We believe that it is important to think about the way to implement a synthetic biology project in real live. This is why we have decided to write a business plan about our microlens arrays (MLAs). Our MLAs can be used as encapsulation layer for solar panels. This will result in an improvement of the efficiency of the solar panels.
We have written our business plan in three steps:
In the first step, the introduction phase, we have used the Business model canvas as a starting point. The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management - and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge and invent your business model. In our opinion it is a very useful tool to get the first insight into your new business.
In the second step, we have done extensive research into our customers. We have talked to multiple potential customers in order to determine exactly what their needs are and how our product can meet these needs.
In the third step, we have used the knowledge of the previous two steps to write a complete business plan that can be used to talk with potential investors and can function as blueprint of the startup.
We have to establish several key partnerships with multiple parties. First of all, the suppliers of raw materials can be considered as important key partners. Among them there are, for example, companies that deliver the required mediums, nutrients, etc. With those companies we will have a buyer-supplier relationship, motivated by a need to acquire key resources. Another key partnership is with the suppliers of production equipment (reactors). With these companies there will be a longtime relationship. For example, a service contract could make them responsible for irregularities, while we guarantee them mondly revenues. It is important to analyze which companies are irreplaceable. For example, are there companies that produce a specific raw material that is only produced by them?. In that case, we are very depending on that specific partner and this could be a risk. When the company, for instance, is not able to deliver the products or even goes bankrupt this can result in production problems. Therefore, it is important to analyze those possible risks and, if possible, to find alternatives in order to reduce them.
The company has two possible main activities, the manufacturing of the MLAs or being a licensor of the MLAs. As manufacturer we will produce the MLAs and sell them to a specific- or multiple different solar panel manufacturers. It is important that the production pathway of the company, and the final product is adapted to the solar panel companies. As producer we have to decide what production process we will be using and decide on the right technologies, machines, inventory management system, etc. Furthermore, we have to think about aspects such as the right production capacity, quality, cost control, etc.
A second option is to be a licensor. Then, an external party will get permission to produce their own biologically MLAs. A solar panel manufacturer could for example prefer to produce the MLAs by themselves, instead of buying them from us. As licensor you have to think in detail about the legal aspects of your further licensor/licensee relationship.
It is important that we patent our product to ensure the exclusive right to produce and sell it. The intellectual resources are therefore the most important key resources of the company. The patent will be associated with specific knowledge and expertise that is present within the company. Therefore, human resources are important for the company as well. Finally, the production capacity of the company is a form of physical resource that will make the company unique.
The biological microlens is an extremely small lens that can be used to increase the efficiency of among other things solar panels. In contrast to regular chemically produced MLAs, our MLAs are environmentally friendly produced and eventually they will probably also be cheaper. Therefore, the main value of proposition of our company is the fact that with our product the efficiency of the solar panels of our customers will be improved with an environmental friendly and affordable method.
We will focus on creating a long-term relationship with our customers. Both parties have to adapt their production pathway to each other. Therefore, we expect that there will be a mutual dependency for a long period. If we become a licensor this will also result in a long term relationship. After all, the external party will have to build their own production facilities and they will have to produce the MLAs for a long period in order to return their investment.
Eventually, we want to be known by our customers as a longtime partner that delivers high quality products. Since our company is a business to business company, we probably will have a limited number of customers and personal attention will be a key factor to our company therefore.
Our company will be a typical business to business company and there will only be business to business sales (B2B sales). It is expected that there is no interference of an external party such as a retailer. However, when our product will be sold to foreign companies, especially when those companies are located in a country far away from us, it is possible that we need a partnership with an intermediate party to make the distribution logistically possible and efficient.
We expect that the main customers are solar panel manufactures. Their main goal is to produce efficient and affordable solar panels. However, in practice the efficiency of solar panels is still relatively low. With our MLAs the efficiency of the solar panels will be increased, which make our product useful for them. There are several different types of relationships we can have with the customers. First of all, it is possible to have a buyer-supplier relationship. It is, for example, also possible to have a licensor/licensee relation. Then our company gives permission to an external party to manufacturer the MLAs by themselves. This could be a solar panel manufacturer, but also a manufacturer of traditional MLAs that is willing to change its production method to a more environmental friendly method.
