Courtesy of Toptica Photonics Diode and fiber laser technology is ideally suited to allow transfer from the optical ab into real-world applications.
For more than a decade this self-funded company has worked to develop and
commercialize diode and fiber lasers while remaining active in the research community.
Tunable diode lasers were developed in 1995 by Theodor Hänsch’s research
group at the Ludwigs-Maximilians University in Munich. With their promise
for industrial applications, they piqued
the interest of Toptica’s precursor company, Technolas. Although I had not yet
finished my Ph.D. at the time, the people
at Technolas identified me from the start
as a key player because I had worked
with tunable diode laser systems for the
previous four years.
This was the opportunity that I had
longed for—to extend my academic path
by pursuing an entrepreneurial venture.
A small team that I led quickly developed
external-cavity diode lasers, including
low-noise driver and control electronics,
and we introduced them into the market
at the Munich fair called LASER in 1995.
From the beginning, one of the core
markets for the company was laser tools
that could physically manipulate atoms
using resonant radiation pressure. Laser
cooling—the process of making cold
atoms and studying their interactions—
has become one of the major research
areas of modern physics; three Nobel
Prizes have been awarded for work in this
area over the past 12 years. Toptica has
been contributing to this development
for many years, helping to accelerate
progress in this very competitive field.
Headquarters: Munich, Germany
and Rochester, N. Y., U.S.A.
Products: Diode lasers
Founders: Wilhelm Kaenders
and Thomas Weber
Number of employees: 95
Partners: Alfred Leitenstorfer,
Launching the company
In 1998, my colleague Thomas Weber
and I launched Toptica as an indepen-
dent business. We have enjoyed double-
digit growth rates ever since. Gaining
recognition as a supportive and delivering
member of the scientific community is
very important to us. At the same time,
knowing how fast research interests move,
we have also taken care to have multiple
lines of technology in house beyond
research. In fact, in 1998, when we had
only seven people on board, we started
working on optical disk storage technolo-
gies. This was triggered by customers’
needs and a U.S. support program on
optically assisted magnetic storage.
Advice to the aspiring entrepreneur
Enjoy what you do. Toptica was founded, and is run by, two passionate
physicists, and it is strongly driven by technology. As an employer, we appeal
to young researchers who enjoy our team approach and company culture.
Think globally: Despite our relatively small size, we have developed a global
market presence. The ubiquitous Internet is a great tool for businesses
looking to expand beyond their borders.
Believe in yourself: Toptica has become a role model for academic startups.
We are typical for Germany and other European countries, where funding
rules differ from elsewhere in the world. We couldn’t have succeeded without
being confident and committed to our vision.
10 | OPN Optics & Photonics News