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European Innovation Council backs photonics in latest funding round

21 Mar 2024

Several European startups will share in €285M scheme blending grants and equity investment.

The European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator program, a European Commission scheme designed to support startups in the region, has awarded funding to several photonics companies in its latest competitive round.

Following the most recent EIC Accelerator cut-off date last November, 42 companies were selected to share €285 million of blended grant and equity support that is intended to attract further venture finance from the private equity sector.

Among those 42 startups were several working on photonics technologies, ranging from quantum key distribution (QKD) cryptography systems to hyperspectral lidar for spotting oil spills at sea.

Each of the companies will receive grants of up to €2.5 million, with the EIC saying that more than half of them will also receive equity finance of up to €15 million via the EIC Fund.

“In most cases, the companies will receive the grant financing within the next two to three months, while the first investment decisions will be made within two months, depending on the urgency of the companies’ needs,” stated the organization when it announced the latest winners, at the end of February.

QKD and industrial VECSELs
Of the 42 winning companies, five relate to photonics research and applications directly, in development at the ICFO spin-off LuxQuanta, Finland-based Vexlum, Norwegian sensor firm Ocean Visuals, Germany-based QubeDot, and Ireland’s Mbryonics.

Barcelona-based LuxQuanta says the grant funding will help boost its commercialization of QKD systems for metropolitan networks, and is aiming for further venture funding. Vanesa Diaz, CEO of the 25-person startup, said:

"The European Commission's support comes at a crucial time for LuxQuanta as we embark on our second financing round that will enable us to scale operations, penetrate new markets, and attract top talent.”

LuxQuanta is working on continuous-variable QKD based around a photonic integrated circuit (PIC), offering key advantages including no need for expensive single-photon detectors.

"Our next-generation CV-QKD systems, powered by this chip, will facilitate better industrialization and cost reduction," suggests Díaz. "This, combined with our systems' integration ease and stability, positions our technology as the go-to solution for metropolitan networks, enabling widespread QKD technology deployment."

Vexlum, which is based in the photonics development area of Tampere, is working on vertical external cavity surface-emitting lasers (VECSELs), with its €2.4 million grant going towards development of the platform to enable industrial-level scaling with trapped ions and neutral atoms.

Jussi-Pekka Penttinen, Vexlum’s CEO and CTO, said: “The new project will be used to advance the maturity of the lasers and to develop new volume production processes that allow us to capture the market potential.”

Tampere University professor Mircea Guina, the firm’s CSO and executive chairman, said that the grant represented a “pivotal opportunity” to mitigate the risks in commercialization and scale-up of Vexlum’s technology.

MicroLEDs, satellite links, and ocean lidar
Meanwhile the microLED developer QubeDot, based in Braunschweig, has gained EIC support for its “iSMILE” (integrated scalable microLED engines), which are based on gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors.

According to the firm’s web site, its existing SMILE microLED arrays are available in a ready-to-use format with different pixel numbers and sizes, wavelengths, and intensities. “The SMILE platform includes a customized microLED chip, electronics, housing, and a graphical user interface for seamless control,” it adds.

Headquartered in the west of Ireland, Mbryonics specializes in optical satellite links - recently winning a deal to provide its “StarCom” optical terminal hardware for DARPA’s Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node project.

CEO John Mackey said following the DARPA win: “Mbryonics’ goal is to power a trusted communications infrastructure delivering the internet in space and connecting us like never before.”

Finally Ocean Visuals, located on Norway’s west coast, won backing for its “OWL” (oil-in-water) locator technology, a sensor system based around hyperspectral lidar using laser-induced fluorescence.

The approach is said to be capable of detecting hydrocarbon molecules down to the part-per-million (ppm) level from the air, as well as identify molecules three meters deep in the water column.

Covered with a US patent, the technology matches against a library of known oil-type spectra, enabling real-time classification of that particular oil.

• For the full list of the latest EIC Accelerator grant and blended finance winners, click here.

Mad City Labs, Inc.LASEROPTIK GmbHHyperion OpticsTRIOPTICS GmbHECOPTIKIridian Spectral TechnologiesBerkeley Nucleonics Corporation
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