OSA Industry Member Profile - M Squared

OSA Industry Member Profile - M Squared

By Samantha Hornback, Research & Program Development Coordinator, The Optical Society


OSA Industry Development Associates (OIDA) member M Squared, U.K., is a leading developer of photonic and quantum technology. Founded in 2006, M Squared has grown to serve a wide range of applications, from space travel to healthcare to whiskey maturation. The company describes itself as “innovative and disruptive,” and is always looking for the next product or opportunity. OSA spoke with CEO and co-founder Graeme Malcom, OBE, about M Squared’s vision, work and his own career.

The company started in 2006. How has it changed since then?

We started M Squared back in 2006 to develop revolutionary laser systems that would dramatically improve scientific experimentation and help to advance industry. Today, our mission remains largely the same. M Squared is focused on using the world's purest light to ensure that quantum and photonic technologies have a positive impact on the planet and are able to take on the greatest challenges that humanity currently faces, including climate change. 

Since its inception, the company has expanded considerably, developing bases across Europe and the U.S., with key university partnerships, collaborations and several dedicated quantum and biophotonics facilities. Throughout this journey, our mission continues to inform everything we do.

Where do you expect M Squared to be in 10 years?

We're committed to being a key partner for the international scientific community. In 10 years, M Squared will have furthered collaborative efforts across the world on a variety of major industrial and scientific challenges using quantum and photonic technology. Our international mission will work on building relationships with major scientific organizations and industry bodies across our key regions in the U.S., U.K. and Europe to realize frontier technologies at the vanguard of science.

As the impact of climate change becomes even more paramount in the coming decade, I am hopeful that our precision light will play a fundamental role in tackling the challenges it poses. Our lasers have calibrated the space instruments that reveal the sources of harmful gases and identify pollutants. We calibrated Tropomi, the spectrometer on board the Sentinel 5P satellite, which maps critical pollutants in the atmosphere—this project from the European Space Agency (ESA) is part of an extended program to take on climate change. It will prove critical in informing policy and combative action.

M Squared’s website describes your work as “disruptive.” How do you define “disruptive,” and how do you strive to embody that in your work?

We think of our work as disruptive because it fuels innovation, which improves the world around us. We strive to embody “disruption” through the development of new technology. Using precision light, we are pioneering frontier advancements across bio-imaging, quantum technology and climate-change monitoring. Across various research and industry applications, our lasers are fixated on unlocking new potential for our customers.

In what ways has M Squared grown to be more than a scientific laser-engineering company?

We think of ourselves as more than just a laser company because we design, engineer and manufacture not only lasers but systems and applications for frontier science, quantum devices, advanced manufacturing, oil and gas research, space technology and the medical sector. Our cross-sector partnerships have led to breakthroughs in areas as diverse as the world's most accurate clocks and whisky maturation.

Our mission to improve the world is underpinned by an ability to harness precision light. For science to make a real difference, we believe it must exit the laboratory and enter the real world. At M Squared, we pursue advancements not just in research, but in helping other academic organizations and private sector firms realize transformative ideas and apply them.

How have collaborations influenced your success?

By working with universities, scientists and investors across the world, we can do more and go further. Collaboration has been a considerable part of M Squared’s journey, and without the close connections with scientists and academics all over the world, fulfilling our mission would be much more difficult.

One part of our collaborative work is European-funded programs, which bring new opportunities into the U.K. M Squared has been participating in such projects since 2008, partnering with about 100 distinct organizations. These partnerships combine expertise to help bring new solutions to market faster.

In recent years, we have established ourselves as an important player in the global quantum-technology industry with a collaborative network of Nobel-Prize–winning scientists, leading researchers and the world's top universities. To realize the potential of advanced, new technologies like quantum, the scale of the challenge necessitates sharing both resources and expertise.

How did your experience founding Microlase influence your work with M Squared?

I set up Microlase in 1992 with co-founder Gareth Maker. Soon after, we developed our first solid-state diode-pumped laser and made our first sale. We were turning ideas into physical products, creating something that people wanted and making money. We took a scientific approach to the company—working out what problems we needed to solve and solving them one at a time.

Microlase definitely taught me that a good idea needs a practical end-use; it's not always the case. You need real market insights to help you figure out the value of an idea. Only then can you understand if you are truly solving a problem for your customers and for society.

I also learned the value of the “do one thing well” approach. If you make something relevant, and you make it really well, then selling it should be relatively easy. It can be all too easy to focus on the wrong thing.

M Squared focused on the development of its narrow linewidth CW laser platform, SolsTiS. This technology has been our bedrock. It has grown from a single product to an entire platform, winning multiple awards and helping hundreds of scientists globally. It even opened up new areas of research.

This approach afforded us the ability to go on to develop new photonics products and, in many cases, entirely new light-based applications. I had no idea back in 2006 that we'd be building the U.K.'s first commercial quantum-navigation device.

What, in your view, is the best decision that M Squared has made to date?

Science has the power to change the world for the better, and through technological advancements, humanity has made great leaps forward. Creating a business like M Squared, one that can harness theory and test ideas that are usually confined to physics journals, and develop technologies to solve real-world problems—it's the best business decision I ever made.

How about the worst, or riskiest, decision? Do you have any regrets?

I see errors and failures as an essential part of making progress, so I quickly move on from them and have no real regrets. This journey we’re on, there will always be unexpected hiccups and challenges along the way. M Squared operates within a culture of agility—there is constant planning, action, reflection and improvement to drive forward technological progress and to empower our teams.

Tell me about your personal career path. How did you get to this point?

I've been a scientist and entrepreneur for 30 years, and in that time, I've created three high-growth tech companies. I sold my first business, Microlase, to Coherent Inc., now Coherent Scotland, and in 2006 I co-founded M Squared to develop next-generation photonic and quantum technologies. I've generated over £500 million in revenues cumulatively and employed more than 180 high-level graduates and Ph.D.s. I've designed about 30 advanced products and exported high-value laser systems globally.

I've been pretty busy, but busy working at something I love, and I am very lucky to have found such amazing people to work with.

What advice would you give others looking to start a company?

As with many industries, one of the main challenges that we faced in quantum and photonics in the early days was building the best team. The pool of potential employees is small, especially compared to other sectors—quantum physics, for example, isn't for everyone.

Assemble the right people, and the opportunities are almost endless, so it's worth taking the time to build a team with the depth and strengths you need from the outset. M Squared is lucky to have attracted a fantastic team that is still growing.

M Squared is an OIDA member. What do you see as the value of that membership?

Being part of an innovative community in the optics and photonics industry is important for M Squared–collaboration is at the heart of what we do. M Squared is experiencing rapid growth, and it's a pivotal time for the business as we scale in terms of staff, geographies and products.

OIDA is an excellent platform that allows us to stay ahead of the curve and engage with leaders from other companies in the space—all at various stages of growth—to understand the challenges and opportunities that they are encountering.

Tags:

Posted: 26 March 2020 by Samantha Hornback, Research & Program Development Coordinator, The Optical Society | with 0 comments

The views expressed by guest contributors to the Discover OSA Blog are not those endorsed by The Optical Society.