The most important expenses of our company are probably manufacturing costs. After all, the production of the MLAs will be a substantial part of the total costs. These expenses consist of among other things costs for raw materials, depreciation costs, etc. Furthermore, especially in the beginning, R&D costs will be relatively large. It is expected that the distribution costs also will be significant since it is important to transport the fragile MLAs carefully. Since the company is a Business to Business company, the costs of marketing are expected to be relatively small. When our company beside a manufacturer also becomes a licensor, the so called legal costs will be significant as well.
Our primary route to market could be direct selling. The direct sales business model means that we will directly sell our product to the manufacturers of solar panels. Another interesting business model is the so called subscription model that aims to secure the customer on a long term contract, so that they are consuming our product well into the future. This model is especially interesting when we have one or a very limited number of customers. It will guarantee revenues for a long period of time and at the same time it could guarantee them to have a unique selling point for a long period of time.
When we become a licensor, we can have different types of leasing revenues as well. For example, it is possible to agree with the customer that they will pay a fixed amount of money per time period. It is also possible that they will pay a price per produced MLA or per sold solar panel.
Finally, we could apply for grants. For example, many governments support environmentally friendly energy projects.
Solar panel manufacturers
To develop a successful product, it is important to know what the needs of your customers are. Therefore, we have interviewed 4 solar panel manufacturers, respectively three German companies and one Dutch company. To do this, we have developed a standardized questionnaire, that you can find here.
The main key points of the potential customer analysis are:
- Micro lens arrays are new and revolutionary in the solar panel industry. Most manufacturers have never heard from them.
- Final customers are probably not willing to pay a higher price for environmental produced solar panels.
- The manufactures do not have the knowledge and the production facilities to produce the MLAs by themselves.
- The efficiency is not determining for most solar panel manufactures. It is important that the return on investment and the eventual price are good.
- The quality of the solar panels is very important. The encapsulation layers have to be strong and protective enough.
The complete report can be found here.
We believe that it is important to not only take into account what the needs of your direct customers are, but also what kind of needs the customers, one chain further in the supply chain have. After all, they eventually will indirectly have an enormous influence on the requirements of our final product. Therefore, we have done a final customer analysis as well. Based on the analysis it appears the solar energy market is dynamic and growing market. There is an increasing demand for environmental friendly and renewable energy sources (Centraal bureau voor Statistiek, 2015). However, currently the total photovoltaic capacity is only sufficient to supply 1% of the world's total electricity consumption. It is expected that the total demand of solar panels will increase even further in coming years therefore (IEA, 2016).
To analyze what the opinions and needs of the final consumers of solar panels are, we formulated, likewise for the producers, a standardized questionnaire that we have sent out to users and possible users. Both the opinions individuals and companies have been analyzed. The template questionnaire can be found here.
We have interviewed over 50 possible final customers. Based on their opinions the needs of the final customers have been formulated.
The main key points of the analysis are:
- Final customers are not prepared to pay a higher price for solar cells because they are more environmental friendly.
- In most cases final customers do not in particularly think about the environmental aspects of the solar panels itself.
- If the price is comparable, most final customers would buy the most environmental friendly solar panels. However, they do not want to spent too much time figuring out what the most environmental friendly type is.
The complete report of analysis with quantitative data can be found here.
The global demand for energy is highly dependent on fossil fuels. Nowadays, gas, coal and oil provide 80% of the total demand (World Energy Council, 2013). Those gases are associated with the emission of among other things carbon dioxide, which make them extremely environmental unfriendly. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the main pollutant that is warming earth. In the past 150 years people have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years (IEA, 2016). This has resulted in a temperature increase of almost 1 degree. Another problem of fossil energy sources is the fact that they are limited. Fossil fuels are not inexhaustible and as a result of the growing demand for energy, it is expected that they eventually will be exhausted in the future. Most people agree that to curb global warming and to prevent shortage, a variety of measures needs to be taken. Probably the best response to the growing energy problem is to switch to renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Since in less than an hour, the theoretical potential of the sun represents more energy striking the earth’s surface than worldwide energy consumption in one year, this is considered to be the most promising renewable energy source (Crabtree, 2006). In this context, solar panels will be the first application for the BioLens microlens array (BioLens MLA).
