Collin Arocho
2 February

After three and a half years of rapid growth with CEO Hans Brouwer and CFO Steven Tan at the helm, Nikhef spinoff Amsterdam Scientific Instruments will enter its next growth phase with a new captain: Thorbjoern Schoenbeck.

Amsterdam Scientific Instruments (ASI) will have a new skipper. The Nikhef spinoff, which specializes in advanced camera systems for electron microscopes, x-ray and optical photons, has announced that Thorbjoern Schoenbeck will assume the role of CEO, effective immediately. As part of this shift in leadership, his predecessor Hans Brouwer and Steven Tan, who co-managed ASI, will move to take their seats on the company’s executive board. “This is great news for the company, as our departure has always been intended,” explains Tan. “Now as ASI enters into its next phase of growth and its ambitious expansion strategy, this change is exactly what’s needed to elevate the company to the next stage.”

Brouwer and Tan took the reins at ASI in 2017 when their high-tech seed fund Nascent Ventures invested in the academic startup (link in Dutch). In the few years under their tutelage, the company has grown from an academic startup, completing one-off projects for its customers, to a fast-growing specialized product developer breaking into the market.

ASI TPX3CAM
A quantum optics installation with the Timepix3 detector. Credit: ASI

“When we joined the company, ASI was more of a project-based company. A customer would give us a specific request, and we would essentially build tailor-made cameras for them,” describes Tan. “But during that phase of the company’s growth, we looked into the common denominators of the products within those projects to determine how we could engineer them to a higher-quality level that was ready for the market. Of course, there’s always some level of customization in adaptors or tweaks to the software to fit customer needs, but ASI is now product, not project, centric.”

Timepix3

One of the company’s top products is the Timepix3. Essentially, this detector is a high-end camera equipped with a Timepix ASIC – a general-purpose readout chip consisting of 250,000 pixels, each with its own time-measuring abilities – enabling the camera to detect bursts of light or photons with time-over-threshold, which records the height of a pulse and its duration over a determined threshold, and time-of-arrival, which measures how fast the particle (electron or photon) is moving.

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In its third generation, the Timepix chip boasts an improved time resolution of 1.6 nanoseconds. Additionally, it can simultaneously measure energy and time, continuously reading out data as an events list of hit coordinates, rather than a sequence of individual frames.

“We’ve heard it before, ‘why not just buy a standard camera with millions of pixels’? But the Timepix is an extremely unique detector,” illustrates Hans Brouwer. “Essentially, each of the 250,000 pixels operates as a camera on its own. Each of them with the ability to measure aspects of time. Standard frame-based CMOS or CCD cameras simply can’t match that, and that’s a powerful advancement that our technology can offer, especially when used in applications for lifetime imaging, velocity imaging and quantum optics.”

ASI Cheetah
The Cheetah is a hybrid pixel/direct electron detector. Credit: ASI

New role

According to Brouwer and Tan, the appointment of Schoenbeck is coming at a pivotal time in ASI’s expansion – a goal that both men, and their investment firm, remain fully committed to as they transition to their new roles on the company’s executive board. “Especially at the start of the transition process, we’re going to be very involved. Schoenbeck brings with him a lot of experience in the domain, coming from Malvern Panalytical, where he spent his last 14 years in various leadership roles,” says Brouwer. “While he hasn’t served as CEO, his background in high tech and his proven track record of commercializing advanced instrumentation will be crucial in leading ASI in its next phase of growth. He’s a strong communicator and has a deep understanding of our customers, both academic and industrial.”

“Industry is becoming more and more important to the company and is definitely the direction of its ambitious growth plan. For almost all technologies, research and academia are usually the first adopters,” explains Tan. “But at some point, there’s a shift toward industrial adoption, which will play a big role in expansion. Therefore, Schoenbeck’s expertise from the commercial side of advanced instrumentation is key in this transition.”

ASI Cheetah installation
The Cheetah installed in an electron microscope. Credit: ASI

Timing

Another important factor in this transition in leadership is the timing. Despite the uncertainty of the global economy, as the world wrestles with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, ASI managed to outperform expectations and have a record-breaking 2020. “Of course, in the beginning, our dependence on Chinese supply lines became a bottleneck, but they bounced back pretty quickly. Another issue we encountered was that when the universities and research institutes started to close their doors, suddenly our biggest customers were inaccessible,” depicts Tan. “This delayed our revenues substantially, but by Q3, things really started to pick up and our Q4 was, well, ridiculous, but in a very good way.”

“We’re now at a point where we see without any doubt, our investment was a good one. Our vision for growth has been successfully executed, though it’s never really finished – it requires continuous innovation,” highlights Brouwer. “I’d say the company is very stable now and we’re ready for that next step, toward another expansion and another level of professionalization and organization. With Schoenbeck’s fresh perspective, and some new products to be released soon, we believe the ship is on the right course.”