Skip to content
Close Overlay
Terry Boyd
Less than 1 minute Minutes

From scaling mountains to scaling companies, Boudewijn Docter is always up for the adventure

Boudewijn Docter isn’t a guy who studied startups in some MBA class. This is a guy who lived the startup roller coaster for 12 years, who knows how to gut it out and lead while multitasking. Meet our new Chief Growth Officer.

There’s a saying in The Valley that A Players like to work with A Players.

Well, Boudewijn Docter, co-founder of EFFECT Photonics, is an A Player and HighTechXL has him. Boudewijn and Tim Koene started EFFECT Photonics in 2009 at a lab at Technical University of Eindhoven, a company they built into a global photonic semiconductor company.

A really big company that has advanced photonics chip technology.

This isn’t a guy who studied startups in some MBA class or worked in the safety of an internal team at a big corporation or as a consultant.

This is a guy who lived the startup roller coaster for 12 years, who knows how to gut it out and lead while multitasking. A guy who got his PhD in photonics, then immediately segued into what became EFFCT photonics. A guy who raised an A Round in 2014, just five years after finishing his PhD.

As of 2023, EFFECT Photonics has about 100 employees and operations in the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom and Taiwan. And an acquisition.

So, now Boudewijn gets to sit back and survey his kingdom from a C-suite, high above the day-to-day madness, right?

That’s not Boudewijn Docter.

He’s reached a phase where EFFECT Photonics is successful, “but do I need to spend all of my time on the operational day-to-day management? I’m not sure if I’m bringing so much added value to the table anymore.”

“When I started EFFECT photonics, I was always very honest with myself, my team and the investors. I said, ‘Look, founding a company is easy. Registering a company … anybody can do that and you’re a founder, right? But different phases of the company require different skill sets. And whether you as a founder are able to grow along with the company is not a given, right? And will you enjoy all those phases the company goes through?”

Boudewijn asked himself where he could make the most impact … the most fun and essentially reconnect with the real Boudewijn Docter. So, he jumped to HighTechXL, wanting to play more of a direct role as a mentor and coach, with greater impact.

“I want others to experience the adventure I went through.”

He’ll still play a role as EFFECT Photonics founder and one of the pioneers of the Dutch photonics ecosystem. But his focus will be attracting more A players to HighTechXL and building deep-tech ventures. “You can have great coaches, but if you don’t have the right sort of talent flowing in, you can coach all you want, but you won’t achieve much,” Boudewijn said.

There are few people qualified to do this: jumping into the startup world, working as an employee – a microcircuit designer – while still getting his electrical engineering degree at Twente University. BBV was the first company to develop the simulation and design software for photonic integrated circuits, and ultimately became part of Alcatel, now part of Nokia.

After BBV, Boudewijn led teams of 25 rock climbers through Southeast Asia to China, Pakistan, India, Iran and throughout Europe. Alas, he gave up the gig to get his PhD in photonic integrated circuits at TU/e, which is where this story really begins. Because at the end of the PhD program, he entered a business plan competition and came out with the 1st prize.

The jury thought the photonics technology was difficult but had the potential to become very big and an interesting case for VC investors. “So, after that, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I need to take this a little bit more seriously.’”

He started EFFECT Photonics with fellow student Tim Koene, but realized he’d need more people with more industry experience. So, he went through his Twente network and came up with James Regan, a Brit with extensive experience in the telecom industry. Another Brit, Robert Hughes, joined about the same time.

The team tapped into the Eindhoven ecosystem, particularly TU/e, to make their first hardware demonstrators and validate their performance. This led to the first customer traction, and they took the next step in building their dream company.

With the team in place and the first hardware running in the lab, it was time to raise money and pitch to VCs. “Investing in deep tech ventures is a risk, but investors understand that,” said Boudewijn. “If you’re honest about the risks and you have the right team in place, once you have a position, you can build it out, and it can really become something big, right? It’s a global market.”

The advantage he had – and it was just a small team at this point – is that making integrated semiconductor/optical system on a chip technology is scalable technology, yet a difficult industry for potential competitors to enter.

Boudewijn found BTOV, which stands for “Brains to Ventures,” a German-Swiss venture fund with a network of angel investors.

“Finding the right investor that really understands your technology and the market you’re trying to enter is very important. If you find a credible lead investor, you can easily convince others to join as well.”

Many follow-on investment rounds followed this Series A round. EFFECT Photonics is now well on its way to becoming a world leading company in the fiber communications market. Time for Boudewijn to let it go and find a new challenge.

The startup world is “very alluring because it’s an adventure,” says the guy who led rock climbing teams all over Asia. “The unpredictability. New people. New challenges and new problems that have to be solved.

“I like that uncertainty … that it’s not all execution.”

With HighTechXL, he’s going back to his entrepreneurial roots.

The challenge for startup teams is not to get so caught up in solving all the problems and challenges that they forget to celebrate their accomplishments along the way, Boudewijn says.

“But you need to look back and say ‘Sh*t! We’ve come a long way.’”

“That’s the part where the fulfillment comes in and where you can be really proud of what you’ve achieved in all of this, right?

“I think that’s the thing that kept me sane.”