Female Founders @ Fraunhofer - Dr. Ruth Houbertz (Multiphoton Optics GmbH): From research to industry pioneer
Ruth Houbertz is a pioneer in almost everything she does. Whether as a scientist at the Fraunhofer ISC, as the founder of the high-tech start-up Multiphoton Optics GmbH or as a mother and committed leader for female founders: Ruth Houbertz finds a way - or she develops it herself. Today, her company Multiphoton Optics is one of the world's leading companies in the field of high-precision 3D printing and deals, among other things, with the production of optical packages and (bio)medical products based on optical functions. We talked to Ruth about the special challenges of her foundation.
What inspired you to found MPO - Multiphoton Optics?
The foundation came out of the matter itself. When I returned from the US in 2000, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the LZH started to develop the process of two- or multi-photon polymerization very roughly. At FhG, I wanted to create the basis for industrial usability, which was already very, very important to me during my studies.
Mr. Sextl, who had only been the director of the Fraunhofer ISC for one year in 2007, provided me with funds twice, to set up suitable structuring systems for industrial applications. I used the time from the beginning of the 2000s until 2013 to lay all necessary technological foundations and applications until the foundation of Multiphoton Optics GmbH.
What was the biggest challenge for MPO so far and how did you master the situation?
The biggest challenge? That's a good question. Our company operates worldwide with globally positioned large companies, all of which work on technologically highly sensitive and sometimes very disruptive approaches. Secrecy plays an extremely important role in this and that really is the challenge. We are not allowed to tell anyone with whom we are working, which is really difficult for a startup in our category. If only one or two customers were willing to at least say that they are working with us, this would certainly be very positive for the company, although we really cannot complain about the influx of customers. It would simply give us more speed.
Another challenge: my employees and I would like to have more women working in our company. So you women: Don't be afraid of a start-up. But if you're curious, creative, technical and don't shy away from complexity, you can be right with us, because we have a lot to offer in terms of flexibility that large companies at best only dream of.
Do you recognize special advantages as a woman in the founder scene? Inequalities?
Inequalities are only there when I actively put them on myself. And this jacket doesn't suit me. An idea must be cool, the technology must be scalable, the business plan must be well thought out, there must be one or - as in our case - several scalable markets or industries and the team must be right. Despite the prophecies of doom that "hardware is so hard to finance in Germany", I managed to do just that at high speed and without any problems, and that certainly wasn't because of my blond hair or blue eyes, but because all the investors I had contact with understood that I know where the journey is going and they trust me to complete it. If I were a man, it wouldn't have been any different. Because in front of the investors we are all the same, they evaluate differently.
The proportion of female start-up entrepreneurs has been rising steadily since 2014 and currently stands at 14.6% of all start-ups in Germany. What opportunities do you see as a result of change?
The opportunities are manifold. As a result, the image of women in society is slowly changing. Women who want to reconcile career and family will presumably no longer be called "raven mothers with self-realisation problems". More female founders - hopefully also in technical professions - will lead to better results, as mixed teams will perform better than mono-sex teams with scientific support. More and more women founders also act as role models, which in turn can encourage other women to enter new territory. Economically, I think it is very important, because there is a lot of untapped potential that Germany has to take one if it wants to act in a leading economic role in Europe and the world.
What advice or experience would you like to give to other founders or people interested in founding a company in the field of technology?
Just do it - have the courage, others also just cook with water, it is the same for everyone. I only pass this advice on because it came from my parents. I am happy to answer specific questions elsewhere if they arise and I am contacted.
Founded in 2013, Multiphoton Optics GmbH, a spin-off by the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC, develops and sells a high-precision 3D printing system platform that enables its customers to produce optical packages, micro-optics and any 3D structures, including for products in the fields of medical technology, photonic packaging and optical data transmission.
In February 2017, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft awarded the Fraunhofer-Gründerpreis to Multiphoton Optics GmbH. It honors an active and successful spin-off on the market whose products and services have a direct social benefit.