Sonex: a marriage of technical expertise with business experience
The spin-out of Sonex Metrology from Dublin City University demonstrates how an idea emanating in the research lab can be successfully commercialised by an experienced business team.
The story began with research undertaken by Professor Patrick McNally of DCU's School of Electronic Engineering into the application of photoacoustic metrology to detect mechanical defects in semiconductor and solar cell wafers. This research led to the technology being patented in 2004, with further patents filed in 2009.
Photoacoustic technology is unique in this application because it is non-destructive, does not require contact with the silicon and is able to detect problems both on the surface and deep within the wafer. It represents an extremely competitive solution for in-line process monitoring in the semiconductor industry.
The challenge for the scientists, however, lay in bringing the new technology to market. In 2010 Mike Cunningham, an industry expert with proven managerial skills, was asked to evaluate the commercial potential of the technology on behalf of Enterprise Ireland. Impressed, he subsequently assembled an appropriately skilled and highly effective spin-out team.
This has enabled the company, which was established in December 2011, to build on its DCU research foundations through further R&D and to embark on production of the technology. As a result Sonex has developed its own IP around the commercial product embodiments.
The working relationship between DCU and Sonex remains strong, says Dr. Carolyn Hughes, Business Development Manager at Invent DCU responsible for the Physical & Chemical Sciences. For example, Professor McNally and his DCU colleague Dr Stephen Daniels, Executive Director of the National Centre for Plasma Science and Technology, are directors of the company and a number of the initial Sonex staff have been recruited from the university.
"We have many people with the technical strength, but our constant challenge is to find the business experience to match it," Dr. Hughes says. "Mike brought with him a highly experienced financial expert and this is a really good example of marrying technical expertise with business experience. At the end of the day, this is not about the technology, it's about the business opportunity.
"We're interested in helping to create and support sustainable companies. It's about laying the foundations for a real solution to a real industry problem, then getting the best possible team together to make it succeed.
Publish date: 2014