The efficiency of solar panels is still very low nowadays and has to be increased to make them profitable. One promising finding is the use of microlens arrays (MLAs). It is already proven that the use of a MLA as an encapsulation layer for the solar panels results in 20% to 50% increase of the efficiency (Jutteau, et al., 2015; Nam, et al., 2013). However, the production of these MLAs is still relatively expensive and especially very environmental unfriendly (Nam et al., 2013). Therefore, economically it is not favorable to use MLAs at the moment and perhaps even more important for us, it does not fit the idea about environmental friendly solar panels. After all, the production is very environment unfriendly.
The biologically produced microlens is an extreme small lens that can be used to make environmentally-friendly and eventually cheaper microlens arrays. The use of these MLAs as encapsulation layer for the solar panels, will result in an increase of the efficiency of those solar panels. To achieve this, Escherichia coli cells (E. coli) will be covered with polysilicate, using the enzyme silicatein. By overexpressing either the transcriptional regulator bolA or the cell division inhibitor sulA, the cell morphology can be changed and the and the optical properties of the lens can be optimized. The biological MLA as encapsulation layer will result in more efficient and more environmental friendly solar panels.
Management team & Organizational structure
BioLens is a high tech startup with well-educated people with different backgrounds. We will work with an interdisciplinary team that will form the board of directors. We believe that within the company equality is important and we aim to be an organization with a collaborative structure.
A collaborative structure means that we aim to be a non-hierarchical organization. The organization will be fluid and flat, which gives every individual a great responsibility to make decisions on its own. We will set targets for individuals and teams and then provide the appropriate motivation and support to help them achieve those targets. Traditional management layers will disappear in this way.
Eventually we believe that this type of structure results in a more open and trusted environment. Every individual should feel confident to share his opinion and to criticize the opinions of their colleagues and managers. An environment will be created where openness, sharing and discussion is central to everything that takes place.
This will result in a company with employees that feel much more responsibility and loyalty. Every individual employer will feel taken seriously and therefore will feel a collective sense of ownership and involvement in the process of achieving the goals of the company.
BioLens is a spinoff from the TU Delft. This has as one of the main advantages that they will help us to make our business a success. This could be help or advise, regarding project related aspects, financial aspects, etc. For example, they could help us developing the final prototype. Within the board of directors there is nobody with experience in the field of solar energy and we probably will need help to develop our final prototype. Research groups from the TU Delft could help us with this. Therefore, as can been seen in Figure 1, we consider the TU Delft as part of our organization as well.
Proof of concept
To demonstrate that the BioLens concept works, a literature study is done.
Figure 2 shows a schematic representation of the solar cell mounted with the MLA layer.
Based on the figure it appears that as a consequence of the differences in refractive index between the media and the lens, the light is concentrated on the focal plane. The MLA has multiple advantages in this way. First of all, it redirects the incident solar light toward interfinger regions and away from the mirror-like electrodes. Secondly, it redistributes the refractive light under the gridline areas. Furthermore, it provides a micro-concentration effect to facilitate photo-induced exciton generation and finally it protects the cell from harsh environmental conditions after being fully packaged (Nam et al., 2013).
The efficiency of this setup have been tested and is compared to solar panels with a regular encapsulation layer. Based on published experimental results it appears that the power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the solar panels is almost 20% higher for the solar panels with MLA than for the solar panels without MLA encapsulation layer (Figure 3).
Based on the published results it appears that the use of MLA as encapsulation layer is a successful way to improve the efficiency of solar panels. In this case so called GaAs-based solar cells are used.
In a comparable research project, the researchers have proved that the efficiency of Cu(In,Ga)Se2 solar cells can be increased with 50%. In their research they have used microlens arrays with spherical lenses. However, they have mentioned that this is not necessarily the optimal lens-shape and also the optimal array shape could be different (Jutteau et al., 2015). Therefore, it is not surprising that research is done into the influence of the shape of the microlens arrays. Researchers have figured out that a curved microlens array can even improve the efficiency with more than 100% compared to ‘normal’ flat microlens arrays (Figure 4) (Xie et al., 2015).
The biologically produced microlens will be much smaller than the microlenses used in the aforementioned research. This will benefit the efficiency. However, it is expected that the optical properties of the biological microlenses will be different compared to regular microlenses. As conservative estimate, we hypothesize that the increase in efficiency with the biologically produced microlens is 20%. This efficiency increase we consider, without taking unnecessary risks or too much optimism, at least viable.
