Modular Photonics, the journey from initial cynicism to valued collaboration.

In a world of increased demand, data centres are straining from the pressure. Professor Michael Withford and his Modular Photonics team want to help ease the load.The team have created a chip that has applications for faster data and could be used to enhance the offering of global telecommunications companies.

Professor Withford and his team successfully completed the ON Accelerate program, but admit that they were initially cynical about the process.

"Before embarking on the program, I didn't believe that we would be able to give up that much time away from our work," Professor Withford explains. "I wasn't sure ultimately what the benefit would be as we'd been through entrepreneurial events before. I also had an idea that, as university researchers, we already knew our product perfectly. The ON program really helped to change my way of thinking."

Previously, researchers have pointed out that the internet could potentially face a 'capacity crunch' by 2023, unless faster data solutions are utilised. Modular Photonics have worked to create chips that will ultimately support faster speeds to augment data centres, and ultimately negate the risk of any potential capacity crunch. Modular Photonics had worked tirelessly to create an amazing product, but had capacity to improve their customer outreach.

After spending years developing the necessary research and product, Professor Withford says that the team's time on the ON program gave them the opportunity to reappraise their current work. "At the start, we were really stepping into the unknown with ON, but it gave us the chance to speak to people and really think about our product in terms of its commercial value. We were challenged about our product and it forced us to realise that we were limited in our thinking about entrepreneurial activity."

Through workshops and activities on the program, the team at Modular Photonics developed a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that has been recently launched in Sweden. The team has already received orders and interest in their latest offering. Professor Withford explains that the team do not think of their products in isolation any longer, they think of how they can impact the consumer positively.

"An amazing thing about the ON Program is simply having that ability to get outside of your research ivory tower, and have those illuminating conversations. We started to think differently about our customers. We were able to listen to people and hear their problems with data, then we were able to showcase the relevant product solutions. We have learned how to listen and not just jump to solutions immediately. Once you do that, you can create an incredibly effective product."

Modular Photonics have exciting plans in store, not least in developing faster fibres to enable more data channels across the world. Professor Withford and his team are proving that the simple act of reappraising your target market can reap great rewards.

Catch Professor Withford chatting with CSIRO's Larry Marshall and members of Cardihab and Coivu, as part of  AVCAL's Focus on VC panel, 21 November 2017.

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