped put the Dutch integrated-photonics prowess on the map, is stepping down. Having infused the ecosystem with a healthy sense of urgency, he leaves strengthening the links between the photonics and the semiconductor industry to his successor.

When Ewit Roos joined Photondelta eight years ago, the organization consisted of a single university and a handful of companies. Today, it’s a recognized and well-funded integrated-photonics accelerator with over 60 corporate members and a global reach. As the CEO leaves Photondelta to join the affiliated venture capital firm Photonventures, how does Roos look back at this transformation?

Are you happy about where the integrated-photonics industry is today?

Roos: “While we’ve made great progress, it’s clear that the industry is still emerging. I had hoped we would have advanced more quickly, but in integrated photonics, things are no different than in any other deep-tech venture: getting the ball rolling is a chicken-and-egg problem. Suppliers need to be able to manufacture in reasonably high volumes to prove their technology is viable and to be able to offer competitive prices, but they can only do so when there’s sufficient demand. First adopters are typically smaller companies, which don’t generate that level of demand.”

“Scaling in manufacturing capacity depends on the entire supply chain moving in unison. This makes for a particularly long and deep valley of death. This is why I’m extremely grateful for the consistent support of the Dutch regional and national governments. It’s heartening to be on the receiving end of that kind of trust.”

As the Dutch integrated-photonics industry is moving forward, so is the rest of the world. Do you still believe the Photondelta ecosystem can become a major part of this industry?

“Absolutely. Our capabilities in indium phosphide, InP, are second to none. This is a highly complex, distinctive technology that would be extremely difficult for others to start competing in. The barrier of entry to our other specialty, silicon nitride, SiN, is lower so we need to keep up the pace to stay ahead.”

“Although I’m certainly not saying it’s the case at Photondelta, the biggest threat to our success is complacency. If you’re world-leading in research and technology, there’s a risk of becoming complacent. You can’t afford to think like that. The world is extremely competitive, and we need to aggressively fight for our place in it. Even with generous funding from the National Growth Fund – or rather: especially with that kind of funding – there needs to be a sense of urgency, a healthy anxiety about whether we’re taking the right steps. Never think that you’ve won. We must focus on the next scaling exercise and derived funding needs.”

“I feel that Photondelta has embraced this attitude and, although I can’t claim that as my doing, it fills me with pride. Organizations like this always run the risk of becoming rigid bureaucracies, and Photondelta certainly isn’t.”

What should, in your opinion, be the priorities of your successor?

“The priorities are clear: forging links with the semiconductor industry. Integrated photonics isn’t a stand-alone technology; it’s part of the semiconductor ecosystem at large. To find our place in it, we need products that can be easily integrated and that add value – enough value to grasp the attention of semiconductor players. Integrated photonics has a lot to offer in terms of speed, bandwidth, energy footprint and sensitivity, depending on the application. We must listen carefully to what the semiconductor industry needs from us to design our technology in.”

“Another priority would be to keep integrated photonics on the agendas of Europe’s policymakers. We need to continually keep mobilizing funds for the next steps in scaling this industry. If Europe wants to increase its technological independence, it needs to secure an integrated-photonics supply chain alongside its semiconductor industry.”

Why are you leaving Photondelta?

“The momentum of industrialization of integrated photonics as a key function in semicon is entering a new and promising phase. Now that the Dutch infrastructure and ecosystem have been kickstarted, we want companies to take advantage. The goal of the Photonventures fund is to facilitate that process: invest in European companies that will boost demand that also benefits the Dutch industry around integrated photonics. In other words, we put money where our mouth has been for all these years and build further success with dedicated and necessary venture capital. In that respect, I may be leaving Photondelta, but I’m not leaving the ecosystem.”

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