A decade of innovation: Celebrating Innoseis’ 10-year journey

September 27, 2023

Innoseis recently marked a significant milestone – a decade of pioneering work in seismic sensing. The company, a spin-off of VU and the National Institute for Subatomic Physics, Nikhef, uses precision motion sensing for seismic and guidance applications. We sat down with CEO Mark Beker and CTO Jo van den Brand to learn more about their entrepreneurial journey! 

The birth of Innoseis
Innoseis‘ story began more than ten years ago, when Jo worked as a professor in fundamental physics: ‘I was happily engaged in fundamental physics, conducting experiments at CERN and other places. At that time, the Netherlands science organization, NWO, encouraged scientists to collaborate with industry, which inspired me and led to visits to Dutch companies. We explained our cutting-edge techniques and how industry could benefit. Surprisingly, we discovered that geophysicists needed advanced seismic sensors, and our capabilities were a perfect fit. This combination sparked the idea for Innoseis.’ 

Mark was at that time working on his PhD in Amsterdam. Entrepreneurship had always been on his radar, and he found an opportunity with seismic motion: ‘My PhD involved looking into the effects of seismic motion on gravitational wave detectors. This seismic noise that affects the gravitational detector is for geophysicists actually a signal about what is going on underground. Together, Jo and I were able to make that link between understanding and measuring the seismic wave fields, and applying our knowledge to develop new innovative equipment.’ 

Looking back: start-up journey
Innoseis’ journey took longer than originally planned. The path from conceptualization to a market-ready product spanned about four to five years, accompanied by resource-intensive research and development, all under the constraints of a tight budget.  

IXA was already engaged early on, stated Mark: ‘We were in contact with IXA from the start, because we wanted to establish proper arrangements for intellectual property. In the initial phases, IXA played a crucial role for two main reasons. First, they supported us with funding for the proof of concept, which was incredibly valuable. Secondly, we worked closely with IXA to create a license agreement that was mutually beneficial. IXA’s network and their ability to help scientists navigate the transition to the business world are quite unique and helpful. We appreciated that IXA allowed us the freedom to shape things the way we wanted.’ 

Looking towards the future
Innoseis’ original product found its primary customers among geophysical contractors in industries such as oil and gas, geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage, and engineering construction. However, as Mark and Jo envision the future, they see even broader applications for their new product – a highly sensitive micro-machined motion detector: ‘We’re basically making a very sensitive motion detector, which can be used in satellites, spacecrafts and in autonomous vehicles (i.e. ‘self-driving cars’), in order to determine their position.’ 

Recently Innoseis has signed a deal with a company that wants to do geophysics on the moon. So they are now developing a product that will be sent there. The lunar environment, and getting there, places stringent requirements on the equipment in terms of the size, weight, power consumption and sensitivity. As it turns out, Innoseis is the only company in the world able to develop the requisite equipment. 

Jo and Mark simply have to say about this: ‘Contributing to this project using seismic sensors on the moon is super exciting to us!’ 

Three learnings for other academic entrepreneurs 

Jo and Mark are happy to share three valuable insights for aspiring academic or research driven entrepreneurs: 

  • Make sure that there’s a significant amount of market pull rather than technology push. It’s highly important to get feedback from potential customers as quickly as possible. Try and find someone from the industry who can give you guidance, and can give you guidance and be your promoter as well.  
  • Try to manage cash flow. This sounds really boring, but the reality is that it’s very important. Everything takes twice as long and is twice as expensive as one would think. To quote Mark: ‘I think if we look back on our first business plan, we were probably imagining that we were going to take over the world within two years, but in reality, it probably took more like four or five and it was definitely more expensive. Managing cash flow then is key, otherwise you run out of money before you can even have a first client.’ 
  • Lastly, create an environment for your team where you really foster a “can do” mentality. Celebrating failures as learning moments, rather than pointing the finger out or trying to find blame will help to create the right environment for innovation.