Maxime Delmée, Belgian CEO and co-founder of AM 4 AM, a startup specialised in the development of new materials for additive manufacturing and a graduate of the Fit 4 Start acceleration programme in Luxembourg, discusses his entrepreneurial experience in Luxembourg. He explains that Luxembourg’s openness to innovation and its support for startups was crucial to his company’s development.
Can you briefly tell us about yourself and your background?
I am originally from Bastogne in Belgium, where I also completed my master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Namur. Following that, I went on to do my internship at the public research institute CRP Henri Tudor, which later became part of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), where I then did my PhD. By the time I had the idea for my company, it was easier for me to contact people in Luxembourg than in Belgium. Based on my professional network, I decided that Luxembourg was the best place to build my company.
What is the story of your company and how did you transform your idea into a real project?
AM 4 AM is an abbreviation for Advanced Materials for Additive Manufacturing and it specialises in novel and advanced materials for additive manufacturing. The idea for the company started out as an observation I made during my thesis. After reading publications and attending trade fairs, I discovered nothing connected to my idea. So I decided to obtain a patent in January 2019 and submitted it to the Luxembourg office in April of the same year. Soon after, I started discussing with several customers and partners, including the national innovation agency, Luxinnovation, and the company was founded in July 2019.
Who did you contact, and what assistance did Luxinnovation provide?
I first contacted Caroline Muller, Cluster Manager for Materials & Manufacturing, and subsequently Johnny Brebels, Director of Company Relations and Support, at Luxinnovation, to present the idea. Luxinnovation presented us with numerous possibilities and solutions for funding our first proof of concept. We eventually applied to Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research and innovation funding programme for the period 2014-2020 and were awarded funds to assist us with the development of the proof of concept for our technology.
What challenges do you face and how do you innovate to solve them?
The aeronautic industry is one of the most active and biggest players in additive manufacturing, but making recurring customers takes time. Thanks to the Fit 4 Start programme, we were able to expand to the space sector, which I would say is also very mature for additive manufacturing in terms of developing their satellites and other related parts. We addressed the challenges of materials with our innovative treatment. Conventional materials are currently unsuitable for 3D printing procedures, however, with this treatment they are adapted. One of the challenges I looked into back then was the problem of cracking when parts were generated. When producing parts using additive manufacturing, some materials, particularly aluminium, tend to be full of cracks and have mechanical issues as the parts are brittle. As a result, it is not well suited to industry requirements in the automotive, space, and aeronautic fields. We solved this challenge through innovation. We have produced and developed one of the strongest aluminium printed in 3D in the world with our treatment and we can boldly say that we have materials that have some of the highest performance on the market for additive manufacturing.
You could have chosen to set up in any country in the world. Why did you choose Luxembourg?
Luxembourg’s strongest advantage is its network. To establish a company, you need a strong network and talented people who can advise you. More than finance, a strong network is essential for companies in Luxembourg. Because the country is small, you can easily find the right profiles. Also, Luxembourg is open to new technologies and new companies. It is a country that understands how vital people living on the border are to the economy and appreciates this diversity.
AM 4 AM was chosen from a pool of over 200 applicants and went on to win the 12th edition of the Luxembourg Fit 4 Start programme last year. What were your intentions when you applied for it?
I discovered the programme through LinkedIn and our incubator Technoport. We didn’t get in the first time, but we were accepted into the second cohort the same year because the company had made some progress. Companies in Luxembourg that do not make the programme should not be afraid to try again. We took part in the programme from January to July 2022 and were challenged by the mentors, met a lot of people, and had intriguing conversations with other startups about very distinct and similar issues in industry and we came up with different ways to tackle them. Fit 4 Start is designed for high-potential startups, so it goes beyond research. I learned more about sales, developing a business strategy, and obtaining finance, but the programme also increased my confidence in presenting the company. I would describe myself as a dedicated researcher but an “incomplete” entrepreneur. But after the programme, I can say I’m more “complete” because the process of growth never ends. I feel very confident about running the company.
What’s next for the company?
We are now launching the commercial phase for our first product. We don’t have many customers yet, but we’re getting there. Our powder production unit in Foetz, Luxembourg, was recently launched and has been active for a few weeks. Previously, we produced at our supplier’s plant, but we are now able to manufacture our materials here in Luxembourg. We are currently focusing on aluminium because there is a severe shortage of this type of metal in the market, but we intend to expand our materials portfolio to include copper, titanium, and other metals. Our goal is to establish a large selection of materials to meet as many of our clients’ needs as possible.
Photo credit: AM 4 AM