By Payal Gwalani
SINGAPORE, February 7, 2021 – Singapore-based tech startup Simtrum is stirring up a revolution in the optics and photonics industry. It aims to make the B2B transactions within the industry simpler, shorter and more efficient. Launched formally in April 2020, it has already made close to a million sales.
The company was born out of founder John Yuan‘s personal experience of over 12 years within many Photonics and optoelectronics companies. As a technical engineer, he started with sales and moved his way up to become director. Simtrum was operational in a soft launch in 2019 and fully launched its business phase in 2020. During his work, Yuan realised that use of middlemen made the B2B purchases within the industry a cumbersome process that required more time, effort and money.
“We bridge the gap by hosting meetings and conferences between customer and manufacturer to understand their business and technical needs, benefiting both parties greatly. This is just phase 1; phase 2 is the software that would automate this process,” Yuan explains how the business works. He adds that the front-end team interacts with the customers pre-vets the products before uploading to our software, after which the software team takes over.
Traditionally, this process would take two mediums to communicate in – written needs of the end product’s demands and visualization of the solution. This translates to weeks of emails, not even considering negotiations and admin time. “Our software is a platform for communication combining the two – allowing customers to translate their needs directly and incorporating their current system into the negotiations. We perform this through a design system, propriety ease of use for both customer and manufacturer and seamless communication,” says Yuan.
Talking about the traditional manner in which this is done, he speaks about the use of middlemen by both customers and manufacturers. “More often than not, the companies manufacturing cutting-edge innovations do not get any exposure where their product can be useful. The market for products in the photonics industry is so big; middlemen are needed to understand the resources available and the production chain of system solutions to make the best use of their budget,” he says. This, often, results in increased prices and even a considerable discrepancies in prices of items that would perform the same.
What makes Simtrum unique as a platform, and helps in cutting down the purchase time, are its visualization and communication tools. The platform also had an educational feature, where people can learn more about the industry and the technologies it employs. This was done to solve another problem that Yuan saw the industry suffer from.
“Photonics is a growing industry that has the potential to create more and more opportunities. However, this industry is still suffering from the lack of a skilled workforce. Singapore does not offer formal education at the optics or photonics, but rather just course modules. There is a gap between industry needs and what academia trains,” he informs.
Besides being exposed to industry tools, even softwares made by other companies like Zemax, the simulation feature can feel them translate their ideas into products. They can access a virtual optical lab with unlimited optical components from all suppliers, design and develop their experiment without having physical access to any lab. “They will also access thousands of setups and optical modules designed by our teams. Our software will be open-source, the student can share their layout and learn from the expert. Our software will also help them gain technical skills related to telecommunication, microscopy and spectroscopy. These skills will put them ahead of thousands of applicants when they want to enter the job market,” says an excited Yuan about the educational tools available on Simtrum.
Wearing multiple hats
This is a business that requires one to wear multiple hats, or as Yuan says a specialisation in at least two fields – technical and business. “The technical role would support the research work that you’re doing. You would also need business and marketing knowledge to be familiar with the product landscape out there,” he clarifies.
Understanding the high knowledge ceiling required to establish itself in the photonics industry, Simtrum has a pool of 2 PhDs and 3-degree holders in physics and engineering to handle the technical aspects. By hiring people with such a strong tech background up to (which is not normal for a start-up of this nature), it establishes its knowledge capabilities. Then, there’s Yuan and others with over a decade of experience within the industry and familiar with the players. After receiving a lot of positive feedback in the form of great sales and global enquiries, the tech startup is ready to onboard more people onto their e-commerce platform.
Yuan believes that Singapore is a research hub with 100s of millions of dollars in funding. By shortening the procurement chain, he believes, the turnover of ideas at a higher rate and creation of a broader range of tools available is possible. “We wish to establish ourselves as a one-stop-shop for photonics in Singapore, giving users access to what they need in a timely manner, allowing for prototyping and problem solving with efficiency. We hope to deliver the best SaaS for our industry partners, improving productivity and simplifying what used to be complicated multi-stage processes,” says Yuan about the long term plans of Simtrum.