We talked to Yury Pozdnyakov of DEPHAN LLC about the next-generation photodetectors with outstanding technical performance, and he had the following to say;-
First of all, how are you and DEPHAN doing in these COVID-19 times?
Yury Pozdnyakov: Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words about DEPHAN at startup.info. In fact, our company has better chances to adapt to the new reality, compared to many others. The general decline in activity is obvious, and we are also affected somehow. However, as we work in the R&D and b2b model, this influence is not critical.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined DEPHAN.
Yury Pozdnyakov: I graduated from the faculty of physics at Lomonosov Moscow State University; then I made a Ph.D. thesis in Russian Research Center “Kurchatov Institute.” I have over 15 years of experience in the management of scientific and innovation companies (including a carrier at the Innovation Management Department in “Rosatom” and Russian Quantum Center as Deputy CEO). Being a specialist in building, leading, and motivating teams to be aligned with business requirements, in 2016 was invited to join the Dephan company as CEO.
The direction of analog photodetectors with increased dynamic range, high sensitivity, and speed was opened in the RQC in 2013. In 2014, the PhotoDetector Analog (DEPHAN) project was registered as a separate company and began setting up the technology on the fab, and in 2017 the pilot samples of the device were already obtained.
How does DEPHAN innovate?
Yury Pozdnyakov: We develop a ground-breaking technology, which enables highly sensitive detection of light signals. Unlike competing solutions, the DEPHAN photomultiplier can operate under conditions of strong background illumination, is manufactured using CMOS-compatible technology, and can contain many photosensitive elements on a single chip. Such a combination of parameters is highly demanded, in particular, in the LiDAR market for unmanned vehicles and drones. The market for unmanned vehicles is now experiencing a real boom, which stirs up the interest of manufacturers in new technologies.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Yury Pozdnyakov: Of course, the general decline in business activity was notable for us. However, as I said above, this did not have a decisive effect on the overall performance of the company.
Unfortunately, we were practically deprived of the opportunity to take part in professional exhibitions and conferences. Online communication cannot be as effective as a live one, which is of great importance if you want to find partners, make contacts, or just keep abreast of events. Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties, we managed to attract new partners and potential clients.
Currently, the DEPHAN product samples have been tested by a number of international companies, and we are looking forward to the start of industrial manufacture, which is scheduled for the next year.
Concerning the activity inside the company, – naturally, the efficiency of management within the company has dropped somewhat, and the decision-making time has grown. But this caused no principal problems versus the overall slowdown of business activity, which was far more significant.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Yury Pozdnyakov: This year turned out to be difficult for us, and the plans had to be adjusted; nevertheless, it was not in vain. We have learned a lot, made progress in the commercial direction – we have real orders. I am sure that next year will be a turning point for us, as we analyzed the mistakes and know how to overcome difficulties together.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Yury Pozdnyakov: Our business process normally involves some online activity. For example, interaction with the electro physics modeling team has always been carried out remotely, at least 80%. We had only weekly online meetings with them. So, there was not much to be changed here.
From time to time, we organized students lectures online. During 2020 this activity has transferred on a more regular basis.
Luckily, a part of the team was in live contact all through the hard times. Several technological procedures can neither be frozen nor managed remotely, so our engineers must be present in the lab as usual. Some of the management periodically visited the office, and so did I (despite a considerable disadvantage – the inability to have a normal lunch at work, because all cafes/restaurants were closed).
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Yury Pozdnyakov: Photodetection is an essential component of any contemporary LiDAR application. Currently, there are two main instrumental solutions available at the market: Avalanche Photodiodes (APDs) and Silicon PhotoMultipliers (SiPM). Each of which has its own drawbacks. Our creative idea was to develop quite a different approach instead of simply improving SiPM or APD design. We managed to do this. The design of the DEPHAN photomultiplier is principally new. This original technology meets our goals and gives an essential response to both APD and SiPM problems.
Your final thoughts?
Yury Pozdnyakov: Testing results obtained so far give firm evidence that our product holds the promise of bringing additional value within a wide range of applications: LiDAR, Medical equipment, Biotechnology, Industrial measurement, Spectrophotometry, Aerospace applications, etc. We have every chance to bring to the market the product everyone is waiting for. We are ready to do everything possible and impossible to make this happen.