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Carlos Lee, Epic’s director general, talks with Ben Rubovitch, co-founder and CEO at DustPhotonics, a supplier of optical technology for silicon photonics

What led to you co-founding DustPhotonics?

In 2010, I graduated with a BSc in Micro and Nano Electronics from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. I’d focused on high-speed electromagnetics and solid-state semiconductors, and my first job was with Intel working on chip design. This was followed by three years at Mellanox Technologies, where I established the signal integrity team. After that, I moved to Amphenol TCS, a US corporate, where I worked as R&D manager on the development of customised opto-electronics.

I came across a business opportunity to design electro-optical modules during my career as an R&D manager. I learned about the challenges with pluggable optical modules and mass production. I co-founded DustPhotonics with three other experts in the optics industry, with the intent to simplify optical packaging and enable high-volume production using passive alignment of the components. We have developed a multimode alignment technology called AuraDP which is based on a fully passive alignment of the VCSELs, photodiodes, micro-optics and fibre arrays.

Four years later, the company has now transitioned into a silicon photonics-based technology with the mission to develop electro-optic coupling technology to help solve the issue of laser integration – one of the biggest challenges facing silicon photonics – to enable next generation modules and the future co-packaging optics. Specifically, our aim was to develop high-performing optical packaging and laser integration technology to enable higher data rates and help reduce the power consumption of data centres.

How has the company developed?

In the last four years we’ve grown to a workforce of about 100 employees. Most are in Israel working on development operations and manufacturing engineering. Our production line for the modules is in Asia, and our sales marketing team is in the US.

Our products include hot-pluggable transceivers, active optical cables, and future silicon photonics scalable solutions for enterprise data centres, high-performance computing and hyperscale cloud markets. To meet increasing bandwidth demands of hyperscale data centres, we recently launched a single-mode transceiver module, QSFP-DD DR4+, designed to support high-performance 400Gbps in a pluggable form factor for high-speed networks and intra-data centre interconnects.

For the lasers and chips, we work with big fabs that provide simple, off-the-shelf components. Our expertise and added value are in the integration of the laser, which we do in-house. As I mentioned, laser integration is the hardest part of the process and scaling up cost-effectively is the most important thing to solve for silicon photonics.

We participate in industry events such as Ecoc and OFC, and in 2019 we were recognised by CIOReview as among the 20 most promising high-performance computing solution providers. We were also named by Lightwave as one of the top five firms coming out of Ecoc 2019 in Dublin.

What have been the main challenges transitioning from R&D to being a CEO of a firm with 100 employees?

It’s a learning curve, as if everything is new, and as a CEO you have to wear a lot of hats. On the business side, I’ve been lucky to have such investors who have been deeply involved and active in leading the company.

On the technical side, I’ve also been fortunate to have great co-founders and partners with expertise in all the key technology areas. For example, Kobi Hasharoni, our CTO and co-founder, is the brains behind on-chip optics; Amir Geron, our chief design officer and co-founder is an expert on optical mounting, micro-optics, and assembly; and Yoel Chetrit, senior vice president photonics devices, owns the silicon photonics technology.

I’ve also become conscious of the need to provide leadership to our employees. People are the most important part of any business and it’s crucial not only to recruit people with the right enthusiasm and energy, but to make sure they work as part of a team, share the company’s mission, and feel that DustPhotonics’ success is their success. For this reason, in addition to regular management meetings, we also hold monthly meetings with the whole company to inform them about updates and successes.

What are your words of wisdom for the next entrepreneurs?

Make sure to surround yourself with people who have the right expertise, energy, enthusiasm and team working spirit, and make them an integrated part of the company’s success.

Second, I’d recommend engaging customers as early as possible, so you can get feedback on your current products and ideas for the future devices. In this way, you will give the market what it wants, which is the main ingredient for success.