Optical hot-beds erupt in the UK

By Carolyn Mathas, Lightwave

Like the legendary Phoenix rising from the flames, several geographically diverse optoelectronics centres are confounding the downturn and beginning to blossom. With a powerful combination of university, industry, and government efforts - and, of course, substantial finance - these areas are revitalising the opto industry. Two such centres are Scotland and Wales.

Scotland's opto industry boasts more than 60 companies, 800 new high-end jobs, and a commitment to create a large cluster of companies based on R&D knowledge. "Within Q1/2002, the government of Scotland is creating a hands-on seed fund designed to push companies forward," says Chris Gracie, CEO of the Scottish Optoelectronics Association (SOA). "An average of seven new optoelectronics companies is created annually in Scotland, and the industry employs 5,000 people out of a population of 5m."

The SOA works closely with Scottish Development International, a joint venture between the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise. Its vision is to fully integrate Scotland's international economic development activities.

Key companies include Compound Semiconductor Technologies, the Crystal Consortium, Edinburgh Instruments, Intense Photonics, Kamelian, Logitech, and Nallatech.

Wales, with a population of three million, employs 3,600 in the Welsh optoelectronics sector, and sources there expect that number will grow substantially. The Welsh Opto-Electronics Forum is a consortium of companies, university research efforts, users, and support organisations with a mission to develop and make profitable optoelectronics in Wales and internationally.

According to Stuart Irvine, chair of optoelectronics materials chemistry at the University of Wales (Bangor), "Our research base performs collaborative research ventures in semiconductors, optics, and optronics. Several companies have significant Welsh operations, such as Agilent Technologies, Cogent Defence Systems, IQE, Thales Optics, and Spectrum Technologies."

Technium is a groundbreaking Welsh program created to generate innovation-based businesses in a network of facilities across Wales. Its crown jewel is the Optronics Technology and Incubation Centre (OpTIC), which comprises 20-30 incubator units and will open in September 2003. OpTIC is sited on the "Optronics Coast" near existing opto companies in North Wales.

  • Essient Photonics has landed USD7m in first-round funding for the production of integrated indium phosphide-based opto components which use drive voltages of just 100mV for modulation and detection in 10-40Gbit/s systems.

Essient was founded in February after 8 years of research at Glasgow University by chief scientist Professor Charles Ironside. Offices are in Glasgow University and Dallas, TX. Scottish Enterprise supported early stage commercialisation.

Interim CEO is Pond Ventures partner Dr Michael Gera and CTO is Dr Simon Hicks.

For more info: jeremy.chappell@essient.com

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