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Diversity and photonics funding highlighted at Epic AGM

Matthew Dale reports on the association’s yearly event, where the importance of diversity, photonics funding and investment were to the fore







Despite the countless online meetings we’ve all attended over the past year, Zoom fatigue was not enough to stop 200 people from 36 countries attending Epic’s second online AGM in April.

It was clear from the start that the association hopes this to be the last of its virtual AGMs, which didn’t come as a surprise given the importance it places on networking, organising numerous in-person events to support this in a normal year.

Despite this, the Epic annual meeting was quick to adapt to the new climate, having organised 80 online meetings and events last year, attended by 2,087 people from 1,232 firms. Among these were technology, strategy and company meetings, a 24-hour World Photonics Tour, a virtual exhibition, product launches and  plenty of online networking.

Epic also grew significantly – it welcomed its 700th member at the AGM, up from 500 in 2019. 

Calls for diversity 

The board recently bid farewell to two of its members, Maurizio Gattiglio, CEO of Convergent Photonics, and Martin Schell, director of Fraunhofer HHI. The two new members appointed were Adam Piotrowski, CEO of Vigo System, and Berthold Schmidt, CEO of Trumpf Photonics Components.

Remarking on all seven board members being male, both before and after the new appointments, one attendee queried the process that Epic follows for selecting its board: ‘We are a diverse community, we have many different people sitting here in this audience, and each year I am disappointed because this board is just a male board and does not reflect the diversity which is there.’

The importance of diversity in photonics is a subject continuously highlighted within the industry, including associations such as Epic, for which women make up 12 of its 15 staff.

Epic president Benno Oderkerk said it is a known concern and the association has actively been looking for female candidates. This process has proven challenging, however, as board members – all of which are CEO or director level – are intended to represent the different technologies, markets, applications and geographical distribution of the association.

‘We have looked at the potential of getting women on the board, but in combination with the countries and technology, and also to look for CEOs, it was not possible to get a new female candidate within the country and technology we were looking for – for example, a female CEO of a German laser company,’ he commented. ‘But it certainly has our attention and we are trying to find female successors to board members.’

The board currently elects its own members from a selection of candidates presented to them by Epic’s director general Carlos Lee, with members staying for three years with an option to renew their term once. With the two newest appointments, the board members represent Poland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany (two members), Switzerland and France.

Continued advocacy for photonics funding

More recently, Epic has been advocating for increased photonics funding, especially following the news that the sector has not been recognised within Horizon Europe, the follow-on funding programme from Horizon 2020.

Lee said that the association was disappointed and shocked when it saw that photonics had gone from a key enabling technology, to not being recognised as an area for funding. Epic therefore stated its position, along with several other photonics partners, including Photonics 21, and launched a lobbying campaign. 

The campaign, which included a ‘Position paper to strengthen the support to the photonics industry’, signed by 500 photonics CEOs, was a success that led to both good and bad news, explained Lee. The good news is that photonics has now been included as a partnership for funding, while the bad news is that its budget has been slashed by 30 per cent. 

‘This is not acceptable for the importance of our sector and for what it brings to Europe,’ Lee remarked. ‘We complained before that we were not happy with the situation, we complained during the process, and as soon as the numbers are public, we will again express our dissatisfaction with the situation. We will continue our advocacy towards public authorities to make sure that photonics is funded at the level of the importance that it is acknowledged and recognised.’

EPIC Core Photonics Index

Epic also revealed to attendees that it has been working on the development of a Core Photonics Index, which will convey that photonics is a profitable industry worthy of investment.

‘We need a tool to show to the financial world that photonics is a good investment, and that tool is an index,’ said Antonio Raspa, Epic’s innovation manager. ‘We put together graphs of photonics companies over the past few years, and started to create an index. Using the data of approximately 70 core photonics companies – for which two-thirds turnover comes from photonics – dating back to December 2015, we had an independent index provider produce this. We also had them compare the EPIC Core Photonics USD Index with the MSCI World $ NR Index and the S&P 500 NR Index, the conclusion of which shows that photonics is more profitable than both. We can now claim without any doubt that photonics is a profitable industry. The next step is to make the index official, which will happen very soon.’

Data provided by Epic also showed that the photonics market was valued at $774bn last year and is expected to reach $1.2trn by 2026, growing at 8 per cent per year. It also showed that 100 acquisitions of photonics companies take place worldwide each year, and that photonics applications are expanding geometrically, as industries find new uses for the technology.  


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