To obtain information about the intellectual property protection of our product, we have discussed the project with the Valorisation Centre of TU Delft and Delft Enterprises. The Valorisation Centre is an organization that focusses on the commercialization of technical innovations from the university. Delft Enterprises facilitates and participates in spin offs of the TU Delft. For example, Delft Enterprises and the Valorisation Centre provide startup funding, explore other funding opportunities and can help with the patenting process and IP management.
Extensive research is done into related patents. There are multiple patents that describe a specific production process for a solar cell with a microlens array. Some examples can be found in Table 1.
|Patent||Difference to the BioLens MLA|
|Publication Number: WO 2013129797 A1
Description: Describes a specific solar cell system with a microlens array. The system is unique because of the use of a gap and grid system. The light converges because of the microlens after which the grid is used to diverge the light again.
|Our microlens array forms an encapsulation layer for the solar cell. The light will only be converted before it interacts with the solar cell. The convergence and divergence makes their system unique, but also different from our system.|
|Publication Number: US 20130284257 A1
Description: A dye-sensitized solar cell with internal microlens array includes an anodic electrode, a cathodic counter-electrode, and an electrolyte.
|Describes the formation of a specific solar cell and microlens array combination. The microlens array is placed insight the solar panel. The BioLens microlens array is an external microlens array that is used as encapsulation layer.|
|Publication Number: US 20150228815 A1
Description: Provides a specific solar cell apparatus with an upper surface with convex shaped discrete microlenses.
|The surface is covered with a plurality of convex-shaped microlenses. Our microlens arrays are concave formed.|
|Publication Number: US 8759665 B2
Description: Provides a specific solar cell apparatus with microlenses and a method of manufacturing this apparatus.
|While the concept of increasing the efficiency of the solar cell is the same, the production method is completely different. Furthermore, for our product a microlens array is used, instead of separate microlenses.|
There are also many microlens array production methods patented. However, these are all chemical production methods. There is no patent that describes environmentally friendly produced microlens arrays, produced by genetically modified E. coli. This makes the BioLens MLA a novel and non-obvious product that is in our opinion fully patentable.
The patent application
We have developed a unique method to produce microlenses or in particularly microlens arrays. There are several patenting strategies, possible patentable subject matter is further explained below:
- The E. coli strain that is genetically engineered to produce membrane fused silicatein. This protein can be used to make polysilicate out of monosilicic acid.
- The production method for the microlens with E. coli strain that is genetically engineered to produce membrane fused silicatein.
- The production method for the specific microlens arrays with the help of the E. coli strain that is genetically engineered to produce membrane fused silicatein.
The second option has our preference at the moment. Patenting of genetic strains appears to be difficult in practice. For example, modifications of the strain or the use of an insert from different organisms makes it sometimes already possible to get around the patent. Partly, this can be prevented by only patenting a part of the E. coli strain. For example only patent the round cells with covered with silicatine. This will make it more difficult to change it and get around the patent. However, the iGEM registry can also complicate the patenting process. This is an open source database with all the strains. When we patent our microlens, instead of solely the microlens array, we can protect our intellectual property more easily. The reason to patent the microlens instead of the microlens array is because this gives us the possibility to use the patent for the production of different applications in the future.
We will patent our product with the help of the IP department of the Valorisation Centre.
It is important to determine the ownership of intellectual property generated at the TU Delft. The product development is a result of the collaboration between a team of students and employers from the TU Delft. Intellectual property, generated by employees of TU Delft are generally property of TU Delft. The intellectual property generated by students can be, depending on the circumstances, owned by the students, the TU Delft or a combination of both. For example, when students are coached by TU Delft employees who contribute to the invention, they can be co-inventors and TU Delft can have a (partial) claim on the IP.
To determine the contribution to the invention of the individual students and TU Delft employees, we have to determine what the individual share is of every stakeholder in the developing process. The Valorisation Centre can help in this process.
As the worth of a patent can be diminished by having multiple owners a common solution is that the co-inventors that are not TU Delft employees transfer their rights resulting from their co-inventorship to TU Delft, who will become the sole owner of the patent. In return the startup company can agree on the conditions for an (exclusive) license and future transfer of the patent to the company. In these conditions the co-inventorship of the student team will be taken into account.
