Thomas Edison once said: “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”
Of course there are many historic examples of valueless things selling like hotcakes (Furbies, pet rocks, disco albums). But Edison’s philosophy is probably a better vision statement for inventors and companies to live by. A great idea, after all, is just an idea until someone makes it “user friendly.”
And that’s when great ideas become profitable.
This was a big part of the challenge for Vancouver’s Cooledge Lighting, an innovative company with products that are truly, well … cool. LED light sheets that are paper thin and completely flexible. They can be cut and connected together to fit any rooms’ configuration.
“We’ve essentially solved a problem that architects and light designers have been trying to solve for more than 100 years,” says Wade Sheen, Cooledge’s CEO. “With our tiles, there is no need for designers to build ‘boxes’ to put lights into, they can illuminate any design they can conceive on paper with our light source.”
The sheets are cool to the touch, so they don’t require a heat sink, like the aluminum base you would find in a traditional light fixture; this also means they can be affixed to any surface, like dry wall, wood, plastic, or even cardboard.
“One chic architectural trend right now is to have large surfaces that are illuminated, like an entire ceiling or wall, and that’s exactly the configuration that our lights are used for,” says Sheen. “Just cover the surface with our tiles and place a material over them to diffuse the light, like a fabric or glass, and enjoy the effect – it’s really quite beautiful.”
On top of being flexible, Cooledge’s light sheets are made up of completely recyclable metals and plastics, making them environmentally friendly. And the quality of light they produce is industry leading.
Sheen admits that their first products were quite ‘techy.’ The technology (the ‘great idea’) was there, but they lacked the form factor (Edison’s ‘utility’) that would give their sheets the plug-and-play ability to win over building contractors and light installers. So, Cooledge went back to the drawing board, investing significant R&D into making their products ‘constructible,’ in Sheen’s words.
Cooledge’s R&D pays off
“We did a lot of product chasing at first, often having to troubleshoot and explain to contractors how to install our sheets, so we wanted to make it easier for them,” says Sheen. “Now our sheets come in a box, stacked like tiles, no nuts or bolts needed. The contractor tiles up a wall using easy connectors, cuts the sheets to the dimensions that he needs, and it’s just very simple – an intuitive and highly scalable lighting system, which is why I think it’s taking off in the market place.”
Edison would be proud. Sheen figures they will more than quadruple sales this year over last, over the last multi-million dollar sales year. Their growing list of high-end retail customers includes Coach, Harley Davidson and Walgreens, and they’re winning an increasing number of jobs with top tier international architecture firms like Gensler and Foster + Partners.
They’re now shipping their products all over the world, from Los Angeles, to London, to New York and Dubai. And they’re winning awards: Emerging Company of the Year at the 2015 Technology Impact Awards, the Best in Show Award at GlobalShop 2015 and the BC Technology Impact Award for Excellence in Product Innovation, to name a few.
Pretty impressive for a BC startup that just turned six years old.
Export Development Canada (EDC) certainly thinks so, which is why in 2014 it invested $1.6 million in Cooledge, through its Equity Investment Program.
“Cooledge fit all our program requirements and then some,” says EDC Senior Investment manager Michael Machabee. “A unique product, detailed business plan, market space to grow, an experienced and dedicated management team, strong existing investors (in Cooledge’s case GE Capital and ARCH Venture Partners, among others) and of course, they are a model Canadian exporter.”
“We call this company a reputation-builder for Canada. They bring in awards at international trade shows, win contracts with large multi-national corporations, and impress local contractors in cities all over the world. They’re showcasing Canadian expertise abroad and, opening doors for other innovative suppliers,” adds Machabee.