How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb? Three, it turns out. The founders of Hong Kong-based Nanoleaf – former engineering undergrads Gimmy Chu, Christian Yan and Tom Rodinger – are on a mission to reinvent the humble invention that has remain unchanged for over a century.
The result is both unexpected and beautiful. Nanoleaf’s LED bulb is a geeky origami project – its body is made of folded silicon instead of glass. According to the company, this design makes it extremely energy efficient.
“Being a scientist, Tom has an engineering perspective,” says Yan. “Why use an extra material like glass? Why not mold the circuit board in a shape of a light bulb?”
With every component designed from scratch, the bulb brings 87 percent energy savings compared to the existing LED variety. It produces 133 lumens-per-watts, almost double the efficiency of Philips’ 22-watt bulb. The design has another positive spin-off: more efficiency means less heat, making Nanoleaf’s bulb one of the coolest around. Literally.
At US$35 each, it isn’t too far beyond other LED bulbs, so the pricing isn’t prohibitive considering the long-term cost savings.
There’s a trade-off though. A more efficient light bulb has a lower color rendering index, which means it brings out less of a surrounding’s natural colors, making the environment less attractive. This has implications for the retail and food sector, as well as for discerning homeowners.
This is another engineering problem that the Nanoleaf team wants to solve. It will also introduce warmer-colored lighting, which homeowners tend to prefer, for the next iteration of the bulb.
The startup’s goal is to push the product into as many people’s hands as possible, which was why they decided to enter fundraising mode.
Fortunately, the cost savings have been an easy sell. The company successfully raised US$273,000 in a crowdfunding campaign, which was more than ten times their goal.
One thing led to another: After the campaign, Nanoleaf received an undisclosed amount from Horizon Ventures, a venture capital firm owned by Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-Shing.
“They’re not your typical VC,” says Yan. “Besides money, they provide strategic support, help us organize press events, and introduce contacts in manufacturing, distribution, and marketing.”