Don't attempt to do everything yourself

"Don't attempt to do everything yourself, but look for people that can contribute the  knowledge, skills and experience that you lack. Make sure you click, that is very important too." Maurice Aalders, co-founder of Forensic Technical Solutions and professor of Forensic Biophysics, Amsterdam Medical Centre.

Considering potential application of scientific research comes naturally to Maurice Aalders. "I prefer to work on applied projects, to develop technologies that improve patient care. My own specialisation is in optics and my research is about developing optical techniques that can be used in the clinic." While working on a spectroscopic method to detect certain compounds and their concentrations in blood, which has the advantage of being non-invasive, Aalders saw the potential for forensic applications. Using this technique, it should be possible to analyse bruises and determine when these bruises were formed. He applied for a VIDI grant and the proposal was approved. "We speculated that our technology could deliver an objective method to assess suspicions of child abuse. In some situations, when a child has multiple bruises that emerged at different moments, it is a strong indication of abuse. This project generated a lot of attention."

Together with forensic experts, Aalders discussed further possibilities for the new method and they came up with using it to determine the age of bloodstains and detect the presence of blood at crime scenes. "Potential users, such as the Netherlands Forensic Institute and local forensic police units responded enthusiastically." In 2008, a patent was filed. Aalders: "By then, I had a technology and a patent. Now what?" Supported by TTO, he successfully applied for a 'SKE' Pre-Seed Grant to further study and develop the business proposition, followed by the incorporation of a spin-off company in 2010 called Forensic Technical Solutions. "At that point, we participated in a large subsidy programme by the NFI focused on getting new methods to the scene the crime. Using this funding, we  hired a PhD student to develop a prototype of a camera based on our spectroscopic technique."

Jumping to the present, that prototype has by now been tested extensively and an improved version is already available. "We were able to secure funding from various sources for this testing and validation round. Among others from the The Hague Security Delta initiative and the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism. Once you start developing a product, a range of new funding opportunities emerges. We will engage in one more improvement track, before producing a limited amount of cameras that will be evaluated in the field by different forensic units." So far, Aalders has been able to fund the whole endeavour through subsidies and grants. "We don't have greedy investors on our heels all the time and that is a comfortable situation." But also public funding requires scrutiny, says Aalders. "Before I knew, I was moving from one grant to the next subsidy and it is very important to keep track of what you're doing and what the consequences are for your professional and personal situation. What about liability? What about my personal tax assessment? If I become a shareholder, how does that impact my academic status? These are all important questions to consider." But they should not deter scientists from exploring valorisation opportunities, he adds. "Going through this whole track is a great experience, it is really motivating to watch your initial, rough idea develop into something real. Into a product that people can actually use."