The NTS-Group is one of the founding fathers of the Eindhoven Startup Alliance – a joint initiative to aid in the creation of the next-generation OEMs. In this candid interview, CEO Marc Hendrikse shares about his history of working with startups and the strengths of the Eindhoven region, and reflects on the startup working spirit.
Meet Marc Hendrikse, CEO of NTS-Group – a first-tier supplier in the high-tech industry. The NTS-Group develops, manufactures, and assembles high-grade opto-mechatronic systems, modules, and components for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) around the world.
One might expect the CEO of a large high-tech corporation to be quite an intimidating figure. And although Marc does tower over most of the rest of us in height, we found him to be very down-to-earth and approachable. What struck us was his wealth of knowledge about the industry, and his insightful perspective on trends in the region.
NTS-Group specializes in what is called “opto-mechatronic systems”. They develop modules and systems that have to do with accurate motion and positioning in machines. Their main markets are the semiconductor industry and the industrial sector, but they also work in the analysis equipment, healthcare, and printing markets.
A History of Working with Startups
Marc describes NTS-Group as being “very willing” to become a part of the Eindhoven Startup Alliance. The reason for this, he offers, is because NTS-Group has a history of working with startups.
“NTS-Group was created 11 years ago out of a merger between two companies,” Marc relates. “From that moment on, we have been working with startups, creating machines for them based on their concept, against a cost-price that would allow them to enter the market and be successful.”
The NTS-Group has recently been working with a startup called Phenom-World. Phenom-World is a leading global supplier of desktop scanning electron microscopes and imaging and analysis packages for sub-micron-scale applications. NTS-Group has been working together with Sioux Embedded Systems, another Eindhoven Startup Alliance member, to develop the microscopes.
Working with startups isn’t always easy, however. Poor product-market fit, lack of finances, and team issues are troubles that often plague startups. “It’s always a struggle at some point,” Marc admits. “That’s part of the game. Luckily, we’ve had successful stories.”
They have the right people and experience to drive the business side. It’s important as a startup with no more than 5 people on the team to have someone give you a hand in the critical periods.
Because he is aware of the potential difficulties, Marc says he is happy that HighTechXL will be working with the startups in the Eindhoven Startup Alliance. “I support that the startups are being helped and guided by experienced people, in order to ‘de-risk’”, he states. HighTechXL’s experienced innovation team has helped more than 30 startups to raise early-stage funding, and has built up a community of experts – mentors and entrepreneurs, who are there to help.
What NTS-Group Can Offer
According to Marc, the most important thing that NTS-Group can offer the startups is the freedom to be able to focus on their core business, without having to worry about production. “NTS-Group has all of the competencies under one roof to be able to help a startup enter the market faster,” he explains. “We can step in at a very early stage (prototyping), and get the concept into a reproducible machine (design for manufacture). We can start the production, and we can scale it. We have the whole package, which can be a very costly thing for [the startups] to do.” In addition, he says: “They can rely on our operation and supply chain management, which is not only based in the Netherlands, but also in three other countries.”
Time is of the essence for startups. Marc stressed the fact that there is often a “window of opportunity” in which startups can get their product to market. “If you are too slow, competition will catch up and take over, and you can lose your window of opportunity.” That’s why the help that NTS-Group can offer is so crucial for these early-stage companies.
Eindhoven: The Perfect Place for Collaboration
Marc speaks fondly of the Eindhoven region’s history. “Eindhoven has a unique history, based on the Philips history, with open innovation,” he shares. Eindhoven is home to large industry leaders, such as Philips and ASML, but also to SMEs and companies growing within the region to become industry leaders. It’s an entire ecosystem dedicated to developing machines, building machines, and selling machines.
He believes that Eindhoven’s strength lies in the collaborative nature of the environment. “One of the greatest assets of this region is that we work together. We have competitors, but we also work closely with them too. It’s an environment where we make the cake bigger instead of fighting over the last part of the cake.”
This is why, along with the other members of the Eindhoven Startup Alliance, NTS-Group wants to see the region produce more OEMs with far-reaching influence. The more competition, the better.
Marc laments the fact that in the past, the region has been too dependent on one or two larger companies in the region such as Philips and DAF Trucks, and more recently, ASML. Many Eindhoven residents are still stinging from the memory of the economic downturn that hit the region in the 1990s. Two of Eindhoven’s most important companies – Philips and DAF Trucks – had hit hard times, which took a tremendous toll on the region.
Marc says that by helping high-tech startups, the alliance can encourage the development of more influential companies, so that the region can decrease its dependence on just one or two large companies.
A Call for an Entrepreneurial Spirit
More important than bridging the gap between startups and larger corporates, Marc says, is the general trend of encouraging the entrepreneurial attitude within the bigger companies. I believe companies are slowly distancing themselves from the old system of working where everything is structured, where procedures and hierarchy are dictating the working culture,” he explains. “We are not playing cat and mouse here – both small and big companies have their strengths and advantages. But we’d like to see more people thinking and acting like entrepreneurs.”
The Eindhoven Startup Alliance was founded in May 2016 with the mission to create the next generation original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). It is a joint initiative of ABN AMRO, ASML, Brabant Development Agency (BOM), Brainport Development, EY and HVG, High Tech Campus Eindhoven, Municipality of Eindhoven, NTS Group, and Philips. The members support startups participating in HighTechXL’s acceleration programs to help solve some of their challenges – through mentoring, by connecting them to other companies in their supply chain, or by becoming launching customers.