SME Spotlight

LED firm in the limelight

Light10 Industries CEO Jerry Tan says his firm is spearheading the concept of transmedia. Instead of using light just to light up places, it can perform other things, such as sending messages.
Light10 Industries CEO Jerry Tan says his firm is spearheading the concept of transmedia. Instead of using light just to light up places, it can perform other things, such as sending messages.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SMEs are taking their made-in-Singapore innovations to the rest of the world. This week, Light10 Industries CEO Jerry Tan speaks about the firm's foray into light-emitting diode technology and its project to light up the National Stadium dome. Fabian Koh reports.

Q What does your company do?

A Light10 Industries is spearhead- ing this thing called transmedia.

Architecture and media are converging. Instead of using light simply to light up places, it is now more intelligent and can be used to send messages. For example, light can now be used to detect how many people there are in a room.

Q What was the initial investment and how much has the company grown since then?

A We had a starting capital of $300,000. We are now still a small company, but have leapfrogged many major players. Last year, our revenue was over 23 times the starting capital. Over the years, we have spent about $1 million on research and development.

Q Did your company receive any help from the Government?

A We have had a scientist attachment programme with A*Star since our early days up to now. The Government subsidises up to 70 per cent of their (scientists') salary. On our end, we have about 12 people working mainly on the design side of things. Our office is in Loyang.

Q How did the firm get started?

A In 2002, Light10 Industries' predecessor, Light10 Labs, was started.

It was the first company that went into research and development of LED, also known as solid state technology.

We were one of the first few companies to actually launch flashlights with LEDs. Our first product was called Longbow.

We penetrated the US Navy Seals, marines, some of its police forces. It was one of the most well-received designs in the US market.

Q How was LED received in its early stages?

A In 2003, we started sharing with the Housing Board (HDB) the potential of LED technology, and assisting it with a pilot scheme. Then around 2006, Mr Mah Bow Tan, then Minister for National Development, said to me: "This is a great technology. So what are we doing about it?"

Because of that statement, there was quite strong interest from HDB to roll this out. But the technology was still very new then. We did a lot of town lights and signages to test-bed for HDB in terms of design and sustainability.

Q When did the current cross-platform company emerge?

A In 2008. It started off as the brainchild of a late friend, Mr Rinsky Sng.

During the 1980s, when we were students in college, Rinsky was sharing with me about how LEDs were always red, green and blue. They were never white.

So as young as that, we were already talking about the potential of white LEDs. Then sometime between 2001 and 2002, Rinsky contracted cancer.

During his recuperation, we went to Indonesia and saw white LEDs for the first time, during the Christmas light-up. He said: "This is where the world is going to change in terms of lighting."

So he began incorporating the company, working together with our chief technical officer, Mr Leo Wong, the guy behind the National Stadium's dome lighting design.

Q What do you want to achieve through the use of such a medium?

A We are looking at providing "takeaway". When you go to a mall or a museum, what do you take away with you, and will you want to go back?

Q What's your inspiration for this approach?

A Years ago, I went to a trade show in Florida. As I was going into Disney World, I saw a lot of high school kids all lining up along a red carpet.

As we were going in, they started screaming and taking photos. I thought Michael Jackson was behind me!

However, when I looked behind me, they said instead: "No, you!" and they came up to us and asked for our autographs. For the first time in my life, I felt like a celebrity.

As it turned out, those kids each got a free ticket to Disney World if they could collect 10 signatures from trade show attendees.

That is very clever marketing.

It happened over 20 years ago, but until today, I still remember that experience.

Q What sets your company apart from others?

A We see ourselves not as a lighting company, but an imaging company. Since 2012, Light10 Industries has been a subsidiary of Prime Structures Holdings.

Today, we are the only one with such expertise on the cross-platform level in South-east Asia, with the know-how from construction to integration and media. We see a lot of buildings going up, but I see technology contributing beyond. We seek to provide an experience.

Q What were some of your biggest challenges in the initial stages?

A There was a lot of wrong information emerging about solid state in the market. Things like, LEDs can run for 100,000 hours? We say no. Companies telling people that LED has no heat? We say it's not true. We had to tear down a lot of the misconceptions out there.

Incorporating the technology into construction was a challenge too because buildings take three to five years to build.

By the time it is finished, the technology used in them might be passe already. So the architects have to anticipate that in their designs.

Q What has been your greatest achievement?

A We did the Singapore Sports Hub. That was a major milestone for us.

They first came to us to find out how to make the Singapore flag on the roof. They could not achieve the star in the first artist impression - it appeared as just a rectangle.

The authorities said: "That is not a star. This is not a Singapore flag!"

So Leo looked into this and designed the concept with a team.

We thenwent beyond the Singapore flag and proposed a gigantic screen that could be used for things such as advertising. We competed with the likes of Philips, Daktronics and other big boys for the contract.

Q What was the process for that project like?

A The consultation and design took about 18 months, and we took another two months to rework some parts.

The final product was seen at the SEA Games, where there were "indoor fireworks" during the opening and closing ceremonies. It was the first of its kind in the world, where you have LED producing high-quality images on this scale. The right colour mixing and shaping of panels were crucial, and it was a challenge projecting it at an angle.

Q What are some of your plans to go international?

A We are in discussion for a merger with a firm in Indonesia, where we will do a transfer of information and expertise and be ready and well-positioned to penetrate the market there.

We also have enquiries from the United States. The US is a potential market for us because every state needs a stadium as they have football. Also in the media, advertising is such a big thing over there. The National Stadium project really opened a lot of opportunities for us.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'LED firm in the limelight'. Print Edition | Subscribe