What Keeps Me Up at Night
10 Questions with President Charles Flükiger on ebeam’s Biggest Accomplishments and Greatest Challenges
1. What was the biggest accomplishment for the ebeam team in 2014?
There were two important achievements in 2014. First, we were able to secure three big customers in different market segments, which was a signifcant accomplishment for us. For some time, Tetra Pak, the global food packaging leader, was our biggest customer. No longer. We are gaining important new customers of a similar size. The second achievement was that we were able to develop and build up our ebeam brand, and roll out our communications and messaging strategy. This was a signficant challenge as we had to develop a communication concept that could be understood by all stakeholders about a new product and a new technology. And then we had to introduce it to the market.
2. What was achieved in 2014 in terms of developing ebeam technology?
On the technical side, we are always developing more robust and compact designs. Indeed, the concept we developed for ebeam technology has been scaled up to a higher energy level than what we originally started out with, which has allowed us to focus on a completely new field of applications. That makes ebeam technology a lot more appealing and interesting and opens up entirely new market segments.
3. What did 2014 achieve in terms of developing the market for this new technology?
From the very beginning, we started thinking about how we could facilitate greater access to and greater knowledge of electron beam technology. If you are dealing with a brand new technology that people are unfamiliar with, it can be quite difficult for people to understand how it can scale. And if the marketplace knows about the technology but nobody has direct access to it, that creates a barrier. So to address these isssues, we did two things. First, we developed a number of channels to communicate about ebeam technology and get the word out to the marketplace. Second, we have implemented ateliers in our three offices globally (Switzerland, US, & China) to facilitate access to the technology. These are laboratory showrooms that allow partners, existing customers, and potential customers to run experiments and trials with our products. Also, we have built portable “EBLabs,” which allow our customers to run tests either at their own locations (you can rent and purchase the EBLab) or at the ateliers, where we also have these portable labs.
For some time, Tetra Pak, the global food packaging leader, was our biggest customer. No longer. We are gaining important new customers of a similar size.
Perhaps the most important achievement of 2014 is that we put together a team that has a combined 150 years of experience in this technology and related fields. We have senior professionals who are all experts in the technology and who have the networks and know-how to be successful in their market segments.
4. As President of ebeam, what are you most proud of in terms of the progress made in 2014?
I am most proud of the quality of our employees. We have been able to find highly qualified people for our business—for business development, supply chain, operations, and R&D. We have built a first class team. Having such a successful group of people is critical to growing our business and gaining recognition in the marketplace. Yes, we achieved successful growth metrics in the business for 2014, but for me, the quality of our team is the biggest success of the year and the foundation for our future growth.
5. ebeam is a relatively new technology, at least in the compact form that you have developed. During 2014, how did you tackle the problem of increasing market awareness of this new technology?
One way we have approached it is to ask: How did the public and the market start to understand other new technologies—for example, nanotechnology or laser? How did technologies like that earn success and market recognition, and (in some cases) even become household names? We realized that we needed to create a very innovative communications concept which could explain the impact of ebeam technology in terms that everyone—scientist, production worker, manufacturer, end-user, and the general public—could understand. We have worked hard to explain in simple terms what benefits this new technology brings to the market and how it can have a truly positive impact on the planet and our society.
I am most proud of the quality of our employees. We have been able to find highly qualified people for our business—for business development, supply chain, operations, and R&D. We have built a first class team.
That also means we have to choose the right partners every step of the way, from R&D to suppliers, integrators, and manufacturers. And we make a point to have so called dock-on events where we organize and appear at events/conferences/workshops with our established partners. That helps us promote the technology and increase awareness of our brand.
6. Are there specific markets you are focusing on in 2015?
We have four market segments—sterilization, curing, environmental technology, and plastics. Within the four segments, we have started to establish sub-segments to be more focused. For example, in sterilization we are focusing on food packaging and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as environmental applications such as the inactivation of grains and other materials. Then we also have curing and the printing industry, and an important sub-section there would be digitial inkjet printing. Regionally, we are focused first on Europe, then the US, and are now slowly becoming more active in Asia.
7. What are ebeam’s business goals in 2015?
2015 is another very important year for us. Over the last three years, we have doubled our sales and we need to maintain that growth in order to scale up the business and invest in potential new applications. Our main focus is the successful rollout of the Tetra Pak filling machines globally. Also, we are working to achieve proof-of-concept with our other larger customers in 2015. We want to get the technology for these customers into production and eventually get to a level of success where we can publicize those partnerships as well.
8. What are your personal goals for ebeam in 2015?
My personal goal for 2015 is to find a financial model that allows us to fund research into the new applications that we have put on our target list. The bottleneck is not the potential applications in the market but how much we can afford to invest in those new applications. That is our biggest challenge.
Another goal of mine is to continue to work on developing the core DNA of our business and technology teams because the time will come where we will need to rapidly scale up our human resources, and we need the existing team to be ready to effectively integrate the newbies. These are my top priorities for this year.
I don’t mean to sound too noble, but the fact that we have a truly innovative product in our hands makes me feel an obligation to make this technology a success.
9. What do you most enjoy about leading a start-up tech company like ebeam?
We are in a position were we have creative freedom, which is very exciting. Every day is different and new; we interact with new people and encounter new opportunities. We are breaking new ground in business and technology, which is risky but very rewarding. We also have to manage the expectations of all of our stakeholders. This cocktail of challenges makes it a very interesting job, but also a demanding one.
10. What about your job keeps you up at night?
It is true that I lie awake at night and think and dream about diverse issues related to the business. Primarily, I’m inspired by the potential impact this technology can have on the planet and society. I don’t mean to sound too noble, but the fact that we have a truly innovative product on our hands makes me feel an obligation to make this technology a success. The potential benefits of ebeam are very real. That motivates me, inspires me, and yes, it even keeps me up at night!