Powerlase: Tony King


Officially one of the UK’s fastest growing businesses last year, Powerlase is going places.

In 2006 alone it grew an impressive 400%. The laser manufacturer may have started life in the labs of London’s Imperial College, but six years after being spun out it has some of the world’s most desirable clients beating a path to its door.

Taking university technology to market has scuppered many a good idea, but with myriad potential applications and £15m backing from some of Europe’s most prominent venture capitalists, including technology-focused MTI and Deutsche Venture Capital, the business has carved an enviable niche. Now headed up by chief executive Tony King, £9.4m turnover Powerlase’s innovative, high-powered and patented nanosecond range of lasers now get put to work on the creation of flat-screen TVs for Samsung and LG Electronics, two of the biggest names in the market.

Powerlase is still a small fish, however. Its main competitors are two huge firms with $550m turnovers, but the Crawley-based business hasn’t let them get a look in. So how did it do it? First, the key selling point is the technology’s ability to create a faster, more costeffective manufacturing process – permanently on lasers can typically deliver a few thousand watts of laser light, but Powerlase’s pulse at 6,000 times a second, meaning they can deliver millions of watts, critical for machining materials in the electronics industry.

There’s also the company’s focus on just one commercial application. “Our competitors have lots of products and applications,” says King. “We have only one key product range, but targeted at a well-defi ned customer base.”

It’s not without its challenges though. “We had to assemble a very careful business proposition as to our longevity. That comes down to the credibility of the company, and proving we are here for the long term.” The strategy worked, changing the way Powerlase operates.

“Small companies go through a push/pull process,” explains King. “Initially, you’re pushing your offer to clients. When you start to deliver, they request things of you and it becomes a pull process.”

The main effect of this was the opening of a service centre in South Korea, funded out of working capital, at the end of 2006, specifi cally to comply with Samsung and LG’s wishes. But King admits funding growth has been tough. The company benefi ted from ensuring it had enough space to extend manufacturing capability at minimal expenditure, but it also had to rein in other areas. The team only grew in this time by about six or seven key employees. “If you increase turnover, you have to be careful to not let your cost base run away,” King points out. Consequently, with cautious management and astounding growth, 2006 was an exceptional year.

And there’s more. New products are in the pipeline, with the business’ roadmap regularly checked and discussed with customers and suppliers. With potential applications for its lasers extending into the aerospace, automotive, micro-electronic and the semiconductor manufacturing market, Powerlase is in for the long haul.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Powerlase

Launched: 2001

Founders: : Dr Alan Taylor, Dr David Klug and Dr Ian Mercer

Turnover: ?9.4m

Employees: 58

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