10 Years of Nanoscribe
Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany. Today, ten years ago, Nanoscribe GmbH was founded. Since that time, the company has grown to become a market and technology leader in the field of 3D printing at the nano- and micrometer scales. Now serving more than a thousand users and enjoying double-digit million revenues for three years running, the spin-off of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) now ranks among the most successful high-tech business formations in Germany of recent years.
Perfectly matched and integrated solutions for hardware and software, as well as customized materials and processes, give users access to pioneering applications in the fields of optics, information and communication technology ICT, and medical technology, among others. Several recent honors and awards—such as reaching the finals of the German Founders’ Award (Deutscher Gründerpreis) and winning the prestigious Prism Award—illustrate the exceptional performance of these high-precision 3D printers for extremely small structures whose details are often smaller than a thousandth of a millimeter.
Nanoscribe sets new standards in the field of microfabrication. Users include both academic institutions and an ever-increasing number of companies in industry. While various technologies are often available for fabricating 3D objects at macroscopic levels, at the micrometer scale, Nanoscribe’s technology is often the only available option. As Nanoscribe CEO and co-founder Martin Hermatschweiler has said, “Our customers can now materialize pioneering ideas that were out of reach to them before. We’ve had great interest from industry, among others, in the areas of optics, photonics, and medical technology.”
This potential was recognized very early on by Carl Zeiss AG (ZEISS), that already supported the company starting from the pre-founding phase. In September 2008, ZEISS acquired shares in the company and is still assisting Nanoscribe in various matters. Martin Hermatschweiler illustrates the company’s future plans: “We’re happy that we’ll soon move to a new building at KIT Campus North, probably in 2019. ZEISS is planning the construction of a 30 million Euro Innovation Hub for young high-tech companies.”
Dr. Michael Thiel, CSO and co-founder of Nanoscribe, explains that ”a tight connection between science and industry is invaluable for us. Various cooperations—for example in the scope of projects funded by BMBF [the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research]—lay the foundations for the innovations of tomorrow.” He is among today’s most successful innovators under the age of thirty-five, as chosen by Technology Review in 2016, and was honored with the European “CTO of the Year Award” in the same year.
Highly trained employees especially from science and engineering are the key to enabling breakthroughs for disruptive technologies. A quarter of Nanoscribe’s fifty-four employees has received a PhD. Thiel emphasizes that “the proportion of research and development is of highest importance for a young, growing high-tech company. This is reflected in the fact that about 40% of the staff is working in R&D.” Offering integral solutions involves developing and integrating a broad spectrum of competencies. Nanoscribe has conquered that challenge over the last five years by expanding its numbers of employees by around 25% CAGR.
Co-founder Prof. Dr. Martin Wegener, professor at the Institute of Applied Physics and director of the Institute for Nanotechnology at KIT, says, “We took the unknown technology of two-photon-polymerization out of a research niche. Because of the great interest, as well as the high technical complexity, the idea emerged to make this capacity available as a commercial product to laboratories around the world.” Only ten years earlier, the Japanese research group of Prof. Satoshi Kawata at Osaka University had provided the experimental proof for the technical basis of Nanoscribe’s 3D printers, which today are used in over thirty countries. The international quality of Nanoscribe’s customers is also reflected among the company’s employees, where members of thirteen different nationalities communicate (mainly in English) with one another.
Co-founder Prof. Dr. Georg von Freymann is convinced that additive microfabrication has just started and will continue to open numerous fields in the future. Today, the professor at TU Kaiserslautern and head of the Fraunhofer Center for Materials Characterization and Testing ITWM closely follows the new applications created by Nanoscribe customers. “Almost every week I hear about a new application, whether in the life sciences, micro-robotics, or metamaterials. Three spinoffs have already been created based on the use of the novel possibilities that Nanoscribe’s technology offers.” Several hundred scientific publications have been enabled using Nanoscribe’s systems, including several publications alone in the journal Science.
Martin Hermatschweiler sums it up: “We’ve laid the foundations for strong growth in every respect. With the establishment of subsidiaries in New York and Shanghai, we’ll also be better able to work with our customers in the Americas and Asia. According to Bill Gates, most people tend to overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years. With this in mind, we look forward to the next ten years for our company.”
Caption: 10 Years of Nanoscribe: The co-founders of Nanoscribe Dr. Michael Thiel (CSO) and Martin Hermatschweiler (CEO) manage the operational business of Nanoscribe (left to right).