Connectivity and lack thereof has been a key issue highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis. Germany and the United States are both investing in better infrastructures to make sure that this won’t be an issue anymore. But how do you do that? Startup Aircision, located at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, believes it has the answer.
As a laser-based telecommunication company, based in building HTC 12, Aircision’s technology replaces radiofrequency, and optical fiber by using technologies originally developed for space, establishing connections rapidly, and facilitating, for example, 5G networks. This unique approach started from a partnership between startup accelerator HighTechXL and CERN, as Aircision's CFO, Betsy Lindsey, explains.
Betsy completed a Technology Management MBA from University of Washington and worked at corporate law firms and banks, including Silicon Valley Bank. Before moving to Eindhoven in 2011, she worked in commercial banking in Hong Kong. Thanks to the connections made through the Expat Spouses Initiative, Betsy became an Investor Relations director at HighTechXL, helping companies grow by introducing investors and giving feedback on their financial plans. After five years in this role, she joined Aircision, stating that this position is the culmination of everything she has learned in business and life.
Precision in the Air = Aircision
Since The Netherlands is small and flat, optical fiber has been deployed widely, so places with no connectivity are only 10% total. However, in the neighboring mountainous Germany, for example, the same is not true, and it is possible to find huge, remote pockets without connectivity. In December, the German government introduced an infrastructure bill to insure access for all. Nevertheless, for activities such as driving an autonomous vehicle in remote areas, connectivity is critical.
That is where Aircision's expertise comes in: the company's name, as Betsy explains, summarizes its technology's precision in transmitting lasers through the air. Instead of using cables, or optical fiber, Airision employs lasers to connect antennas, which constantly need to be talking. And since it is infrared, it is below the visible light spectrum: "it's not like you're shooting red or green beams back and forth. Backhaul transmission is usually done at a height, which doesn’t interfere with everyday life. We use very low power (miliwatts!), and we are aim to building a class of laser, which is as safe as your computer's mouse."
Diversity is key
After picking up four interns and two new employees this fall, Aircision counts diversity as an asset, boasting 9 countries of origin, two female team members and a wide range of ages from 50’s to 20’s. According to Betsy, having a group where all members display the same mindset or come from the same place could have benefits in terms of "comfort." On the other hand, it could also lead to failure since they are not challenging each other to consider all the different aspects that can emerge from the development of a project. For her, that is what having a diverse team can bring in: a holistic approach. "I am a firm believer in diversity. It's about taking in different perspectives. And, in technology, you're building a product for more than one person. So you need more than one input to build something beautiful."
With a full-time team composed of three Dutch, an Italian, a Portuguese, a Canadian, a Scottish, and herself, an American, Betsy points out that Aircision also has a board of German mentors, some of which they have never met in these modern “ZOOM meeting” times. "Since our business is growing so fast, and we needed some very specific help, we just engaged those advisors, and it's been working really well." In her opinion, there are no more excuses for not hiring globally, since people can meet and work online. "You have to make efforts to find the right team, the right balance," Betsy describes. For her, convenience could be the main reason why people keep hiring professionals exactly like themselves. As an alternative, the CFO bets on stepping out of your comfort zone: "you have to challenge yourself to step outside of what you know and be open to learning."
Pool of international talent
As the company is currently expanding the team, Aircision intends to hire people from all over the world, although the immigration process for a startup is not as simple as for a big company. However, it is not only about having a diverse origin, as Betsy explains: it has to do with deep tech, which requires specific, very qualified backgrounds. Luckily, as she points out, Aircision lies in a very international community: "if there's someone just as qualified and they happen to be in Eindhoven, we'll choose that person. Eindhoven is a great place to hire people because it is such a diverse, international place."
Betsy would like to see more diversity in the people applying for their jobs, and she is looking for ways to advertise their vacancies so that more people could see it. "Diversity is going to continue to have a role in our company. We will continue to look for the best people, and we will consider all kinds of people. Because we really believe in that aspect."
A land of opportunities and collaboration
Betsy defines High Tech Campus Eindhoven as "a great place to be." According to her, one can find opportunities and partnerships inside the Campus, like with TMC, a company established in building HTC . Since they have many resourceful employees in the physics domain, as Betsy explains. She also mentions the new 5G HUB at the Campus, as they can connect the buildings and perform demonstrations in the future with amazing companies like VodafoneZiggo and Ericsson. "The value of proximity at High Tech Campus is immense," she declares.
The transformation of Eindhoven
Betsy reveals she has seen Eindhoven change, becoming more cosmopolitan and modern, and she believes ASML and Philips are responsible for this international character the community displays. She also praises the collaborative atmosphere one can find in the city in Noord-Brabant: "I really like the way that the city of Eindhoven, together with Brainport and the people in this ecosystem work together; the High Tech Campus also plays a big role in helping people network and collaborate. I like being here, and I think it's easier as an entrepreneur to get around, then let’s say larger cities like Rotterdam or Amsterdam -- the players are known."
In the pursuit of their primary goal of providing connectivity worldwide, in October of last year, Aircision completed tests on their prototype here on the Strip bicycle path at HIgh Tech Campus. They were able to demonstrate data transmission over 520m with a very high performance. In early May, more tests are planned with their collaboration partner TNO at 10Gbps over 2.5km. As Betsy explains, "'empowering connectivity' is our little slogan, and I think it says it all. I feel like we're going to build something incredible."