Today the opportunities to create wealth and new products or services is easier than ever as the internet and cloud-based platforms allow a business’s concept to be created quickly to support the customer.
I am CEO of Integrated System Technologies Limited, an innovative product design and manufacturing company specialising in control and power electronics for the intelligent building sector.
I have over 25 years’ experience within the optoelectronics, IT and defence sectors, specifically in the application of telecommunications and solid-state lighting, and a comprehensive knowledge of cluster and international trade development.
In 2011/12, I created a detailed report on solid-state lighting across Europe for the European Commission, focusing on strategically important technologies, barriers to exploitation and detailed supply chain analysis. The results were published by the European Commission and Photonics 21 and were used as the basis for the European Green Paper on solid-state lighting.
In 2003 I became the Director of Business Development at Aston Science Park and was responsible for several IT cluster-led project teams including Photonics Cluster (UK), iCentrum, West Midlands ICT Hub and euroLED. I specialised in the delivery of complex multi-disciplinary projects with substantial economic development impact and was responsible for European projects.
In 2004, I became Non-Executive Director of Walsall Regeneration, one of 24 UK organisations created by government to attract more than £755 million in public and private sector investment over 10 to 15 years.
In 2012, I was a founding shareholder in pureLifi Limited a spin-out from Edinburgh University focused on Li-fi technologies and joined their board as a non-executive director in 2015. More recently I have been working on 5G LIFI solutions which will offer significant price/performance metrics that will disrupt the telecommunications industry in the years to come.
And received my masters and doctorate in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Leeds and a BEng (Hons) Engineering Systems from the University of Plymouth.
My first role after finishing my PhD was for a start-up company called Oxford Sensor Technologies Ltd that was funded by the group company Davin Optronics to develop novel 3D sensing technology for the Automotive industry. After 12 months, I ended up running the business and had successfully placed the technology with many global car manufacturers. I felt the group could offer significantly more than what they were doing at the time in terms of technical innovation and that they could take a leading role in the defence sectors and I wanted to operate at group level.
Unfortunately, the group board couldn’t agree on my position mainly due to the fact that I was new to the company and others had been in the business for more than 30 years waiting to be promoted to the board.
Therefore, I decided to be more innovative and harness the new technologies that were coming through to disrupt so many markets and so IST was born in December 1997.
However, my advice for anyone starting out in technology is to make sure the business plan really understands the market need and to refine their concept service or product to meet that need. I see so many people create a product or service which is excellent technically but just doesn’t meet a market need and so will very likely not achieve success.
Secondly, unless you are prepared for a long drawn out process, ensure your business is adequately capitalised from the start. By undercapitalising your business one must make compromises that will have medium to long term effects on the success of the business. It is not always possible to do this and therefore one has to be prepared that success will take longer but remember it is always possible to still be successful starting from nothing.
Finally, remember your family should always come first so don’t ignore them for five years while you get your business up and running. If your family is happy, they will provide support to you in the bad times where perhaps your advisors or bank managers may not and that is worth its weight in gold. Also if they are not happy it could cost you more than the business is worth!
In order to future proof the business I refer back to assessing what the market needs and addressing the gap. As globalisation occurs and technology evolves, market needs constantly change and this provides huge opportunities to take leadership positions. This is even more possible today where online technologies have disrupted all types of market sectors so today you could create a new distribution model for a sector all online, using distribution deliver partners and source materials globally without the need to invest in an established infrastructure. Social market can establish that brand to a targeted global audience instantly.
I personally try to read as many online technology articles as I can from different sectors to see if any innovations can be applied to the markets I am working in.
I also try to create an innovative environment at work, allowing the various teams to explore aspects of work that might at first glance not seem relevant to the business. This is similar to the concept Xerox and 3M did many years ago by allowing employees to dedicate a percentage of their time to non-work related activities.
Finally, we work with local universities on schemes such as the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships that focus on the expertise from the academic to provide advice on future technologies.
The biggest challenges apart from funding a company which is R&D intensive, was to find and retain staff who are inherently innovative and entrepreneurial.
With new technology it is really difficult to educate all stakeholders (advisors, bank managers, funders, potential funders, customers and their supply chains) that new technology is going to disrupt the current way of thinking and potentially their status quo. This is especially challenging when the new technology represents 0.001% of sales but within a decade would represent >85% of sales.
I had this in 2000 when I visited several US customers in the lighting industry to say that LED “technology will disrupt your business” or “you could use it to take a leading role leapfrogging your competition”. All of the presidents and VPs in the businesses I visited literally laughed me out of the board room at the time. Today 20 years later, the global lighting industry ships between 85% and 100% products using LED technology and the top five leaders in 2000 that had >85% of the total market sales now only have 15% market share and have changed significantly.
I see this disruption now occurring everywhere in different sectors so there are huge possibilities to build a billion pound business within 20 years.
Lighting is only one factor but an essential one for delivering an intelligent building, smart city or smart country. LED lighting was just the first transition from an analogue Halogen or fluorescent lamp to digital LEDs, but the second phase is that of IP based lighting that uses the same cables used to connect your PC to a network only to connect safe, low voltage lighting to your DC (not AC) power source.
With the geopolitical needs to reduce greenhouse emissions, save and reduce energy costs, and reduce landfill waste from the throw-away model, the need for IP based LED lighting is at the highest it has ever been and meets the demand by meeting every need possible. Once the system becomes digital then additional services can be easily integrated such as adding sensors to detect if someone is within a meeting room and if not switch off the lights, ensure air quality is good, detect if windows or doors are left open and if they are turn down or switch off the heating. Digital lighting will allow intelligent facilities management so provide automatic schedules for cleaners, predictive maintenance to ensure all air conditioning is kept optimal and so forth.
The final frontier will be the use of IP based lighting to transmit data at near 6G speeds seamlessly without interference or not-spots using Li-Fi. This new technology is going to shape the future of not only the lighting industry but also the telecommunications industry as it will provide wireless communications at over 10Gbps (not Mbps) in the near future.
It is going to be interesting to see who wins the leadership battle for providing data within your home or commercial buildings moving forward, especially as our desire for consuming huge amounts of data is not going to reduce anytime soon.
Let the battle for disruption commence and maybe Disney, Sony, Google, Microsoft or Netflix will provide you with the Gigabit networks of the future – who knows?