The biological microlens can be employed for a large number of applications. For example, single microlenses are often used to couple light to optical fibers, while microlens arrays can for example be used for CCD arrays and for digital projectors, where they focus light to specific areas of the LCD. With microlenses it is possible to make lightweight compact imaging devices. Therefore, they could also be used in for example mobile phones. Furthermore, microlenses can also be used as encapsulation layer for solar panels in order to increase the efficiency of these panels. We will firstly focus upon this last possible application. The business strategy is to introduce the biological MLAs in the solar energy market first.
The final customers will be the end users of the solar panels. This can be both individuals and companies. In the Netherlands, 70% of the total solar panels are in possession of households, while 30% of the solar panels are used for commercial purposes. This results in almost 260.000 households that have solar panels. Together, all these solar panels have produced 1485 MW in 2015. This is less than 1% of the total power supply. The government aspires to increase this number to at least 5% in 2020. This means that the number of solar panels has to be increased enormously or the efficiency of the solar panels has to be improved (Wezel, 2015).
Germany is the world's leader of photovoltaic capacity since 2005. With a total capacity of more than 35 GW, the photovoltaics contribute almost 6% to the national electricity demands. The government is planning to increase this percentage even more (Statistiek, 2015).
Worldwide growth of the use of solar panels varies strongly by country. By the end of 2014, cumulative photovoltaic capacity increased by more than 40 GW and reached at least 178 GW. Currently, the total worldwide consumption of energy is equal to 18,400 TWh. This means that the total photovoltaic capacity is sufficient to supply 1% of the world's total electricity consumption (IEA, 2016).
In conclusion, the solar energy market is a dynamic and growing market. There is an increasing demand for environmental friendly and renewable energy sources. It is expected that the total demand for solar panels will increase even further in coming years therefore.
Unique selling point
The unique selling point of the microlens array encapsulation layer is to offer the solar panel industry a whole new and unique method to increase the efficiency of their solar panels with at least 20%. The microlens array can be produced in an environmentally friendly way and is furthermore also expected to be cheaper than regular microlenses. Next, by using bacteria to produce microlenses, very small microlenses can be produced, which will make the arrays even more efficient.
Competitors and Substitutes
Currently the use of microlens arrays for solar panels is still in the research phase and in the solar panel industry, microlens arrays will be new and revolutionary. This means that there are no companies operating in this industry that already sell microlens arrays. However, there are still multiple possible competitors and substitutes. We distingue 3 different types of competitors, respectively the use of regular fossil fuels, solar panels with regular encapsulation layers and chemically produced microlens arrays. Alternative sustainable sources, for example wind energy and biofuels, are disregarded, because we believe that the degree of threat of these resources is limited for us.
Regular fossil fuels
Coal, oil and gas are examples of fossil fuels. These are currently the most used energy sources. For example, we use around 80.000 barrels of oil in the world per day (Index Mundi, 2015). As described, this is very environmentally unfriendly and furthermore fossil resources are not unlimited. Therefore, most people do agree that we have to take measures in order to promote renewable energy sources and to limit the use of fossil resources. However, the price of oil has almost halved in the last 5 years, which makes it a very cheap and therefore attractive energy source nowadays (Index Mundi, 2015).
Solar panels with regular encapsulation layers
To protect the photovoltaic cells of a solar panel, solar panels require an encapsulation layer. They are mostly made from glasslike materials and they generally decrease the efficiency of the solar panels. The price is currently lower than the price of the microlens arrays.
Chemically produced microlens arrays
While the other forms of potential compaction are all substitutes, chemically produced microlens arrays can be considered as a direct competitor. The chemically produced MLAs are very environmentally unfriendly and expensive. The price can rise to hundreds of euros per cm2. However, it is expected that the price will decrease when the production volumes increase. Another drawback of the chemically produced MLAs compared to the biologically produced MLAs, is the size of the microlenses. The biological microlenses, with a size of less than 1 µm, will probably be smaller than the chemically produced alternatives.
We have compared the 4 alternatives in the field of price, efficiency, sustainability, the influence of the alternative on the environment and the acceptance among the public. The results can be found in Table 2.
|Regular fossil fuels||Solar panels with regular encapsulation layers||Chemically produced microlens arrays||Biologically produced microlens arrays|
Pricing and Promotion
The pricing of our microlens arrays will depend on the benefits, type of relation and the volumes. It is announced that the increased efficiency of the solar panels is the main benefit for the customer. Our goal is to get a strong buyer-supplier relationship with a limited number of customers or even one specific customer. We will use the pricing by customer benefit strategy to determine the selling price of the microlens arrays for every single customer.
