Mr. Jermolajev, You were a member of the group of experimental scientists who founded Optaglio almost 25 years ago. How did you experience this change from science to entrepreneurship?
In the beginning, all of us were working in the research centre in Dubno near Moscow. Then we moved to Prague, to Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences. It was in quite difficult time after the Velvet Revolution. Wages in science were extremely low. Monthly pay of a scientist with full academic credentials was some CZK 4500 (USD 150). Many people left science for business at the time.
Our first intention was to invent something, start a company, hire people and thus create the money machine for financing our scientific activities. But it was not realistic. Perhaps it was just bad luck, who knows. We did not find employees with a strong intrinsic motivation to make the company successful. We need to be more and more involved in the management of the company. In the end, we entirely concentrated on business and quit our scientific activities.
Don’t you miss them?
Scarcely. Working in Optaglio is very innovative. All the time you need to invent an test something. In this aspect, it is similar to physical research.
However, in physics, if you are successful, you need to write a paper, have discussions with reviewers, convince them a and spend a tremendous amount of time on grant applications and grant reports. We spent almost half of our time on reporting.
Business is easier. You produce something, offer it and sell it or not. Feedback immediate.
There were several milestone moments where Optaglio brought breakthrough innovation to the global market. Can you tell more about them?
At the very beginning, we concentrated on making current technology work perfectly. It was not easy because the printing of holograms was quite new industry, definitely not older than five years. The technology was not mature yet, neither machines nor printing materials. We need to learn a lot – mastering, galvanic, printing, cutting.
Starting with something, you try to catch the best ones. From a certain point, it is not the right strategy anymore. If I try to catch somebody, I will always be the back one. If I want to become the leader, I need to concentrate on something that nobody can do. So we tried to keep a focus on something entirely new, and we were successful several times. We started with e-beam holograms before anybody else was able to produce them. Then we created unique visual effects. Than microholograms and OVMesh – technology for perfect integration of holograms into polycarbonate cards.
Radical innovations are often challenging for the sales team. Most account managers prefer to sell something clients already know. Usually, it is not easy to convince clients to try something completely new. Anyway, the new products brought higher profits to the company. If we concentrated on standard products, we would face smashing competition.
However, everybody innovates. What is the main difference today holograms and holograms when you started Optaglio?
When we started, all holograms were produced using the laser. Either analogue recording or semi-digital dot matrix was applied. Today everything is written directly by a beam of light or electrons. Dot matrix technology also has developed, now is much closer to lithography.
Does it mean that counterfeiting is more difficult now?
Much more difficult. You need such expensive technical equipment that if you can afford it is unlikely you need to make money through falsifying documents.
Each holograms manufacturer says that their products are fully resistant against imitation? How can clients identify real resistance? If you purchased holograms what criteria would you apply?
I would be interested if there is an element that cannot be produced with any technology included.
Several years ago, we delivered holograms for Czech highway vignettes. We applied a visual effect called achro into the hologram. A dim plastic object was placed into the hologram. No attempt to counterfeit the vignettes was registered. It was evident that such sophisticated effect could deter attackers.
Later the contract was given to another company which delivered ordinary holograms with a simple effect. Each year, fakes appear.
What will be further development?
I believe the evolution goes to holograms personalisation. Clients will require that every single piece is unique.
Holograms are produced using printing technology. It is cheap, and printing technology is mastered perfectly. However, it can happen that some holograms are stolen and abused.
Although strict security measures are usually applied, some risk still exists, and nobody can identify stolen hologram. If each piece was unique and it was possible to track it from production to application, the documents would be more secure.
Do you prepare another breakthrough innovations?
We work on some ideas but it is too early to disclose anything specific.
From the history of Optaglio:
1994 – founding
1998 – production of e-beam lithography holograms
2000 – microholograms
2010 – mass production of OVMesh products for seamless integration of holograms into polycarbonate cards
2015 – Optaglio Labs in Lochovice, Czech Republic