In 2017 we interviewed FlowBeams – back then known as InkBeams – about their technology based on photonics: injecting ink or medication without needles. Instead of needles, a laser is used to heat the liquid to create rapidly growing bubbles. These bubbles shoot microscopic drops through the skin at high velocity to be absorbed by the body.
Since then, they didn’t only change their name, but they also officially became a spin-off of the University of Twente on October 1st, 2021. So, what else has been happening? And more importantly, what’s next? We sat down with founder David Fernandez Rivas and asked him all about it.
The road to spin-off
Even though the future looked promising back in 2017, David and co-founder Lea Milovich (now in the Novel-T family) made the strategic decision to wait to become a spin-off officially. “Now is a great time to take this next step,” he says. “Because of my double position as an entrepreneur and researcher, things go slower. However, by going slower, you can also take more secure steps, and it gives you the time to explore alternatives. Now, we have more visibility and credibility thanks to winning the Prins Friso Engineering prize, more papers, and more European money. The conditions are now optimal.”
Transferring knowledge to students and society
Even though David has now taken his next step as an entrepreneur, he is also still a researcher. Those two roles support each other, David says. “I don’t see these roles as being separate. As a professor, it’s my job to teach my research to students, but I spread the same message when I’m valorizing my research to society. Questions from my students and society go back into my research, and the answers from my research go back into society. That process leads to inspiration to find new solutions, so the one enriches the other. It’s a privilege to have one foot in valorization and one foot in research.”
The way David approaches his work enables him to create an impact on society. And it’s not just in one way that FlowBeams brings change. “The first way is that our technology allows us to inject medicine with more precision. Some medicines work better when they’re injected into a certain depth under the skin,” explains David. “Furthermore, a second impact is that fear of needles will be a thing of the past. This doesn’t mean our technology can already replace all the needles; for now, it only works for superficial injections. But it does bring us to our third advantage: we can replace needles where the risks outweigh the benefits. Before the pandemic, medics used 44 million needles a day. This has a massive impact on the environment because you cannot reuse them easily.” That’s how FlowBeams can make a difference, and the impact will only increase as their technology improves over the years.
Currently, the science is solid enough and society is ready. The next step? “Growing as a spin-off,” answers David. “We are currently working on strengthening our team and the commercialization related to our platform technology. Novel-T has already helped us along the way, but the sky is the limit. If we start to focus on our business side, the opportunities for FlowBeams are endless.”
Importance of valorization
Besides growing FlowBeams, David has other dreams for the future. “We need more people to share the dream of valorization. And for that, the government should invest in valorization. Don’t get me wrong: most researchers are not in it for the money and business is mistrusted by a lot of researchers. But ‘smart’ money helps. Real support from universities can really make a difference in bringing your research to the world.” To bring this dream to life, David has some advice to students: “Connect to ongoing valorization efforts. Help bring these ideas to the market. The worst that can happen is that the company doesn’t succeed, but you will learn a lot – even if it’s just a summer internship. When everyone chimes in to help, slowly, we’ll bring more research to society. That’s how we can create real change.”