As shown in Figure 5, the total benefits of the customer have to be larger than disadvantages. We will discuss with our potential customers in detail what the benefits for both parties could be. Our revenue model will be comparable to the brokerage fee model. We will ask our customers a fixed price in order to cover the costs, plus a variable price. This variable price will be depending on the benefits of our customers. We aim to get a variable price that is equal to 30%-50% of the extra profit our customers make with the microlens array.
BioLens is the result of an iGEM project. One of the main advantages is the fact that the iGEM team gets a lot of media attention. The project acquires the interest of a whole variety of newspapers, magazines and television programs. This makes the public aware of our project. It is important that they know what the benefits of our project are. As can be seen in the customers analysis, most end users would be interested in more environmentally produced solar panels, but it appears that most of them did not think about this before they became aware of our project. It is crucial that also the public becomes aware of our project. When they are interested in more environmentally produced solar panels, indirectly this forces producers to produce them in a more environmentally way.
Furthermore, it is important to promote our product to solar panel manufactures. We are a B2B company and direct promotion will be our main promotion activity. Just as we did for the customer analysis, we will talk to potential customers and show them our product. Eventually, the main goal of our promotion activities is off course to sell our product, but we also have a broader social purpose to make the people aware of the fact that production methods can have a significant influence on the environment.
Planning is a difficult but critical part of a successful business plan. To make a strategical efficient plan, we have divided the planning in multiple subcomponents.
In the first year we will continue the development of our product. We have to develop the final microlens array and have to test the properties of it. We will among other things do more research into how we can optimize the MLAs. For example, we will analyze in more detail the influence of shape, size etc. After this, we will build our first prototype. To make this possible we will need experts with experience in the field of solar panels. There are multiple research groups within the university that possibly could be interested in a cooperation. We would also prefer to collaborate with an industrial partner. Then this partner would be our first tier and we could develop a strong relationship.
Safety & Certification
The microlens arrays will be produced with the help of genetically modified bacteria. When we want to introduce our product in applications outside the lab, it has to meet very strict and specific safety requirements. In the Netherlands, the RIVM assesses safety applications and it is important to contact them in an early stadium. If we collaborate with foreign industrial partners or if our product will eventually be used in foreign countries, it is important to meet the requirement of those countries as well.
When the final prototype is built, we can start the construction of the manufacturing facilities. Prior thereto, we have to develop a manufacturing process. In this stadium we also will make, with reservation, agreements with suppliers of production equipment and suppliers of raw materials.
Customers & Partners
To make a company successful, it needs customers. We will start contacting potential customers and partners in an early phase. We strive for a first tier that is involved in the development phase.
To build the final prototype, implement the product, etc. we have to acquire an estimated budget of €1.2 million. We are planning to acquire this budget with among other things grants from the government, the university, and with loans.
Obtaining intellectual Property
To protect the invention, it has to be patented. We have developed the product in collaboration with the TU Delft. Based on the requirements of the TU Delft, this automatically means that they will partly be the owner of the intellectual property.
One of the critical points for the startup will be the construction of a working prototype. Furthermore, the acquisition of funding to construct among other things the manufacturing facilities are very important. Finally it is of the utmost importance that we will find our first customers, the so called first tier.
Please find below the detailed Roadmap for the startup phase of our company. This phase consists of 4 years (Figure 6).
Just as every research project, every company and especially every startup has certain risks that they will encounter. It is important to be aware of these risks and to think about what can happen, how likely is it that it will happen and if it does happen, what the consequences are. This will give you the possibility to take measures in order to take away the risk or the minimize the potential (negative) consequences on time. There are many different types of risks, with negative consequences or positive consequences. To become successful as a company it is important to minimize the risks with negative consequences and to maximize risks with positive consequences (opportunities). We have used the risk matrix tool to analysis our possible risks with a negative consequence (Figure 7).
