On the occasion of rqmicro’s 10th anniversary, we talked to the company’s founder and CEO, Dr. Hans-Anton Keserue to learn more about the first decade of business, and his vision for the microbial detection company moving forward.
Given that your PhD was in rapid pathogen detection, what’s been the most interesting part of taking your idea from the laboratory to the market? Did the company develop the way you had originally envisioned it? Did anything change along the way?
Developing tech is really something I like, but I found getting to know the customer, industry, needs, and pains to be the most interesting - and most challenging - at the same time. Of course, at the beginning you think everything will be fast…until you realize that things are not as easy as you thought to start on such an endeavor.
Likewise, I expected the adoption of new technologies in the market to be much faster. So, we as a company learned to focus on the most customers issues and direct all efforts towards that. This meant forgoing potential opportunities that our technology could support. That’s something very hard for a founder, especially one that likes to see their product create maximum value for customers and society at large.
The discovery of water-borne bacteria goes back to 1676, and there have been other means to detect microorganisms in water long before rqmicro was founded. Why was it important for you to start a company and develop a new means of detection?
Even though water-borne bacteria were discovered long ago, the main method to analyze them has not changed fundamentally at all. The cultivation method (the process of growing and multiplying bacterial cells in a laboratory setting) only quantifies a fraction of bacteria present in the water and typically has a high variability. For example, in a typical bottle of spring water there could be anywhere from 50 to 250,000 bacteria per milliliter.
Since most of these bacteria cannot be cultivated, results obtained this way are often 1,000 times lower than the actual number of bacteria. More recent alternative methods, like PCR, do not work well either.
Take E. coli, an indicator bacteria for fecal contamination and some strains can be very dangerous. There are still no useful rapid tests for water out there that can replace the outdated cultivation method which can create multiple operational and financial risks and unnecessary cost burden in supply chains and various industries.
We urgently need rapid tests to increase the reuse of water for industry and agriculture worldwide. Flow cytometry offers these possibilities, but instruments today are made for researchers in labs and complicated to use. We have enabled everyone to profit from flow applications with an easy to use, maintenance free, plug-and-play device.
What’s been the most interesting part of telling the rqmicro story these past 10 years? The most challenging? Over those 10 years, what are you most proud of?
Building a dedicated team is the most challenging but also generates the best payback.
At the start we hired for experience, but time has shown us that focusing on values, motivation and potential leads to better output and employee satisfaction. Obviously, I am very proud on what we achieved tech-wise: Creating a company and team that tackled issues pretty much everyone told us would be impossible to solve.
What do you think are the biggest opportunities or industries for the company to focus on right now?
There are several key opportunities. The reuse of water is a major topic in many places around the world. At the same time, many large corporations seek to reduce their water discharge and therefore increase their ratio of water which is reused.
Land-based aquaculture (fish farming) is another interesting example where you have very high degrees of water reuse and a close relationship between water quality and the end-product, e.g. the fish.
In another 10 years, where do you see the company in your most ideal vision?
In 10 years, I see a large customer base that benefits from rapid and quantitative microbial monitoring. Microbiology parameters will become as widespread as chemical parameters are today. rqmicro will be a go-to name for anyone that seeks to benefit from better microbiology data to control their process water or drinking water systems.