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6 October, 2021 - 22:35 By Tony Quested

Here come the sun kings: ‘First’ joint Oxbridge spinout company sees the light

Helio Display Materials, a venture that has claims to be the first joint spin-out from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, is commercialising technology that promises to take light-emitting applications to fresh frontiers.

Its new family of materials is already pushing the photovoltaics industry towards power conversion efficiencies that were previously thought unachievable at industrial scale.

Helio is commercialising perovskite materials in light-emitting applications such as display panels. Perovskites are of strong interest as they are highly efficient and tuneable emitters of pure light. This enables increased brightness, colour range and power efficiency.

Helio will initially commercialise materials for colour conversion. Quantum dots have started to be adopted in backlight films for colour conversion; however, the more significant opportunity is in the pixel structure itself, where perovskites are strongly differentiated due to their extraordinarily high optical density.

The company is hiring engineering talent as it globally promotes its ‘more light, less power’ advantage. It is already supported by investors who share its vision to be market world leader in the industry. 

No one seems to be 100 per cent sure but Moray Wright – CEO of investor Parkwalk Advisors – believes Helio is the first joint Oxbridge spin-out.

Helio Display Materials was spun out from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge by founders Professors Sir Richard Friend and Henry Snaith. 

The fundamental IP created by these eminent scientists underlies the research and is licensed to the company by the universities. 

Professor Sir Richard Friend, whose brainpower fired the Plastic Logic venture, is distinguished for his work with organic polymers and the electronic properties of molecular semiconductors.

Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge, he also holds a wealth of top awards and honours celebrating his achievements in this field, gaining a knighthood for ‘services to physics’ in 2003.

Sir Richard pioneered the study of organic polymers and, more recently, the field of perovskites. His work has been applied to the development of polymer field effect transistors, light emitting diodes, photovoltaic diodes, optically pumped lasing and directly printed polymer transistors.

In 1992, Sir Richard co-founded Cambridge Display Technology as a spin-out from the University of Cambridge, after discovering how to create organic electroluminescence from polymers (P-OLEDS). CDT was floated on NASDAQ in 2004 and was acquired by Sumitomo Chemical Company in September 2007.

Professor Henry Snaith gained his PhD in 2005 for research on polymer solar cells, supervised by Sir Richard. He holds numerous accolades for his work, and currently leads the Photovoltaic and Optoelectronic Device Group at Oxford University.

In 2010, Henry founded the now hugely successful Oxford PV, leaders in perovskite solar technology, which recently achieved significant funding to support its move into volume manufacturing.

Helio’s vision is to employ the best material scientists in the world in its field. Its leadership team is impressive.

CEO Simon Jones has been at the forefront of display innovation since he started at Plastic Logic in 2003 as VP Business Development. He led the early commercial development of Plastic Logic before taking responsibility for the company’s launch product as VP Product Development, delivering prototypes in a breakthrough form-factor in less than six months.

He then joined Liquavista as VP of marketing and sales, where he secured the first production order: Liquavista was later acquired by Amazon. Moving to Dow Corning as business and innovation director, Simon was responsible for a $100 million portfolio of silicone-based materials for consumer electronics applications, including displays.

In 2015, Simon joined FlexEnable in Cambridge as commercial director, leading the go-to-market planning and offer development from the company’s inception. He went on to engage a portfolio of the world’s most valuable brands as lead customers for FlexEnable’s plastic LCD screen and plastic LC optics technologies. 

Helio investment director Dr Lewis Liu, was awarded a PhD in materials science from the University of Cambridge for his work in the field of optoelectronics and electron microscopy. 

During his PhD, he co-founded CamGaN as CEO, a spin-out from Cambridge University. He continued to work there in corporate strategy, business development and fundraising after it was acquired by a leading British semiconductor company.

In 2016, Lewis joined IP Group where he is managing director, Greater China. He sits on the boards of several of IP Group’s Cleantech companies and develops strategic relationships with Chinese top tier financial institutions and corporates.

A Helio spokesperson said: “Instead of creating power we aim to use the superb absorption and emission properties of perovskites for light emission, harnessing the same level of efficiency and tunability that makes these materials unique.

“Helio can bring every colour under the Sun to commercial products: When it comes to revealing every colour that nature provides, nothing can compete with the Sun. It’s the ultimate light source, freely available, but it’s only available outdoors.

“At Helio, we’re developing new materials with tailored colour properties which will reproduce the full colour space that our eyes can see. We’re also creating the technologies to use them in displays.”

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