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It requires collaboration with people of different expertise to push your idea forward

11 December 2023

It requires collaboration with people of different expertise to push your idea forward  

Kurt Nielsen is one of the pioneers behind encryption and blockchain technology for protecting sensitive data while in use, and co-founder of Partisia. Here, he tells about the journey from researcher to CEO.

It all began as two research projects at Aarhus University, where a small team of researchers with diverse backgrounds in cryptography, business economics, and software development joined forces. The collaboration resulted in a groundbreaking cryptography technology, and in 2008, the tech company Partisia was born.

The CEO and partner Kurt Nielsen with a background in mathematics and economics, was involved from the beginning – from the first idea conceived by Professor Ivan Damgård at the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University to the foundation of Partisia, which is now a leader in advanced cryptography and blockchain technologies for the financial sector, 15 years later.

At that time, Kurt Nielsen was fully engaged in his PhD when he got into a conversation with Professor Ivan Damgård. Over the following years, they worked closely on developing and deploying the new encryption technology, and a collaboration with the food producer Danisco became their major breakthrough.

Danisco, undergoing extensive restructuring at the time, became the first company to adopt the new encryption technology. The collaboration was the industry breakthrough that the research team had been working towards for years – both technologically and commercially. From then, things gained momentum, and more public and private collaborations followed.

From technological breakthrough to entrepreneurial adventure

From thinking you have the solution to creating a viable business is a long journey, says Kurt Nielsen. Partisia was an early adopter of a completely new technology, and it took many years before the market was ready to embrace it, he explains.

Along the way, one encounters a lot of resistance and difficult discussions about everything from strategy to finance. One must be prepared for that, and to have a chance at success, it requires the team to challenge each other, listen, and compromise when necessary.

What does it mean to have a background as a researcher when establishing a company?

“In my work as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, new ideas constantly emerge. I am driven by these ideas and gain energy from them. I believe that many researchers have the same driving force—the key to success with a product or a company lies in the commercial approach, and it varies greatly from researcher to researcher.

Not everyone has it, but there are incredibly talented basic researchers who have a good understanding of how to take an idea forward and who understand that it requires collaboration with people with different expertise to advance one’s idea.

Personally, throughout my university career, I have always been an ‘entrepreneur,’ and early in my career, I helped some friends start a company. However, the dot-com bubble burst, and I returned to the university for a PhD. while considering my future options.

Being an entrepreneur is a state of mind. You must constantly look for new opportunities and be interested in assembling strong teams.

This applies internally in a company and at the university when working together on research projects. The team is crucial.”

Where does this entrepreneurial spirit come from?

“That’s a good question. I have always sought out opportunities, trying to create something through my work and not be locked into a specific job for a lifetime. In reality, I have never considered myself an employee, even though I have received and continue to receive a salary as a researcher. It is the desire to create and develop that drives me.”

About Partisia
Partisia is a spinout from Aarhus University established by internationally renowned researchers and experts in advanced cryptography, business economics, and software development, with experience bringing research ideas to market. The combination of skills enables Partisia to deliver solutions that are both robust and highly innovative in a timely manner.

As a pioneer, Partisia has been selling secure multiparty computation (MPC) and other software solutions for privacy protection since 2008. Initially focusing on secure auctions for commodities such as production contracts, energy-related products, and auctions used for the sale of spectrum licenses.

Since the first commercial use, MPC technology has matured significantly, becoming more agile and notably faster, gradually transforming MPC into a generic infrastructure for privacy-preserving computations.

In parallel with this development, Partisia has developed infrastructure for managing encryption keys and a generic infrastructure for secure computation, as well as various applications across platforms from cloud computing to blockchain technologies.

As part of the commercialization strategy, selected companies have been moved and matured into separate spinouts alongside investors and other business partners, namely Sepior.com (cryptographic key management) and Partisia (applications and infrastructure combining MPC and blockchain technologies). In 2022, Sepior was sold to a major American blockchain company, Blockdaemon, and Partisia is now actively scaling up, focusing on quantum computers.

Read about DIREC’s focus area Digital Tech Startups

The Partisia team assembled in the summer of 2023

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A PhD project was the launch pad – now the research team is heading toward an international breakthrough

9 August 2023

A PhD project was the launch pad – now the research team is heading toward an international breakthrough  

“This can go far” a team of researchers from Aarhus University realized when a PhD project turned out to have great application potential. The project became the launch pad for the company Coana, which is now heading toward an international breakthrough in JavaScript and open source technology.

