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Swiss-Russian start-up has brighter future

Blue and white LEDs usher in a new era in applications. Toyoda Gosei

ACOL Technologies, a Geneva-based company that makes high-brightness light emitting diodes (HBLEDs) even brighter, has raised €9 million from venture capital investors.

Top tier European venture capital firm, Amadeus Capital, which manages funds of more than SFr500 million ($400 million), Apax Partners, currently investing a $4 billion fund, and Moscow-based Mint Capital are all providing financial backing.

ACOL (which stands for “all colors of light”) is a spin-out from Moscow-based Corvette Light, founded in 1998 by two Russian scientists, who took their ideas for a new technology to improve the quality and reduce the cost of HBLEDs to Corvette.

Corvette Light funded R&D for new products and then successfully piloted them in the Russian automotive, rail and architectural lighting markets.

Realising that the business had global potential, Corvette sought partners to help expand the company internationally.

Simultaneously, they were approached by Jean-Charles Herpeux, the former European MD of US hard disk manufacturer, Quantum, who built up a team for bringing innovative technologies to worldwide markets.

The company has sales, marketing and customer-engineering activities in Geneva, while R&D remains in Russia, led by co-founder Alexander Shisov. Manufacturing will be outsourced.

Surging market

The market for HBLEDs is growing at an average 40 per cent per annum – faster than any other segment of the chip industry. This is driven by the fact that HBLEDs use ten per cent of the power of other lighting technologies and last ten times longer.

The materials used to make white and blue HBLEDs, the most desirable sort for lighting, are very expensive, so any techniques that can boost brightness without increasing the need for expensive semiconductor material, such as gallium arsenide, are going to be in demand.

At the moment, HBLEDs are used almost exclusively in commercial lighting applications, but in the next ten years it is anticipated that they will replace incandescent, fluorescent and other lighting technologies in domestic applications as well.

The firm targets the leading LEDs manufacturers worldwide: Cree, Lumileds, Nichia, Osram Opto Semiconductors, Rohm and Toyoda Gosei, as well as the hundreds of HBLED system manufacturers.

ACOL pitched its business plan at the European Tech Tour, which took place in Switzerland in March of this year. The same organisation plans a tour of Russia in September 2004.

by Valerie Thompson

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