On the heels of a successful six-month proof-of-concept (POC), as of March 2022, the ink is now dry on a three-year deal that will see Valqua, LTD transform its research and development (R&D) process by partnering with Kebotix, the MIT-connected startup ushering in a new age of materials discovery with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics.
Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, Valqua manufactures quality seal products for a diverse customer base that spans the semiconductor, automotive, and aerospace industries. “Our collaboration with a cutting-edge startup like Kebotix is testament to the fact that Valqua is intent on stepping up our technology capabilities to provide value to our customers and heighten our competitive advantage in a fast-moving marketplace,” says Valqua’s CTO, Mutsuo Aoki.
For a young startup like Kebotix, the multi-year deal is a significant milestone. Valqua gave Kebotix the opportunity to demonstrate its capabilities, immediately recognized the value of the product, and had the confidence to expand the relationship beyond the POC. “Securing future business with a forward-thinking company like Valqua will help us grow our business and further develop our tech,” explains Scott Healey, VP of Business Development and Partnerships for Kebotix.
It all started at the 2020 MIT Japan Conference in Tokyo, hosted jointly by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) and MIT Startup Exchange. Kebotix was one of several startups on hand, presenting to a crowd of corporates eager to apprise themselves of the pioneering technologies emerging from the MIT innovation ecosystem. Among the industry representatives was Mutsuo Aoki, and he had a good hunch that partnering with the right MIT-connected company could inject the necessary dose of innovation his company required for future growth.
Aoki mentions that prior to joining Valqua, he had the benefit of working at the Institute as a visiting scientist and that the experience was a key factor in Valqua’s decision to engage with MIT ILP and MIT Startup Exchange. “MIT was a tremendous place to work; it is an institution at the forefront of creative, industry-driven research. When I joined Valqua, I suggested we connect with the Industrial Liaison Program and MIT Startup Exchange because it is the ideal way for corporates to collaborate with the Institute and stay ahead of the curve from a technology perspective.”
At the MIT Japan Conference, Aoki was impressed by Healey’s explanation of Kebotix’s ground-up reimagining of the R&D process, and the two sat down for their first meeting later that day. Though particulars were not discussed, Healey recalls Aoki’s interest in using AI to transform Valqua’s business practices, particularly on the R&D side of things. After the conference, Healey and Aoki kept in touch, both eager to explore potential avenues for collaboration that would benefit both sides of the equation.
Over the next six months, Aoki spearheaded Valqua’s deeper dive into various materials informatics platforms, and in the Summer of 2020, Valqua decided it was time to initiate a POC.
Kebotix was one of several startups Valqua tapped for the project. As it turned out, it was also the best. Using its adaptive machine learning solution ChemOSTM to adjust to new information in real time, the Kebotix team demonstrated dramatically improved performance rates while reducing testing protocol times by up to 50 percent.
Going forward, Valqua intends to apply Kebotix’s tech to a new material development program aimed at multiple applications, including sealing products and high-performance plastics. “The Kebotix solution is unparalleled, from a technical standpoint,” says Aoki. “We also appreciate the detailed approach Kebotix took to familiarize us with their platform. It engendered a sense of confidence that we had found a group of innovators who could help us to introduce new technological capabilities to reduce experiment times and improve material formulations for a variety of our products.
Kebotix now counts Valqua as an early adopter of its ChemOSTM solution. Meanwhile, Healey and Aoki are already considering opportunities for future collaborations between the two companies. After all, as Healey points out, the application addressed by the POC isn’t Valqua’s only business, and Kebotix has a stacked suite of materials innovation solutions that could be applicable to Valqua’s needs.
“Going forward, we intend to support Valqua to help them get the most out of our technology,” says Healey. “We like the Valqua team as people, and we appreciate them as customers. It is a great relationship, and it is further evidence that MIT ILP and MIT Startup Exchange have created an innovative environment that is mutually beneficial to startups and corporates alike.”