September 26, 2017
“Photonics is a very good environment for start-ups”
In the 1970s, Falk F. Strascheg established a laser start-up and built it up into the market leader before selling it to Coherent. After that, he remained loyal to the start-up scene as an investor and founder. Among other things, he developed TECHNOLOGIEHOLDING into the leading venture capital company in Germany. In June, he once again appeared at the LASER World of PHOTONICS as a jury member for the PHOTONICS Award.
Mr. Strascheg, in June, you were once again a member of the jury for the PHOTONICS Award. What was your impression of the start-ups taking part?
I was pleasantly surprised by the companies that gave presentations. It was very difficult for us to choose the three winning teams because the overall quality was so high. Although the ideas were very different, they all addressed interesting niche areas in the photonics market.
In the 1970s, you founded Laser-Optronic and built it up into a leading laser manufacturer. Were there start-up contests, subsidies and venture capital back then?
I founded the company in 1971 and managed it for a decade before I sold it. After that, I was the European Director at Coherent for another three years. However, I then decided to establish one of the first venture capital firms in Germany. That was in the middle of the 1980s. In the early days of Laser-Optronic, there was no venture capital. And start-up contests which now play a very important role in coaching and the transfer of knowledge to start-up teams have only been taking place since the middle of the 1990s. I started working for myself in 1971 after I became frustrated with a number of people who I collaborated with at the time. While Laser-Optronic was very successful, they were soon bankrupt.
Would Laser-Optronic have had a chance now given the quality of today’s start-up contests?
I think that we could have kept up. In the 1970s, we exhibited at the first LASER trade fair in Munich and we prepared ourselves for the trade fair in advance. The photonics industry was only just emerging. Young companies like ours needed a platform to present ourselves to the specialist world. This is one of the reasons why we enjoy taking part in the LASER World of PHOTONICS and seeing how the event has developed over the years.
Many leading photonics companies are barely 20 years old. Is the sector a particularly good one for start-ups?
Lasers, electronics and semiconductors are all highly innovative markets with a bright future. Photonics is a very good environment for start-ups, especially as it is relatively easy to get involved. There is space for newcomers as the sector is not dominated by large corporations. The market offers lots of lucrative niches and is receptive to new ideas.
Your venture capital company Extorel holds stakes in technology start-ups. What can founders from the photonics sector do in order to attract your attention?
We are currently hearing a lot of fascinating business ideas from the fields of fiber optics, ultrashort pulse lasers, sensors and 3D printing. As the Chairman of the Supervisory Board and one of the first investors in the market leader EOS, I am particularly attentive to the start-ups in the additive manufacturing sector. Some of the founders send us presentations, while others send us business plans or short proposals and we respond to these if we are interested. We also keep our eyes open at trade fairs like the Start-Up World during the LASER and during start-up contests. Naturally, we are keen to know what is going on at the Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship (SCE) at the University of Applied Sciences Munich too.
Your foundation established the SCE and finances it to this day. And you have been working to encourage a start-up culture in the country for decades. Do you feel that progress is being made?
Definitely! Founders nowadays are well aware of what is possible. They are familiar with the subsidy programs, the opportunities for financing and know how to negotiate with investors. The quality of business plans is increasing all the time too. Chairs at universities, the growing number of business plan contests and state subsidy programs such as EXIST are also making a contribution. And last but not least, today’s founders have more and more successful role models who pass on their knowledge and experience and invest money from company sales in start-ups. A culture in which start-ups can thrive much more profitably is developing. Although the USA is still ahead of us, we have made a great deal of progress in Germany and Europe compared to the 1980s and the 1990s!