It all began as a research project when Martin Torp and Benjamin Barslev, both PhD graduates from the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University, laid the foundation for the software company Coana.

Soon, the team realized they were onto something significant, says Anders Møller, professor at Aarhus University and co-founder of the Aarhus-based startup.

Anders Møller is one of the world’s leading experts in program analysis for JavaScript/TypeScript and has worked closely with the two PhD students for several years.

Research team had the ‘key’

Coana’s program analysis reveals how companies are affected by changes and security vulnerabilities in open-source technologies, identifies vulnerabilities in JavaScript code, and filters out false warnings. This means that IT departments can focus on critical security issues, saving time and resources by sorting out unnecessary noise and false warnings, he explains.

As Benjamin and Martin approached the end of the PhD project, we realized that it had the potential for something even bigger, and that we actually had the key to solving some of the most challenging issues in open source and dependency management that companies worldwide struggle with.
– Anders Møller, Professor, Aarhus University

Recently, the trio expanded their team by hiring a strong strategic profile, Anders Søndergaard as CEO.

Søndergaard is responsible for an ambitious sales strategy and ensuring close contact with customers, while the developers continue working on a prototype and maintain close contact with software developers from companies worldwide.

– We already have an early prototype ready and are aiming for a launch in the fall. Our ambition is for the technology we are building to become the standard in dependency management.

The company is still in the early stages of market analysis and further product development, but Coana has a unique prototype, and no one in the world does the same as Coana’s program analysis for open-source troubleshooting, he elaborates.

It’s one thing to have a promising product and a solid research background – another to create a business. What did you know in advance about running a business?

– Very little. This is the first time for me, and it’s a new world for several of us. There is a lot of business knowledge that you don’t have when coming from the university and research world – what to pay attention to when establishing a company, how to develop a market strategy, etc. It’s time-consuming and simultaneously super exciting. My own primary focus remains on the research part, while the rest of the team is fully engaged in Coana.

How can it be an advantage that you have roots in the research world, and that you are both involved in research and now also in a business?

– There is a lot of synergy between the research at the university and what is happening here. What we arrived at with this research project turned out to have far more practical potential than the research I have otherwise worked on.

– There is a lot of research from universities that gets published, and people read it, and then it stays in the academic world but doesn’t go further. Now we have this special combination of a solid foundation in the form of many years of research – and real-world problems that need to be solved in companies.

Do you have any good advice to pass on to other university researchers considering starting a business?

– Aarhus University has a strong entrepreneurial environment, including around The Kitchen and the university’s Technology Transfer Office, which can help with networking and advice on funding and business development. They have been a fantastic help to us in the initial phase, so I can only recommend others to take advantage of the opportunities they provide.

– It can require a massive effort to achieve “product-market fit.” It is necessary that your initial conception of what can have commercial value is tested and adjusted through in-depth market analysis. You can advantageously – in good academic style – formulate hypotheses and conduct experiments to investigate how best to address customers’ most significant “pain points.”

– Make sure to establish the right team from the beginning, especially to cover the skills you lack if you do not have previous experience in building a business, says Anders Møller.

FACTS

The software company Coana was founded in 2022 by Professor Anders Møller from the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University along with Martin Torp and Benjamin Barslev, both PhD graduates from the Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, and Anders Søndergaard. Martin and Benjamin’s PhD work has formed the foundation for Coana. With the appointment of Anders Søndergaard as CEO, the startup has been strengthened in strategy and market analysis, and Anders Søndergaard has a strong international network. The company currently has six employees.

With grants from the Innovation Fund Denmark, Aarhus University’s entrepreneurial environment ‘The Kitchen,’ and the European ERC scheme, which grants EU funds for proof-of-concept projects, Coana has proven its growth potential.

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A commercial mindset is just as important as a good idea

7 June 2023

A commercial mindset is just as important as a good idea

DIREC works to ensure that Denmark gets more university-based tech startups, and there is plenty of inspiration to be gained from successful entrepreneurs such as Chief Physician Søren Andreas Just and Professor of Medical Robotics from SDU, Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu. They are co-founders of the company ROPCA and the robot Arthur, which will revolutionize everyday life in busy hospital wards.

Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu (left) and Søren Andreas Just, founders of ROPCA

The robot Arthur scans patients who are suspected of having rheumatoid arthritis. By scanning a patient’s hands, the robot can quickly determine whether there are signs of rheumatoid arthritis or not and thus assess whether the patient should enter a course of treatment. For patients already diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, Arthur can see if there are any signs of disease activity.

