Adjusting a laser beam in the nano-photonics lab © TU Berlin/Dahl
Professor Bimberg views himself as a midwife. Anyone going to his office, just past the “delivery rooms”, will quickly understand this term as a different type of birthing assistant. “Caution: Danger to Life” is posted on the laboratories in the Institut für Festkörperphysik [Institute of Solid-state Physics] at the Technische Universität of Berlin (TU), where Dieter Bimberg leads the center for nano-photonics. “In a word, we are the nursery, but we want these children to learn to run one day and not lie in the cradle forever.” “They” are freshly “baked”, or graduated, physicists who possess two things: a brilliant idea and the spirit for establishing a spin-off company. Dieter Bimberg helps them with this last issue.
The physicist is the connection point between science and economics in the field of nano-physics. Usually, it was Professor Bimberg, who gave the currently successful company owners the necessary push in the direction of entrepreneurship. “A spin-off company is a full-time job. It’s not something that you do part-time. I’m a university professor, hardly a businessman”, says the Department Head of a roughly 30-person workgroup. “It really is a good thing, when younger people have the chance to establish a company.”
Two of the companies, whose establishment Professor Bimberg supported, are PBC Lasers and VI Systems. Professor Nikolay Ledentsov, who did research as the Humboldt Fellow to the Professor Bimberg’s chair, has moved on in the meantime, if not far. With his team at VI Systems GmbH, he moved across the street into Hardenbergstraße 7, where he is developing fast lasers and electro-optical components for data transmission.
PBC Lasers GmbH manufactures high-performance lasers for processing materials. They are also located in Charlottenburg, in the same building as Dieter Bimberg, because the teams of younger TV spin-offs may keep their old offices initially and use the high-tech laboratories for a fee. “This allows us to use the full capacity of the laboratories even on the weekend. TU helps people cover their expenses, but not for free. On the other hand, these spin-offs gain the significant advantage of being allowed to use millions of euros of investments without making the investments themselves”, according to Professor BimBerg, who further supports the new business people not just in the form of educated recruits and scientific knowledge.
He knows the mechanisms in the business, knows how to register patents and gain financing. “The importance of having contacts is often underestimated and the more experienced business people have larger networks as a rule”, the septuagenarian (but still employed at the TU) continues. Ultimately, the State, and the society along with it, benefit from such joint ventures. They get taxes from the newly established companies, thus money that they once invested as public funds into research.
In addition to PCB Lasers and VI Systems, there are many other companies active in the field of optics in Berlin, such as u²t Photonics (see the next page), Laytec and many others. Together with scientific facilities like the Heinrich-Hertz-Institut of the Fraunhofer Group or the Ferdinand- Braun-Institut for High-frequency Technology, they represent the Optics Valley of Berlin in terms of knowledge and industry. Although the Berlin companies in the field of nano-physics have long operated at the global level, they can be reached at home by foot. The proximity of the infrastructure should not be underestimated as an advantages, as Professor Bimberg points out, “Berlin is really not poor and sexy, but rather fairly wealthy, in the scene of great founders.”