TU spin-offs: What happened to ...

... of Ilmsens GmbH? A field report from a TU graduate

What started as a research project of five young scientists around Dr. Jürgen Sachs, Faculty of Computer Science and Automation, resulted in a startup in 2016: ILMSENS GmbH. Supported in the start-up phase by the federal government's EXIST program and located in the TGZ Ilmenau, the company has become well established after five years and continues to grow steadily - also thanks to the close coupling with the university.

Gebäude Technologie- und Gründerzentrum TGZ Ilmenau
Das Technologie und Gründerzentrum (TGZ) bietet beste räumliche und technologische Bedingungen für Ausgründungen aus der TU Ilmenau.

The Ilmsens team develops state-of-the-art ultra-wideband sensors to the highest quality standards, with which non-contact and therefore non-destructive measurements can be carried out quickly for a wide range of industries. The technology can be used, for example, to determine the composition of complex mixtures of substances and any changes that occur, or to detect objects, surfaces and the smallest movements. Ilmsens sensors are used, for example, in the field of short-range radar as ground penetrating radar, for monitoring vital data parameters and in the field of liquid analysis for cooling lubricant monitoring or the monitoring of milk ingredients.The technology goes back to research work at the TU Ilmenau. But how does it feel to work after the leap from science to industry? How does an employee experience working in an up-and-coming startup and how important is the company's philosophy for his or her own life? Thomas Just (37), a family man from the Vogtland region and a data evaluator and application developer at Ilmsens GmbH for three years, describes his experiences in UNIonline's new series.

From science to a startup at the TU Ilmenau

From Thomas Just

Already in my youth I was interested in IT, programming and electronics. Therefore, it quickly became clear that I would like to start my studies in "Engineering Informatics" not far from my home at the TU Ilmenau and subsequently deepen my knowledge in "Technical or Medical Informatics". After my diploma, I started my time as a scientific assistant in the field of biosignal processing, also at the TU Ilmenau. Scientific work allowed me to try out and explore a lot of new things, which was of course associated with setbacks from time to time. In science, we search for the best result. However, the best result is not always the most practicable and no result is a result or an insight.

Ilmsens - Hand in Hand with the TU Ilmenau

Through my move to the Group of "Electronic Measurement and Signal Processing", I got to know Dr. Jürgen Sachs, co-founder of Ilmsens GmbH, and the cooperation between the startup, founded in 2016, and my projects began. One of them involved the detection of the so-called second wall in today's Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem using georadar (GPR). As this project was coming to an end, I received an offer to work for Ilmsens, bring my knowledge to the company and continue working on these and other related projects. This was and is of course a lucrative offer.

Working in a growing startup

In contrast to scientific work at university, in a company a realisable result or solution is always sought - assuming independent work. It is no longer a matter of gaining pure knowledge. After all, a company has to act economically and make a profit. Since I started working for Ilmsens, there have always been new and interesting projects that offer added value for our customers. A daily challenge is the development of new technologies and data analysis methods that offer a wide range of applications.

Ilmsens is growing steadily and the former five founders have become 24 permanent employees. My many new colleagues bring in new and fresh ideas. Since the end of 2019, we also have colleagues in Košice, Slovakia. Some of them have already worked with me on projects back in university days. They complement our expertise in microelectronics and circuit design. But it's not just the varied workday and the daily challenges that make my job exciting. As a father at the latest, it was clear to me how important the company philosophy is - especially in the current times.

A small company that writes "family friendliness" and "consistency" in capital letters.

We settled in Ilmenau a few years ago and have grown into a small family. From our house, we are just a few minutes away from the playground in Erfurter Straße, for which Ilmsens 2020 has sponsored a new bench. This shows how important the company considers its employees and their children. Parents in particular are taken into consideration when their own child is ill, when it changes from the crèche to the kindergarten or when the facility is closed.

This is particularly important since the Corona pandemic and has made our already difficult day-to-day work much easier. Like many companies, Ilmsens had to put some employees on short-time work for a few months. But this also saved our jobs. Thanks to the short-term saving of resources, we were able to use this time to acquire new projects and ultimately even hire more employees.

When it became clear that schools and daycare centers would have to close, our already flexible working hours model was expanded even further in a very short time. After all, my wife had to go to work just as much and the children had to be looked after at home. This meant that it didn't matter what time of day I did my tasks, as long as the team knew when I was available. Similarly, team meetings, where possible, were scheduled at times when parents were at work and missed lessons could be made up even months later.

Needless to say, the home office option is now firmly established at Ilmsens and is increasingly being used. The last year in particular has cost us all a lot of energy, but it is important to always look positively ahead and make the best of the situation. In the end, everyone wants one thing: a regulated life with the freedoms to which we were originally accustomed.

Lucky coincidence, right decision - Working for Ilmsens

Much in life is pure chance. You often take paths based on a small decision that turns out to be far-reaching in the end. I can consider myself lucky that I landed at Ilmsens shortly after its founding in 2016 also to a certain extent by chance. This has allowed me to witness Ilmsens grow bit by bit. Thanks to my jump into freelancing, I have been able to develop professionally once again, which means that I enjoy getting up in the morning and cycling to work or sitting down at my desk. We always have new practical projects with interesting topics in the fields of short-range sensor technology and liquid analysis, and the company is still growing steadily - variety and challenges guaranteed!