Read more in Danish

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Events

Young Researcher Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

phd course

Young Researcher entrepreneurship bootcamp

Join the Young Researcher Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (YREB) PhD-course (2.5 ECTS) to grow your entrepreneurial mindset and learn how that can benefit both your current research and future career.

The course specifically leverages AI, data science, and computer science in the service of societal and environmental challenges in for instance health-tech, green-tech, manufacturing, and business. The aim is to build entrepreneurial capacity and to increase the establishment of university-based startups. 
 
Participants are not expected to bring their own startup ideas. Instead, you will be introduced to idea generation techniques to create your own concepts in teams during the course.
 
Target group: We welcome PhD students and Post-doctoral researchers from computer/data related disciplines with little to no business experience from any Danish university.

 

The programme

The themes for each of the four days are as follows:

May 27:  Entrepreneurial Mindset
May 28:  Design Thinking & Concept Development
May 29:  ML Ops & Venture Building
May 30:  Commercialization & Pitch Readiness
May 31:  Culminating Pitches & Looking Ahead

The programme is co-developed by AAU, DTU, DIREC and AI Pioneer Centre.
 
This year the course takes place in DTU Skylab and we recommend you to stay at Zleep Hotel Lyngby
 
We look forward to seeing you at DTU Skylab.

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Previous events

Digital Tech Summit: Generative AI – Hype or Transformation?

DIGITAL Tech summit 2023

Generative AI – Hype or Transformation?

Generative AI has been making waves in recent years, captivating our imagination with its potential to transform industries and reshape our creative processes. But is it all just hype, or are we witnessing a genuine transformation?


Generative AI has found applications in fields as diverse as art, healthcare, finance, and education. To some, it represents a revolutionary leap forward, promising to unlock unprecedented levels of creativity and productivity. To others, it raises ethical concerns and the specter of job displacement. One thing is certain – Generative AI is here to stay and it demands our attention and thoughtful consideration.



At this year’s Digital Tech Summit we have invited a strong panel to discuss the potentials and limitations of generative AI.


Meet:
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Digital Tech Summit: Data spaces – in the future, we will share data in a completely new way

DIGITAL Tech summit 2023

Data spaces – in the future, we will share data in a completely new way

The EU has new legislation, large project sums, and a supply of technological components. All the initiatives aim to provide European companies, organizations, states, and individuals with a completely new infrastructure for data sharing.

Data sharing must be based on principles around decentralization of data, increased data sovereignty, greater security, and above all, interoperability.
 
The vision is that in 10-15 years we will exclusively share data through so-called data spaces.
 
Get an insight into the EU’s initiatives and legislation and what they will mean for you. Hear also about the wider international agenda around data spaces, which is largely driven by companies that see the need for common rules of the game for data sharing. There is a need for easier and more profitable data sharing, which could result in stronger supply chains, better and easier ESG reporting, and the development of new digital services.
 
Speaker:

Lea Schick – Senior Research and Innovation Manager, The Alexandra Institute

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Previous events

Digital Tech Summit 2023 – AI Transforming Business

DIGITAL TECH SUMMIT 2023

AI TRANSFORMING BUSINESS

DTS – AI Transforming Business 2023 is the largest deep tech conference in the Nordic countries and the annual meeting place for researchers from universities in Denmark and their partners in Danish industry. 

Over the course of two days, visitors will get access to more than 100 professional talks and presentations and a unique insight into the dominant and transforming digital technologies that are changing our industries and creating the future’s growth engines.

Digital Tech Summit presents the latest research and results from the business community and industrial partners and creates the framework for networking with the conference’s other visitors – directors, engineers, product managers, product developers, business developers and last but not least the talents of the future: university students.

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News

Digital Tech Summit: An important meeting place for universities and industry

1 NOVEMBER 2022

Digital Tech Summit: An important meeting place for universities and industry

This autumn’s last big tech event has completed with great success. Thank you for two exciting days at the Digital Tech Summit 2022 in Bella Center Copenhagen. 

Photo: Mikal Schlosser

This year’s theme was Building European Tech Resilience. In a time of war, geopolitical uncertainty, pandemics and vulnerable supply chains, it is important to focus on how the technological development is dealt with. Digital Tech Summit is an obvious occasion to discuss the foundation of the digital technologies that must contribute to solve the challenges.

