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At the 2010 Lightfair trade show in Las Vegas (how fitting), 40 percent of the nearly 500 exhibitors were showing off LED devices. Matt Thomas has hopped on the bandwagon. His startup, Illumitex, entered the commercial lighting market in April, and he says he intends to have a display booth at the 2011 Lightfair. But what makes him think his little company will stand out?
Thomas gave me his pitch after flying from Illumitex’s HQ in Austin, Texas. First of all, he says, the company’s products are better than lots of the other new stuff out there. Competitors typically array their light-emitting diodes on disks. Illumitex places them in squares or rectangles to better illuminates all points of such common surfaces as billboards, parking lots or office interiors.
Second, the market is so new and fast growing that makers of commercial lighting fixtures haven’t become married to their suppliers, giving everyone a fighting chance.
I found his third argument the most persuasive—Illumitex’s investors. Since Thomas, a mechanical engineer by training, cofounded the company with chief scientist Dung Duong and Paul Winberg, its engineering vice president, Illumitex has raised $22 million from venture capitalists, led by New Enterprise Associates. Among others: DFJ Mercury and Applied Ventures, which is Applied Materials’ in-house VC fund.
VCs aren’t oracles, of course. But NEA has backed more than 650 startups since it began in 1978, and boasts that two-thirds have been acquired or gone public, including 3Com and Tivo. A sponsor like that suggests that Illumitex may have a chance.
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