Engaging with the photonics community

The European Photonic Industry Consortium (EPIC) is growing rapidly and fostering the photonics industry community in Europe and beyond.

A five-mile run in the morning before a workshop was one of EPIC’s community-building recipes.
A five-mile run in the morning before a workshop was one of EPIC’s community-building recipes.

On August 29th and 30th I attended the World Photonics Technology Summit in Berlin, Germany. It was a small technical conference with about 150 participants (mostly C-level industry officers) organized by the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC). While the technical presentations were truly interesting throughout the two days, it is EPIC’s talent to connect people that fascinates me.

Last year I wrote about “Three ingredients for successful photonics community engagement” and took a look at EPIC’s success story. With more than 150 company visits in 2018 and some 22 events for its members, they are constantly on site in the photonics community. They listen attentively and encourage others to think for the community as well. As an example, each speaker in the conference was asked after the speaker's presentation: “What do you offer to the audience here and what would you need from these people?”

In 2018 EPIC attracted 102 new members, reaching the magic number of 500 corporate members in 2019. In comparison, OIDA, the OSA Industry Development Associates, a trade association operated as a division of The Optical Society (OSA), names 255 members on its website. Spectaris, the German Hightech Industry Association, has some 400 members.

Europe has other photonics community organizations too; the biggest could be Photonics21, with about 3000 personal members from more than 1700 photonics industry and research organizations. Personal membership in Photonics21 is free of charge. The idea behind Photonics21 is to collect the input from the community, build a strategic research agenda, and present it to the officers of the EU. Based on their political guidelines and the feedback from the community, they then draw up funding programs. In the current Research Framework Programme Horizon 2020, the European Commission is investing EUR 700 million (out of an € 80 billion budget) in photonics funding programs.

The discussion with the European Union is currently a hot topic. A new funding program “Horizon Europe” is in preparation for the time from 2021 to 2027. It comprises about € 100 billion for research and innovation funding. And the first drafts did not mention photonics as a separate funding priority or partnership. This coursed an outcry in the community and intense communication efforts from EPIC and Photonics21.

Was that successful? I talked with Markus Wilkens from Photonics21 and with Carlos Lee from EPIC and both recognized increased awareness for photonics. More details might be expected from a meeting of Spectaris on September 12, where officials from the EU and the German government will speak about funding policy.

Meanwhile, Carlos Lee, the general director of EPIC, has ambitious plans for the organization: he wants to grow to 750 members in two years and to 1000 within four years. His team of currently eight people is constantly expanding and organizing a never ending series of company visits, technical workshops, and trade show presentations. While they focus on the benefit of their members, they have an impact beyond that. Their network extends around the world and strengthens the visibility of photonics in the public and in the eyes of political representatives. Both can hardly be overestimated – not only in times of budget planning.

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