The use of microorganisms is associated with some specific legal risks. First of all, it is important that it is allowed to use our product outside the lab. Therefore, we have to meet several requirements and gain the necessary safety and technology approvals. These requirements can differ per country and there is a risk that we are unable to meet the requirements in one or more countries. This could in the best case delay the market introduction, but in the worst case it could also result in an impossibility to introduce our product into the market. The consequence will probably be major therefore. Fortunately, there are a lot of measures that could be taken in order to minimize the probability this risk occurs. For example, we have to contact the organization that judge applications about the use of our product outside the laboratory in an early stage of the research and development phase. Then we can, if required, still make relatively easy adaptations in our product. However, it is still possible that we want to introduce our product in a later stadium in a foreign market with different rules that makes it impossible to introduce our product into this specific market. Therefore, we consider this risk to be unlikely.
When we are allowed to introduce our product into the market, there is a small change that it appears that our product causes harm to people and/or the environment. For example, any remaining part of the microorganism in our product to which the environment is exposed, could in theory make people sick. The consequences of such events would probably be catastrophic for the company. However, since the organism we use are very weak variants of the E. coli bacterium, the likelihood that this will happen, is considered to be small.
It is also possible that we are not able to patent our product. This automatically would mean that external parties are allowed to produce the biological MLA and this can worsen our competitiveness. We consider this as a possible risk with major consequences.
Market related risks
There is always a probability that our product will not be accepted by a part of our possible customers. However, since we have done an extensive customer research, we consider this risk to be small.
An additional possible risk is that our product does make use of a genetically modified organism. The real risks of these organisms are considered to be small, but it is possible that the perception of the risk among the public is different. For example, negative media attention about the use of genetically modified organisms in our product could have a negative influence on the sales volume of our company. The consequences in that case are expected to be moderate. However, since our product is not a food and it is a part of a final larger product, it is considered to be unlikely that there will be negative attention. Furthermore, together with all the iGEM teams and many other companies and organizations we are working hard to improve the acceptation of synthetic biology among the public. This will help the acceptance of our product as well.
The risk of a (new) substitute is also a serious risk. For example, the general chemically synthesized MLAs could become cheaper and more attractive therefore. It is also possible that a totally new alternative will be developed in the future. Therefore it is important to keep investing in R&D in order to keep our product “up-to-date”. We do expect that it is possible that there will be new competitive substitutes for our product, but because of all these measures we expect that the consequences will be moderate for a longer period of time.
Finally, it is also possible that the total market changes. In an extreme situation this could for example result in no need of encapsulation layers any more or an extreme increase of efficiency of solar cells, which make our specific MLA encapsulation layer useless. This could be catastrophic for our company. Fortunately, we expect a radical change like this will be unlikely.
Product and operational related risks
There is a risk that we may not actually be able to deliver the product to the market within the resources (time, money) that we have available. Furthermore, there is always the risk that our product may not work exactly as well as promised or envisioned. It is for example possible that some technical challenges may be greater than initially assumed. We try to minimize the consequences of these risks by doing solid theoretical research and by building prototypes in an early stage. This will limit eventually the extra time that is required.
Unforeseen scale-up problems are also a risk that we have to take into account. For example, it appears that bacteria sometimes react differently in a large reactor than in a small variant. When such an incident happens, this can have a major influence on the total investment. Therefore, it is important to minimize the probability of occurrence. We will talk with experts in this field in an early stadium of the development. Furthermore, we believe that making prototypes is very important to minimize this risk. Finally, we think it is wisely to use mathematical models and literature for this. This all should make it unlikely to have scale-up problems.
It is also possible that there are no qualified employees available. However, we think it is very unlikely this is the case and otherwise we think it is relatively easy to educate the new employees. After all, we have a new product, but we are operating in already existing industries with well-educated employees.
For some companies supply problems of raw material can be a major problem. We expect that this is not the case for our company, because we do not use very limited available and very specific materials. Therefore, we are not dependent on one specific supplier. It is likely that sometimes suppliers are not able to supply on time because of supply problems or because they are bankrupt, but the consequences are considered to be insignificant because there are always alternative suppliers.
First we will focus on the Dutch and German market. The total market size of both markets is equal to 36.5 GW. Based on the governmental goals, the market size has to grow to 74 GW in the year 2020. This means that the growth potential is equal to 37,5 GW. Currently there are 81 solar panel manufactures in Germany, which have in total around 50% of the market share of both countries ("Solar Panel Manufacturers," 2016; Wirth, 2016).
