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Azerbaijani who started a nanotechnology company in the Netherlands

Azerbaijani who started a nanotechnology company in the Netherlands

Interview
14 December 2015, 17:04 6783
He graduated from Ganja State University in 2008, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry. He worked as an engineer in several companies while he was still studying. In 2009, he started his career as a chemist in Azerbaijan International Operation Company and in the next three years he rose to the position of chief engineer on gold- copper production. In 2012, he began his Master's degree in materials science, nanochemistry and nanomaterials from the faculty of chemical engineering at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. He graduated from the university in 2014 and stayed in the said country and started a company with his supervisor. Our interviewee is Behruz Mammadov, who is the co-founder and the chief financial and operations officer at the company of  "Eurekite" based in the Netherlands. 

- Where does your interest in nanotechnology stem from? 
- I have always been interested in innovations and nanotechnology is a big trend in innovations. In general, nanotechnology is a science about very small parts and forms. If we are talking about materials chemistry, it is about the changing of the form of the materials in nano level resulting in materials that have the same chemical composition but different physical characteristics. And this, in turn, is a big progress in the field of materials. It means that, by changing the shape of the material, we can get materials that have newer and newer characteristics each time. 


- Bahruz, you have a Master's Degree in chemical engineering from the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Why did you specifically choose this country?
- The main reason why I chose the Netherlands is the Messa+Nano Technologies Institute under the Twente University. As its name suggests, this institute specializes in conducting researches in various areas of nano technology. As I wanted to specialize in nano technology and nano chemistry, I chose this country and this university. 

- What made you stay in the Netherlands after finishing your studies?
- I finished my studies in 2014. My Master's project turned into a project for a company and I had to stay in the Netherlands in order to work on this project.

- But before you started your own company, in 2014 you worked as an assistant engineer for the synthesis of nanocatalysts at the biggest chemical company in the world, BASF. Not everyone can boast about working for such a big company. 
- That is true. As it is the biggest chemical company in the world, it's very difficult to get a job there. Many chemists all over the world apply to work and do internship in this company. It is a big school for every chemist. I sent my documents to BASF through an online platform. It appears, they liked my credentials. The HR contacted me and invited me for an interview. After the initial interview, my future boss Roy interviewed me. He mainly asked me questions about chemistry, nano chemistry, and nano materials. My phone interview with him lasted about an hour and a half. After an hour an a half of interviewing, they responded in the affirmative to my job application. The six months I spent there was a great experience for me. I learned a number of new processes. I became closely acquainted with the application of nano technologies to the industry. Because there they engage in the synthesis of nano particles on a large industrial scale. It was a very interesting and innovative process. 

- Where did you get the inspiration for starting your own company?
- Actually, the idea for the company came from my master's project. My master's thesis was about nano lifts. After I concluded my project, me and my supervisor came to an agreement about starting a company and my former supervisor became my current business partner. Initially, our main focus was on scientific research groups, but currently our focus and purpose is to bring the materials based on nano lifts to the industry level.

- If we had to say it in a simpler language, what does your company do?
-  Our company specializes in making nano lift based materials. As we know, ceramic materials are resistant to temperature and aggressive chemical environment. The problem with these materials is that, their flexibility is really bad. To put it simply, we cannot bend a tea cup. The products that we produce not only are resistant to the temperature and aggressive chemical environment, but they also are as elastic as a paper. The new features that our products possess lead to creation of new devices and device elements. 

- if it's not a secret, how much profit did you make in a year?
- As we haven't had any sales since investment, it is still early to talk about the profit. The company's projected to make its initial profit in 2017. 

- This year "Eurekite" signed a contract with American investment company "Cottonwood" about an investment worth 1 million euros. How did you accomplish that?

- Getting an investment wasn't easy at all. Statistically, only one in a thousand companies receive an investment from investors. The talk about the investment lasted 6-7 months. After 7 months, we signed a contract. During this time, investors try to find out about the company's technology, the possibilities of applying that technology in various areas, markets behind the application area, market size. Another important issue is the company leaders. The skills and personal qualities of the company heads are tested during those 6-7 months. If the result is positive, a decision about the investment is made. In short, it is a long and difficult process. 

- In addition to being the co-founder of "Eurekire", you are also the CFO/COO. Isn't it difficult to manage all these as a chemical engineer? 
- I've always worked in technical fields. In Azerbaijan's gold mines, as a leading engineer in Azerbaijan International Operation Company. My education is also technical. But in time, I came to think that I've gained enough experience in this field and I wanted to learn new areas. I considered myself sufficiently trained in the field of engineering. That's why I decided to manage the financial aspect of our project. In order to make up for my inexperience, I am currently taking a course in business management. It is very crucial for both my personal and professional development. 

- How easy is it to be an entrepreneur in the Netherlands?
- The Netherlands has created a good environment for the development of small and medium- sized enterprises, particularly the innovative ideas. For instance, when we newly began to implement our ideas, the government gave us a 40 thousand Euro grant. This was given to us by government, and no deposit or compensation asked in return. After we spent the grant on our company, we applied for another grant worth 250 thousand euros. Generally, the government allocates up to 1.5 million euros for the ideas in new technologies. Big sums like this are given to potential entrepreneurs with very reasonable interest rates. Government also applies a special taxation system to innovative companies. It means, companies that meet the criteria that government sets are free from paying taxes. And it leads to more money being invested in the areas of scientific research. It comes as no surprise that, a number of big innovative companies have relocated their headquarters to the Netherlands. 

- What criteria should foreigners who wants to work in this country meet?
- I don't know much about the opportunities for people who have not studied in this country. But what I can say is that, to import highly educated and skilled individuals to their country is one of the top priorities of the Dutch government.

- What are your future plans for the company? 
- As I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, our materials have a very big application area. At the moment, we are trying to introduce nano lifts based materials to the industry and prove that they can be applied to various areas. After bringing nano lifts to desirable level, I mean, after introducing it as a new material to the market, we will start working on new projects, new materials. I can give nano ceramic panels as an example. There are two dimensional ceramic materials that have the thickness of an atom. One of the things that we want to work on in the future may be 3 D printed functional ceramic material. We generally see ourselves as a materials company and want to work on related projects. 

- The field of nanotechnology is not well developed in Azerbaijan. do you have any plans regarding our country in the future?  
- Even though the nano technology is not highly developed, it is admirable that our government understands the importance of the development of the non-oil industries and try to carry out reforms with regards to it. I don't think it's fair to compare the Kingdom of Netherlands, which has been independent for centuries, to the young Azerbaijan. The development of such sectors require hard work, investment and time. As an Azerbaijani, I would like to contribute to the development of nano technologies in Azerbaijan. If there is ever any opportunity for me to do so, I would be very happy. 

Lala MUSAQIZI