Michiel Roelofs brought his passion for solar energy to the EIT MSc Environomical Pathways for Sustainable Energy Systems (MSc SELECT) programme and then found the knowledge and inspiration there to create his own start-up. Co-founded together with TU/e university colleague Rein Westerdijk in 2017, taylor has reached the point where they are about to test-launch customers and have shipped their first order of products – which will be integrated into a client’s innovative modules.
We spoke with Michiel to find out how he keeps a winning attitude during the ups and downs of starting your own company, and if he has any advice for those wanting to do the same. He was happy to share what keeps him going: “The role I love the most is bringing complex technologies to the market in an entrepreneurial environment. Every day brings different challenges and new people with different backgrounds to work with. It’s a very competitive environment where you can measure your impact day to day. And while there are no large organisations or institutes where you can hide behind if you are not making progress – you can be especially proud of the progress you do make!”
A Taylor-made solution for solar
A spin-off company from the TU/e, taylor develops micro-electronics for the solar industry. “It is our goal to make solar micro-electronics simple. Our solution optimises the performance of solar cells (in clusters 10/20 cells), as an integrated part of the solar module. By optimising these small groups of solar cells independently, they can produce a 20% higher and more robust yield. By developing our own dedicated micro-electronics, we can help lower the cost of solar energy and create a system that is a lot more modular and safer”, he explains. “As our name suggests we don’t supply complex add-ons to consumers; instead we supply micro-electronics tailored to the solar module producers. We do this with our team of 11, but also in partnership with leading knowledge institutes such as TNO, Solliance, IMEC, and RWTH Aachen. This collaboration allows us to fully understand solar cell technology from within, instead of regarding solar panels as a black box.”
From iPoY to real-world start-up
When we discussed Michiel’s time in the MSc Environomical Pathways for Sustainable Energy Systems programme, it was clear that this was precisely where his mindset changed from wanting to work for a big company, to wanting to start one. He says, “There are multiple group projects where there is a big responsibility for a large-scale project. Just look at the EIT InnoEnergy Project of the Year (IPoY). The students have high independence, high responsibility, unpredictable international context, and direct impact. That’s exactly what it’s like day to day in a start-up.” What better way to get a taste and prepare them to start their own companies?! And Michiel knows that just because he’s finished the MSc SELECT programme doesn’t mean his ties to EIT InnoEnergy have ended. This is where their valuable network comes in and more specifically, he sees in the future potential in closer collaboration – for example, setting up innovation projects together. “EIT InnoEnergy can be a great catalyst for working together with large manufacturers and organisations.”
It’s an exciting time at taylor, and they are poised for the next big step. “At the moment we are testing our technology on a demonstrator at the TU/e, and in the coming months will start tests with launching customers. As we speak, our first order of our products is being shipped to be integrated into a client’s innovative modules. It’s a nice transition… to go from technology development in a lab to product development together with partners.”
They are thinking big for the future as Michiel shares, “Our high-volume market introduction is set for Q3 2020. However, for the long term, we hope that through partnerships with innovative module developers we can integrate solar into everyday life. So that instead of concerning ourselves with the technical side of making sure there are enough panels on a roof to provide electricity, this part can be a no-brainer – so we can focus on the real purpose – to have a house that truly provides us comfort.”
Seeking EIT InnoEnergy students!
They have also taken full advantage of having access to some of the most innovative minds in renewable energy today: “We, of course, already have EIT InnoEnergy students as part of our team – but we are always looking for new talent. Not only if you have a background in power electronics, but also in finance, or business development – we’d like to hear from you! We provide a competitive environment for independent, talented people to do their thesis or (part-time) jobs. Potentially also in collaboration with our partners.” So those of you looking to gain experience in a real-life start-up, this is your chance!
Advice for future innovators
Michiel shares what drives him: “For me, the big challenge is the fact that climate change truly is a global problem for which everybody has to transition. Rich, poor, individuals, multi-nationals, nations, each have to participate. This is both daunting, yet at the same time creates an opportunity for people to make a direct impact themselves in the way they believe that they have the most added value.” His calling was clear. But he also offers advice on how everyone can start taking action to be a part of what’s coming, and find their true talent so they can best contribute. “Start setting up your own ideas. It can be anything. A new event, a new student team, win a student competition. Especially when you are still studying, initiating new things is the best way to find out about what you are really good at, and what you are not so good at. Finding your strengths through testing them are going to make you the most effective innovator you can be!”
To learn how to make a real contribution to minimising the environmental impact of current and future energy systems – check out Master’s in Environomical Pathways for Sustainable Energy Systems (MSc SELECT).