Industry leader interviews – Oscar Kox

Tech entrepreneur Oscar Kox shares his motivation behind setting up a lab automation company (iVention) in a market with established competitors and tells us his tips to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

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Oscar, please introduce yourself

I am Oscar Kox, and I am an analytical chemist by training. After I graduated I worked in a laboratory, but with my energy levels I knew I wanted a change of setting. I did not want to discard all my hard work and studies, so I started working for Thermo LabSystems, where I started my sales role with LIMS. It seemed I was pretty good at this: – I understood the software, I understood the customer, I understood the lab process and the demos went well.

After 8 years at Thermo, I moved to London to work for R&D software and solutions company, IDBS. My focus at IDBS was ELN systems, and I stayed there for five years: I had accounts mainly in Europe but also a couple of global accounts.

In 2010, I set up my own lab automation company called iVention. We set iVention up with just two employees, using our own finance and have grown the company organically. 

What made you decide to set up a business from the ground up in a market with established competitors?

We set out to create an automated upgrade platform for LIMS/LES/ELN/(S)DMS, which supports all functional areas within a single technology platform.

I know the competitors in the market well and I have a lot of respect for them, they do good implementations, but I feel there is a lack of innovation. If you look at Salesforce, or Tesla, or Microsoft 365, the system is being updated constantly at no additional cost. Why should lab automation instrumentation be any different? That is the reason I set up iVention – we are trying to change the model.

How is iVention’s approach different in terms of the technology and the business model?

Customers in the market do not look for only LIMS or only ELN anymore – they want an integrated system, a Platform. The iVention vision was to create a lab execution system within a single platform to supply all functionality requirements with no need for modules or extra payments on upgrades. Our platform allows customers to use the LIMS entity in the ELN and visa versa, giving the ability to mix up structured and unstructured data, and do everything in one platform. We like to compare it with Lego; we use functional building blocks that work seamlessly together as one.

How does iVention approach product development?

In terms of product development, we are agile. This means we cut everything down into small pieces and deliver quicker releases. This enables us to ship releases every two weeks (which is more manageable than bigger updates every six months or annually) and therefore mitigates risk. Agile implementations mean we do a very simple implementation, go live and then work from there to enhance the functionality and configuration. The simpler the system is to go live, the easier it is accepted.

While customers do not make initial decisions to buy based on long-term service, we invest strongly into support for our customers, with automation and upgrades as part of their contract. For example, we have automated OQ scripts, which we feel really is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow because the whole process is automated.  

Is iVention today what you expected to build ten years’ ago? Are you where you expected to be?

I am now not only responsible for sales but for services, support, the development team, management of capacity, and so on. I love the responsibility.

I thought the pickup would have been at a higher pace, but we are in a very conservative industry. I quickly realised the importance of having people on the ground, so we are strong in Europe especially in DACH countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), in North America and in India thanks to the teams we have built.

There is one mission statement I came up with when we started up in 2010 – happy customers. That is really big for me, and I am immensely proud that we have not had a single customer loss in 10 years!

Who is your customer base and what is your global footprint?

A large portion of our target audience works in a regulated environment, in pharma, and there are also some big food and beverage companies that we work with. We also now have a growing footprint in the water industry, as there is a strong regulatory demand for sample management.

It is always good to have first mover customers in a market, so they can see your solution and talk about it to others in the market. Again, this is a conservative industry – people buy from people.

Our growth has been sustained by global partnerships, including Microsoft, LabTwin, Dextr and Perkin Elmer. We plan to grow our global footprint in the coming years, as people on the ground allows us to penetrate local markets and clients. We currently have a total of 75 people working for iVention, and very good global coverage. Our headquarters is in the Netherlands, where I am based. We have regional footprints all over the world, including an office in India, where our Global Configurations Manager is based.

However, the biggest growth area for us currently is DACH supported by our regional office in Switzerland. Next year we plan to triple our revenue across the DACH area. Our growth comes from wider knowledge and acceptance of our technology, for example, in the last three weeks we have signed up over 300 new users. We invest strongly in people in each region to support our growing customer base.

How has COVID-19 impacted you and your customers in 2020?

Since late February, all our consultants across the globe have worked remotely and have moved all ongoing projects online. As you can imagine, it has been a huge relief to our customers that we have been able to continue with projects despite the stringent travel restrictions and challenging circumstances.

We have adapted well to COVID, and these times have actually helped us to showcase the full capabilities, power and strength of our product.  We support all our implementations online, which has proved the power of the platform and the SAAS cloud technology. We can work from anywhere.

What makes iVention a success and what do you feel makes you a successful entrepreneur?

We started the company with no Venture Capital, so we are completely private, there is no external money in the company. We have built this company with decency, knowledge and with a strategy.

I think it helps that I had a reason for starting iVention. I still work as hard because I want to change this industry by highlighting it is about staying ahead of the game and constant innovation. People like to drive a Tesla; many people purchase them for the environment, but a lot of people do because it is simply great technology!

I see iVention as a family business – we go on skiing holidays with the whole team every year and do regular outings. During COVID it has been difficult and we all really miss that interaction. I miss my team! I like to make people successful in their roles, but also make iVention successful with the ambitions that we have.

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For more information, please contact one of the Scimcon team today

+44 (1638) 661 631

info@scimcon.com

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