The story of Molecular Plasma Group (MPG) started in 2016, when it was created as a spin-off from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) to commercialise a unique nano coating technology using cold atmospheric plasma. Finding a home at the incubator Technoport, the researchers behind the technology started to look for the right market for their solution. As for many start-ups, this proved to be far from easy. Seeing the company’s need for a push forward, Luxinnovation, the national innovation agency, connected it with serial entrepreneur and business angel Marc Jacobs.
Molecular plasma technology for adhesion improvement
“We knew that we had a fantastic technology able to fix organic molecules onto any surface in a permanent way, thereby changing its functionality,” remembers Mr Jacobs, who joined the company as investor and board chair but who today serves as its CEO. “What we did not know was how to use it to bring real value to paying customers. So we went out on the market and asked a wide range of players if there were any problems we could help them solve.”
This approach was successful. Within one year, MPG had initiated 50 proof of concepts with various clients. When analysing what these projects had in common, the company realised that it was all about enabling adhesion to very difficult substrates. “Put very simply: when people are unable to glue something onto something else, our technology can make a real difference.”
Our way forward is clearly through partnerships.
MPG decided to position itself as a technology platform. It trademarked its solution as MolecularGRIPTM and started to look for partners to develop tangible applications that could be sold on the market. The main focus is on major players in the field of gluing and on robotics technology integrators that can use the technology as part of their solutions in industrial production lines. “Our way forward is clearly through partnerships,” Mr Jacobs points out. “In addition to industry, we are also actively partnering with research institutes and universities that help us develop new applications for our technology.”
Biomedical industry: a new opportunity
One of the organisations that MPG reached out to at an early stage was Belgian research institute Imec, which became very interested in the technology’s ability to deal with biomolecules and antibodies for biomedical purposes. Through a proof of concept realised together with the university KU Leuven, the company was able to show that it could fix biomolecules such as antibodies onto glass substrates in 10 seconds, rather than the current industry standard of 24 hours.
Fit 4 Start was absolutely amazing. It gave us a feeling for the market and helped us develop a roadmap.
“This opened our eyes to a new market with huge potential – but at the time, we did not know anything about the biomedical sector,” Mr Jacobs admits. Unwilling to let the opportunity pass, the company successfully applied to Luxembourg’s renowned accelerator programme Fit 4 Start and obtained a place in its first healthtech cohort. “Fit 4 Start was absolutely amazing. It gave us a feeling for the market and helped us develop a roadmap. Since graduating from the programme, we have initiated proofs of concept with several global biomedical players and recruited a business developer in charge of developing this market.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the company realised that its molecular plasma technology could be deployed to help fight the health crisis and initiated the development of a device to sterilise mouth masks as a means to avoid shortages. The technology can also help prolong the life span of masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective gowns by firmly binding antibacterial and/or antiviral compounds to the material.
Further research and development remains crucial for MPG. With support of Luxinnovation, the company is preparing a major in-house R&D project for which it will apply for co-funding from the Ministry of the Economy. It has kept its close links with LIST, with which it has two joint research projects with funding from the National Research Fund (FNR) under way.
MPG is also exploring interesting opportunities for how its technology could be used in research activities carried out by the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB). In addition, the company is a member of Composite Industry Luxembourg, a group of industrial companies working closely with the National Composite Centre – Luxembourg hosted by LIST.
The client list of the developing company is impressive and notably includes Arianespace, the world’s leading satellite launch company, for which it has just successfully concluded a feasibility study. It has supplied R&D systems to global Tier 1 companies as well as to the universities of Ghent and La Rioja and research centres such as PICC, Centexbel and LIST. It is also working with Luxembourg-based industrial corporations. “A first industrialisation of our molecular plasma technology for one of our largest customers will also happen this summer.”
The national ecosystem has been incredibly supportive. Without its support, our successful development simply would not have happened.
MPG currently has a staff of 10 and expects to be 15 by the end of the year. In 2019, the company had a turnover of €1.5 million, a figure that it expects to increase by 60-100% in 2020. “The main reason for our success is the team,” Mr Jacobs emphasises. “The level of expertise and the commitment of the team members is way beyond anything I have ever seen before. The national ecosystem – the Ministry of the Economy, Luxinnovation, LIST and many others – has also been incredibly supportive. Without their support, our successful development simply would not have happened.”