Illumitex Seeks Cash to Brighten and Shrink LEDs

illumiteximageTake your laptop outside, and you’re likely to find yourself squinting at the screen. The glare is even more pronounced with mobile computing devices, which users usually view downward (like a piece of paper), catching more light than when the screen is vertical. But putting brighter lighting in those devices drains the batteries more quickly.

Illumitex, an Austin, Texas-based startup, is developing a light-emitting diode that it claims can brighten those screens while using less electricity. The company, which in March of 2008 raised $10.5 million in its first round of funding, tells us it’s in beta production now and expects to reach full production in September. Illumitex also is expecting an additional $20 million, which it hopes to raise early in the summer, CEO Matt Thomas tells us.

The company is no doubt hoping that the recent flood of interest in efficient lighting, recently spurred by federal stimulus money, will help its cause. Lighting companies Metrolight, Digital Lumens and Fulham have raised cash in the last month. LED-system startup Albeo Technologies last week announced it had raised $500,000.

Illumitex, which has been described as stealthy, is keeping quiet on the exact details about how its technology works. But it essentially uses optics with a different shape that more efficiently extracts light out of the chip, Thomas said. “We think of [it] as an optical light-emitting device, as opposed to a semiconductor process that happens to create light,” he said. “We truly have some breakthrough physics.”

The chip structure extracts more lumens and reduces the internal refraction, delivering more watts in a smaller package, using conventional manufacturing methods, the company claims. Illumitex has reached more than 100 lumens per watt already, expects to reach 150 lumens per watt by the end of the year — which would make the lights 50 percent more efficient than other LEDs — and wants to hit 250 lumens per watt by the end of next year, Thomas says. That last goal would put it 15 years ahead of a U.S. Department of Energy target of the technology reaching 160 lumens per watt by 2025.

Illumitex’s LEDs also produce more uniform light than its competitors, and the light all comes out of the top of the device in one direction, said John Morreale, vice president of business development. That means the lights don’t need reflectors, the dome-shaped devices that help direct other lights, he said. This simplicity makes the lighting package smaller, a plus for manufacturers looking to make thinner devices, he said. And because Illumitex delivers three times the usable light, manufacturers also can use fewer LEDs, making the footprint smaller still, he added. Altogether, the LEDs get 10 times the light out of the same sized package, Thomas said.

The company is going after three primary markets: mobile displays, televisions and general lighting. While some customers, such as those making tablet PCs, will likely want to use Illumitex’s advantages to increase their screen brightness, Morreale says most of its customers will probably be more interested in increasing battery life and reducing the amount of electricity their devices consume. The company also expects to be able to make the devices cost-competitive with other LEDs “right out of the gate,” Morreale said.

Jed Dorsheimer, an analyst with Canaccord Adams, described the technology as “novel” and said the samples Illumitex provided have already shown efficiencies of more than 130 lumens per watt. “That is very admirable, particularly for a startup,” he said. He said the startup should be able to win market share if it can provide higher efficiency for the same cost, as it expects. The ability to use low-cost manufacturing processes already in place today is a key advantage, he added. “A lot of this is going to depend upon the manufacturing partners that they find, but from all the analysis, it certainly does look as if they would be able to be somewhat cost-competitive if they’d be able to ramp volume fairly quickly,” he said.

The company still faces some challenges ahead, however, and it will take some time to prove its advantages in the marketplace, Dorsheimer said. “They certainly have a lot to prove in terms of ramping their sales and in gaining the wins out of the market, but thus far, it looks promising.”