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Posted: November 01, 2008

Tech Startup: Albeo Technologies

INITIAL LIGHT BULB
Jeff Bisberg and Peter Van Laanen were walking back to lunch while working for Picolight, a maker of fiber-optic equipment for Cisco Systems and other datacom customers. Inspiration struck at a light-emitting-diode-based streetlight.

Based on the similarities between LEDs and Picolight’s optical transceivers, they knew of Haitz’s Law — like Moore’s Law with semiconductors, LEDs grow exponentially better and cheaper by the year — and they decided to leave Picolight and start a new company, Albeo Technologies.

"Since 2001, the fiber-optic space has been very challenging, and Cisco was a very challenging customer," said

Tracy Earles, Albeo’s vice president of sales and marketing. "They said, ‘Based on Haitz’s Law, we can predict when a market’s going to go to LEDs,’ and they decided to take on the biggest, most challenging lighting markets. It was an acknowledgement that LEDs are going to change the world."

The company now produces a number of fixtures based on LEDs. Bisberg is now Albeo’s chief executive officer, and Van Laanen serves as the 15-employee company’s chief technical officer.

IN A NUTSHELL
In 2005, Albeo released its first fixture — an under-cabinet light for the residential market — while waiting for Haitz’s Law to allow for competitive commercial- and industrial-oriented fixtures. The company expanded its catalog earlier this year. "We had a huge rollout of five product lines in May," Earles said.

The new products include linear lighting and high- and low-bay lighting for the commercial and industrial markets, where maintenance is a key issue. Since LEDs have a lifespan of 70,000 hours (nearly a decade), they don’t require replacement annually like the metal halide status quo.

Earles said LEDs have "about a dozen advantages," citing a top efficiency of 100 lumens per watt. "That’s as high as any other lighting source, and they will just keep getting better," he said. "Fluorescent will never get better — it’s an 80-year-old technology." Super-bright LEDs entered the consumer market in the 1990s in flashlights and have slowly expanded into residential and commercial lighting, he added.

And Albeo has translated this trend into sales. "We’ve grown about 200, 300 percent a year," Earles said. "The reasons people buy LED lighting, broadly, are energy efficiency, maintenance and what I call green positioning."

He noted that LED fixtures from Albeo are typically five times more expensive than traditional fixtures, but are 10 percent to 20 percent more energy-efficient on top of their longer life expectancy. "In general in the industrial marketplace, the way we sell today is maintenance," he said.

Next up: more fixtures and intelligent control systems that maximize daylight and minimize consumption.

"We like to say the best way to save energy is to turn off the lights," Earles said. "If you can make that happen automatically when you have natural light, that’s ideal."

THE MARKET
The worldwide lighting market is huge, around $100 billion a year. According to market-research firm Freedonia, the domestic industrial and commercial space, at $6 billion in 2005, is expected to grow to $8.2 billion by 2010. "But the growth opportunity for LEDs is much higher because we’re cannibalizing
the traditional market," Earles said.

FINANCING
In February, Albeo closed on a first round of $1.5 million. "We’re working on more financing," Earles said. "Once you start fundraising, that’s what you do."

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