Critical mass of interested clients allows LED innovators to jump ship
START-UP NATION: InfiniLED:Using light in a more intelligent way allows Cork-based InfiniLED to target a variety of industry partners
IMITATION MAY be the sincerest form of flattery, but InfiniLED staff were still a little taken aback when they recently discovered new industry competitors who only began work in the area after hearing a speech by InfiniLed’s own chief commercial officer.
“I gave a talk about how far our technology had gone at a conference, and it prompted our now competitors to say ‘OK, if they can make a business out of this, so should we,’ ” says Dr Bill Henry, the aforementioned commercial chief for the Cork-based start-up, “but we have a core patent that we think makes us unique.”
The origin of that patent dates back to 2004 when Dr Pleun Maaskant – a Dutch researcher working at UCC’s Tyndall National Institute – hit upon a concept for using the light generated by LEDs in a “more intelligent, more efficient manner” through controlling the light directly at the point where it is created.
Henry joined the research group looking into Maaskant’s ideas in 2007, working as an applications engineer and attempting to find commercial usages for the intellectual property in question. “IP gets useful when people are interested in paying money to use it,” says Henry, who explains that over the following three years a range of applications were found for the technology while potential clients were sounded out.
By the close of 2010 they had reached a “critical mass” of interested customers and the decision for InfiniLED to become a proper spin-off from Tyndall was taken, with the business – now led by chief executive Joe O’Keeffe – officially starting work in April of last year. Interest has since soared regarding the company’s patented µLEDs (also known as MicroLEDs) which are just 20 microns (or one fifth the width of a human hair) in diameter.
Henry adds: “When light is generated in an LED it spills out in all directions, and that’s grand for a lot of applications such as the headlamp on a car, where it’s a case of the more light there is the better. But for a lot of applications you don’t want that. Like a mobile phone – you hardly want the phone glowing in your hand and barely being able to see what’s on the screen. Or life sciences where perhaps you want to see whether something is wrong with a cell and you don’t want to shine a light on someone’s entire arm – you pinpoint a specific area that you’re interested in. With our technology you’re not flooding everything with background light. You have your target, and it’s a lot simpler.”