Based on these data, we have estimated the potential market size. We believe that there is a potential market of 187,5 MW in the first 4 years. This is equal to 1% of the estimated market growth of the German companies.
The BioLens will be further designed and tested during the first half of 2017. The cost breakdown of this phase is shown in Table 3.
|Labor cost (5 fte.)||€75.000|
|Consulting (0.25 fte.)||€5.000|
|Material costs laboratory (chemicals, consumables, etc.)||€5.000|
|Costs Solar panel||€500|
The prototype will be developed in collaboration with the TU Delft and they will be co-owner of the IP therefore. BioLens will have the exclusive right to use the developed prototype. To develop our prototype, we will use a laboratory from the TU Delft. We are looking at multiple grants and subsidies to (co-)finance the early stage research and development. Furthermore, we plan to apply for the so called UNIIQ funding. This is a Proof of Concept fund for early stage start-ups that need funding to develop their invention to market readiness.
We have made an estimation about the expenses of the first four years of the company. The breakdown of those expected expenses can be found in Table 4.
|Chemicals + Consumables||€5,000||€5,000||€6,000||€6,000|
|Overhead + Unforeseen||€22,570||€25,780||€33,230||€31,330|
The costs are based on the following assumptions:
- Labor costs are based upon the conventional labor costs for the concerned groups, taking into account the number of fte’s. The salaries of the management are deliberately low in order to increase the growth potential of the company. The whole team agreed with this. Most of the consulting and supporting will be done by employees from the TU Delft. For example, within the TU Delft there are multiple experts in the field of solar panels that could help us to develop the prototype.
- The costs for the business establishment are based on information provided by Delft Enterprises.
- Costs for intellectual property are based on information provided by the Valorisation Centre. They can eventually also help us with the patenting process.
- The costs for regulatory approval are an educated guess and are based on among other things the expected required time of external parties, traveling costs, etc.
- The expenses for the consumables and chemicals are based on the real expenses during the iGEM project.
- The rent concerns costs for a laboratory and production facilities of the TU Delft. The TU Delft can provide those facilities as in kind contribution in return for a larger share in the company.
- Distribution costs are estimated based on maximal expected distribution distances.
- Marketing/Sales costs are based on the opinion and expectations of an expert in this field.
- The interest costs are based on the expected loan.
- The overhead and unforeseen costs are equal to 10% of the total costs. This is common practice. Among these costs are administrative costs, telephone costs, but it is also a buffer for costs that in reality are larger than estimated.
Based on Table 4 it appears that the expected required budget for the first 4 years of the startup is equal to about €1.200.000. In the first phase we want to apply on grants and government loans such as STW: Take off 1 for feasibility studies (€40k subsidy) and Take off 2 for early stage financing (up to €250k loan). There are multiple funds that provide loans for promising startups. For example, funds such as UNIIQ, a proof of concept fund that can offer up to €300k in convertible debt financing, and which is partially set up by TU Delft, Erasmus Medical Centre, the University of Leiden and the regional development agency. With these we hope to obtain a capital of €500.000 with an average interest rate of 8%. Furthermore, we hope to receive in total €150.000 of grants from for example the governmental “Demonstratie energie-innovatie” fund that gives grands to companies that do research into green energy innovation. Finally, we are searching investors that are prepared to invest for a total of €550.000 in our company. The TU Delft will be an investor and could also be a contribute in kind. Furthermore, also Shift Invest is a potential investor. We estimate that with these funds we can come to a stage where regular commercial financing becomes a possibility, or that we reach a point where a large solar panel manufacturer is willing to take over our business.
Based on the market size analysis, the potential market size is estimated to be equal to 187,5 MW. Currently the average power of a solar panel is equal to 0,0000137 MW/m2. Based on these data there is an estimated market of almost 1.500.000 m2 in the next 4 years. As described in the customer analysis, the total added valued of the microlens arrays is equal to at least 897 euro/m2. We estimate to sell the microlens arrays for 30% of this profit. This means that the selling price is equal to €270.
Based on this conservative estimate it appears that the costs are already covered at a much lower sales volume than the estimated potential market in the first four years. We are well aware of the many uncertainties in these calculations. However, since there is still a large margin between the breakeven point and the expected sales, we dare to say that the BioLens microlens array is profitable.
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