Interview with Septentrio’s Business Development Manager, Jan Van Hees, and R&D Director, Bruno Bougard
Septentrio was started as a spin-off of IMEC and attracts talent from KULeuven University as well as from around the world. What is the current mix of scientific, technical, and commercial backgrounds of your staff?
JVH: We are about 100 people in total, including the groups in Torrance and Hong Kong. The main body of the company is in Belgium. Our office in Torrance is largely, but not exclusively, composed by what used to be Altus Positioning Systems and we started an office in Hong Kong at the beginning of 2015. Roughly 50 percent of the people are in engineering and almost everybody in engineering has a college degree, with a number of PhDs and at that level. So, pretty high. As you can imagine, for people designing GPS receivers, that’s pretty heavy stuff. The other 50 percent is divided between sales, production, and general services, like HR, finance, and so on. Production is largely logistic; we do not do board stuffing ourselves, so we have subcontractors for boards and all we do here is some final assembly and configuration, test, maintenance type of activities. For that reason, the production part, if you want, is a rather small part of the company. The interesting thing to know is that among those 100 people there are about 20 or so different nationalities, so it gives you a good impression of how global our company is, even though it is only a team of 100.
We are a spin-off of IMEC but we are not a part of IMEC. We have a good working relationship with IMEC, of course, being in a cluster of a lot of technology companies around it. Structurally, IMEC is one of a number of Septentrio shareholders, due to our history, but we are a completely independent company. All IPR that was developed when we were still starting from IMEC was transferred into Septentrio and is 100 percent owned by Septentrio. IMEC is a very important technological resource that we are, of course, working with and drawing resources from and stuff like that, but that is all it is. Historically, the work that resulted in Septentrio started at IMEC in the 90s as part of research work for the European Space Agency. It is that work that led a group to develop a high-quality, high-precision GPS and Glonass technology. IMEC is a long-term fundamental research company, so the technology developed for the European Space Agency and for potential use in space, originally was much more applicable than the sort of long-term research goal that IMEC typically has, which is why IMEC was spun out into a commercial company to commercialize, at the beginning of 2000.