We thank you for the many exciting presentations that focused on different perspectives of this year’s theme, and for meetings with researchers, students, startups, companies, NGOs, who believe that digital development is a prerequisite for solving some of society’s most urgent issues – from climate change to democratic challenges.

Together with the Pioneer Centre for AI, CBS, DTU and Danish Life Cycle Cluster, we focused on the development of digital technologies for the healthcare sector, which is dominated by a record high labour shortage. On the main stage, we assembled a strong panel for a discussion of how to navigate the challenges of implementing groundbreaking AI in the healthcare sector.
 
At our stand right in the middle of our eight university partners, we had visits from researchers, students, startups and established companies who wanted to know more about DIREC’s work in strengthening digital research across the universities and the business community – the private and the public sectors.
 
Finally, we focused on exciting DIREC projects within hybrid work, digital technologies for urban water management, Greentech and smart cities and the role of robotics, drones and AI in sustainable farming.
 
Special thanks to our contributing business partners and researchers involved in the DIREC projects.
 
We look forward to spreading much more exciting news about all the exciting research that is contributing to change the world for the better.

World-class research with a solid Danish footprint – with the aim of making a crucial difference for companies and society.

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Previous events

Young Researcher Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

phd summer school

Young Researcher entrepreneurship bootcamp

Calling all young researchers in AI and data science with an interest in entrepreneurship!

Did you know that only 12-13% of PhDs end up in a tenure track academic career? The good news is that there are other exciting, fulfilling, flexible career paths, which you can shape yourself.

Join the Young Researcher Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (YREB) PhD summer school (2.5 ECTS) to grow your entrepreneurial mindset and learn how that can benefit both your current research and future career.

The course specifically leverages AI, data science, and computer science in the service of societal and environmental challenges in for instance health-tech, green-tech, manufacturing, and business. The aim is to build entrepreneurial capacity and to increase the establishment of university-based startups.

Aarhus University is the host of YREB’23.   

The programme

The themes for each of the four days are as follows:

Day 1: Explore the unknowns through design thinking.
Day 2: Develop your entrepreneurial knowledge, skills, and mindset.
Day 3: Bring an idea into praxis – customer fit and technical practicalities.
Day 4: Commercialize an idea through business model and pitch training.

The programme is co-developed by AAU, AU DTU, KU, DIREC and AI Pioneer Centre.

Target Group

We welcome PhD students and Post-doctoral researchers from computer/data related disciplines with little to no business experience from any Danish university.

What you will learn

By developing your entrepreneurial mindset you will be better able to:

  • Generate research ideas that meet an actual need and validate whether they have the potential to become a viable business.
  • Grasp the fundamentals of creating a novel startup.
  • Understand the basics of ML Ops as a prerequisite for building an AI startup.
  • Take the steering wheel in your current research and future career.
  • Cultivate innovative thinking and presentation skills.
  • Navigate how to collaborate with tech transfer and innovation officers (e.g. Investores and intellectual property (IP)).

What is in it for you?

  • 2.5 ECTS
  • Insights into ideation, ML Ops, entrepreneurial mindset, testing business ideas etc.
  • Engaging, active learning approaches.
  • Meet inspiring, like-minded individuals, entrepreneurs, and educators.
  • Being invited to pitching event at Digital Tech Summit November 8th – 9th 2023.
  • This course is free of charge.
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News

Tailored course is to start the entrepreneurial fire in young researchers

21 JUNE 2022

Tailored course is to start the entrepreneurial fire in young researchers

At the end of May, 55-60 younger researchers from the computer science departments across Denmark attended a course on entrepreneurship. The course is a collaboration between DIREC, the Pioneer Centre for AI, the Foundation for Entrepreneurship and the Danish Data Science Academy. It has been both a breeding ground for concrete start-ups and an introduction to the ecosystem for innovation at the Danish universities.

Most importantly, a mindset in entrepreneurship thinking has been planted in the researchers, explains Mark Riis, Head of Innovation at DTU Compute, and originator of the course as well as leader of DIREC’s work with entrepreneurship.

“It is of great value to plant this mindset because researchers work in a different way and only publish when the last sentence is finished. Entrepreneurship is about experimenting and testing your idea with the outside world and the market, so that you always get feedback. In addition to planting this mindset, the course has inspired some of the participants to start a business based on their research. It is going to be exciting to see how the concrete startup ideas develop.”

Read the full story (only available in Danish)