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Etulipa: ‘Open innovation requires a helicopter-view’

Apr 10, 2018 9:27:51 AM. By: High Tech Campus

Etulipa is one of the first startups that resides at High Tech Campus Eindhoven. Founder Hans Feil worked for several years at Philips Research on the technology of Electro Wetting. Since Philips had no interest in the further development of this display technology, Hans decided to spin-out, found his own company and bring the innovative Electro Wetting Display to the market. Hans Feil: “What followed was an intense years-long quest in making the technology viable, transforming it into a product and finding a market and a proper market approach.”

Paper-like displays
In Electro Wetting Displays (EWD) the ‘pixels’ are not powered by light (like LED displays) but with oil. By applying a low voltage, the oil spreads or contracts in a tiny cell, thus forming images that can both be still and moving. Based on this principle you can create displays that offer several advantages. Electro Wetting Displays are reflective (like paper) and can be read even in direct sunlight, they consume very little energy, cause almost no light pollution and by stacking them into panels they are extremely scalable.

Abandoned route
Hans: “One of the first routes we took was the development of a rear-view mirror. With our technology it would be possible to dim the reflection (of distractive back lights) in 0,3 second and we could display navigation instructions or car data on the mirror. Unluckily we couldn’t solve this puzzle fast enough nor at a truly competitive quality. So we abandoned this route and focused on creating displays for outdoor usage. I am happy to say we will introduce our first commercial product to the market this year.”


Open Innovation is hard
In the industrialization of technology, a company like Philips would cover the whole value chain, from R&D to production, to marketing. Hans Feil: “As a small company we don’t have the resources to do everything ourselves and we need others to work with us: open innovation. This has the advantage that we can focus on our core strength: developing the system in perfection. First, we found a lead customer that will cover building of the end-user product and do marketing, sales and distribution. And second we found a LCD display manufacturer as a partner to produce our display tiles. Both are now shareholders in our company. That’s great, but it wasn’t effortless to get there. Open innovation may look fast and easy from a textbook perspective, but I can say: it is a very complicated, intense and labor-intensive route.”

Understand and believe
“We had to find partners who understood our approach and believed in the potential. That’s a challenge! What we experienced is, if you make something radically new, you must be able to understand and oversee the complete chain. If you ask an LCD display manufacturer: Can you also make Electro Wetting tiles? It will most probably deliver doubtful results. We need to transfer our knowledge step by step to be able to make the high quality products we desire. So you will be talking about machine design, process design, quality control. On the opposite side our market partner will have to thoroughly understand what the exact value of our product is and who would be ready to pay for it. So you will be talking marketing, sales, distribution. Moreover, you need to oversee things functionally, but also in terms of contracts. What are your commercial agreements and what to do with IP, legal matters and future developments?”


Exploring position
“Over the years we have been continuously exploring: What can we do ourselves? Where do we need others? How do we manage that? Next to before-mentioned partners we collaborate with a network of experts on and beyond High Tech Campus for stuff like material analysis, engineering, reliability testing, patent advice… It also helps that the Campus has an environmental permit, so we do not need to look into that ourselves. After several years we have experienced that the most efficient start is to have the EWD tiles made in Taiwan and combine the tiles into display panels in Eindhoven. A handy module that our lead-customer can assemble with ease and that provides reliable results.” Now, Etulipa is about to scale-up. Its black & white display will be launched in the US in 2018.

Do you want to know more about open innovation at High Tech Campus Eindhoven? Download the free whitepaper 'Creating a vibrant innovation ecosystem' by prof. dr. Georges Romme via the link below. 


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