Head of Leningrad Laser Systems on Specifics of Russian Optical Components Market
Headed by ITMO graduate Nikita Burov, the Leningrad Laser Systems company has been selling components and equipment to enterprises, research centers and laboratories that work in the field of photonics and optics since 2016. In 2019, the company became resident of ITMO Technopark, and now makes use of the university’s scientific expertise for developing its produce. In an interview for ITMO.NEWS, Mr. Burov spoke about the current issues of the optical components market and how one can become part of their team.
What is the story behind Leningrad Laser Systems, and why you decided to collaborate with ITMO University?
Our company was founded in 2016; it grew from a team of developers who focused on minor projects into a major distribution company. One of our key areas of focus is supplying various laboratories and enterprises with equipment and optical components, from optical tables and local clean rooms to components for fiber-optic solid-state lasers.
In 2018, we decided that our prospects in scientific activities looked quite promising, and decided to become residents of ITMO Technopark. We’ll be opening our own laboratory here, which will make it easier for us to make use of the local scientific infrastructure. We already collaborate with several laboratories, among which are Arthur Gleim’s Quantum Informatics Lab and the Research Institute of Light-Guided Photonics. We also collaborate with the School of Photonics and the International Research Center of Biophotonics, Optical and Quantum Information. We also want to start working on developing and manufacturing our own produce. What’s more, we are considering commercializing projects developed by ITMO’s research fellows.
What are the key areas that you are currently working in?
There are several of them. The first is quantum communications. We collaborate with Russia’s leading teams who focus on quantum cryptography and communications, most of which stem from the Russian Quantum Center, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Kazan Quantum Center and ITMO University.
We supply them with components and ready systems for fiber-optical lasers and amplifiers, from pumping sources and fiber Bragg gratings to narrowband fiber laser detection systems and high-energy lasers for material processing.
Another field that we are currently developing is working with different research teams from leading universities and research centers such as Lomonosov Moscow State University, MEPhI, the Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg State University, ITMO University, Rosatom, and others.
What is your company’s distinguishing feature? What makes you different from your competitors?
We have exclusive distributorship, i.e. a unique right for procuring equipment of particular manufacturers in Russia. For example, we are authorized agents of the Swiss II-VI Laser Enterprise (laser diodes) and the Chinese manufacturer LightComm (fiber-optical components, detection systems and high-energy lasers). We also represent the ID Quantique company (single-photon detectors); on the whole, there’s a considerable number of companies that we work with. As we have great technical competencies and offer client support on all stages of a deal, we indeed offer a unique kind of service.
Do you represent international companies only, or you work with national manufacturers, as well?
There are some items we’ve been developing by ourselves, and we recently did a catalog of the Russian produce we offer. We also seek to involve Russian developers who produce on the Russian territory in order to promote them on both national and international markets. What’s more, there are laboratories at ITMO University that produce unique wares, but don’t do sales. In such cases, we offer them to use our brand, enter into agreements and distribute information about them via our channels. Today, there’s some demand for Russian produce from our international partners, but we are still to strike any deals. One of the steps we are planning to take in this regard is to participate in the LASER World of PHOTONICS exhibition in Munich this year.
Why can’t the customers address a foreign vendor directly, and have to employ services like the ones your offer?
This has to do with several factors. First of all, the task of our specialists is to define which produce from a wide range of offers will be best for the client. Also, there are delivery dates to consider. We are constantly monitoring new arrivals, attend international conferences and keep tabs on the market. This means that our customers don’t have to spend time on figuring which of some 50 vendors will be able to sell them what they need, whether they have the best offer and so on: all of that is done by us.
Secondly, you have to understand that there’s the issue of sanctions, so not every company can sell their produce in Russia, and particular organizations can’t make purchases from foreign vendors. For example, Lomonosov Moscow State University has to deal with such limitations. On the whole, many of our clients work with grant money, which implies having at least one more Russian agency participating in every deal.
Thirdly, we spend lots of time to make sense of who’s producing what in order to buy high-quality goods. For instance, Chinese manufacturers offer a wide range of products, and we fly to China three-four times a year to visit their factories and ascertain their quality. We also do regular visits to Europe. Buying a proper lens or crystal is no easy task, so many institutions seek the help of companies such as ours.
Also, there are private companies that are ready to employ our services. We assume all kind of warranty liabilities, while simply clearing entry customs can already be a trouble. Just think about all the stages from contacting a supplier to training personnel to work with the new equipment: any customer will prefer to address a company that specializes in such matters.
Please expand on your communication with customers after you get a request.
It all depends on the request. If it’s about solving a technical problem, then we decide on which specialists will take this task. We have specialists in quantum cryptography and fiber-optical lasers, as well as those who focus on material processing: marking, engraving and so on. So, we start solving the technical task, and then our manager comes up with a commercial offer. If the customer accepts it, the order is dealt with by our sales manager.
Why do you think you’ve become successful, even though you are relatively new to this market?
There are several companies in Russia who offer these kinds of services. I think that our key advantage is our specialists’ expertise. In our case, selling equipment and components has a lot to do with customer support and the associated competencies. We’ve succeeded in establishing communication with developers and representatives of the scientific community; most of our specialists have an academic background. Other companies that work in similar fields can’t offer anything like this.
In March, you’ll be participating in the “Photonics. World of Lasers and Optics-2019” exhibition. Why is it so important for your company?
We see it as one of the most significant events of the year. Our international partners will attend the event, and get an opportunity to meet our Russian customers. Thus, we’ll be able to hold lots of important meetings and present our whole range of products.
We’ll also be demonstrating our new produce: equipment for laser marking and engraving and the associated components. There will also be special exhibitions on measuring equipment, radiophotonics, testing of fiber-optical components and PDV systems. We’ll also be making an emphasis on micro- and nanopositioning systems.
Who now works at Leningrad Laser Systems, and what kind of specialists are you ready to employ?
Today, we have 22 specialists working for the company, but we plan on making it 30. We have research officers who focus on high-energy fiber-optical lasers, specialists on drawing optical fiber, experts in the field of laser technology. On the whole, we need constant access to competencies from various fields.
Even as we speak, we have about 8 open vacancies: we are looking for both developers and engineers with specific scientific background and specialists in sales and public relations. We have several PhD students working with us part-time, so that’s also an option. We are interested in people who can attract inventions that can be used in creating commercial products, for example, a new fiber amplifier or solid-state laser. Also, we need a specialist who has experience of working with femtosecond laser systems.
How do you plan to promote your presence on national and international markets?
We are launching our own laboratory, for which we already bought particular equipment. It will serve several purposes: small-scale manufacturing and development of particular kinds of produce, for example, things like thulium lasers that can be applied in medicine. Nowadays, there are few companies in Russia that are capable of producing such devices.
We also plan to open a showroom. The customers will be able to come there and try out the equipment they want to buy, and then decide whether they want to make the purchase. We also plan to offer services on testing components and crystals. Still, the most important part of our plans is to bring the national produce to the international market.