13 January, 2006 - 12:37 By Staff Reporter

Kodak eyeing top start-ups in region for venturing arm

Eastman Kodak’s decision to set up its European research HQ in Cambridge will bring more investment into the region than was immediately apparent, according to the US imaging giant’s head of European research.Eastman Kodak’s decision to set up its European research HQ in Cambridge will bring more investment into the region than was immediately apparent, according to the US imaging giant’s head of European research.

In addition to its primary mandate for blue skies research, part of Kodak’s brief is to identify the hottest technology start-ups locally, reporting the best investment prospects back to the company’s US-based venturing arm.

Head of the European research division, Dr Sam Weller and his team have already submitted a number of investment propositions to Kodak’s CTO in the US who also oversees its venture capital fund.

The Kodak Ventures Group invests in early stage companies with disruptive technology and high-growth potential.

It concentrates on wireless technologies that send images from a digital camera to a computer more swiftly; display technologies that place brighter viewing screens in handheld and mobile electronics with less power consumption and longer life; and advanced networking platforms that bring healthcare professionals together – despite large distances – to consult over X-rays, MRIs and other diagnostic images.

The arrival of Kodak in the summer of 2005 was heralded as both an endorsement of and boon for the East of England’s technology cluster.

The photography pioneer announced that it would be consolidating its UK and France based researchers under one roof, employing 30 people. These numbers will be further boosted by between six and 10 visiting scientists and students.

But there is more to the story than the traditional relocation or inward investment. Dr Weller said: "Kodak uses its research community in Europe as ‘spotters’ of investment opportunities.

"My team and I have already had a series of meetings with local start-ups and where we feel there is potential for an investment we feed it back to the US.

"We have yet to move beyond that stage, but we have only been in Cambridge since the summer remember." The fund is yet to make an investment on this side of the Atlantic, but Kodak’s arrival in Cambridge will be welcomed by the area’s already well-established venture capital community.

The European research division has a big part to play as Kodak puts its ‘darkroom photography’ days behind it and plots its course into the digital future and beyond. Cambridge technologists will be conducting fundamental research into new printing science, next-generation display materials and systems, unique diagnostic systems and mobile imaging.

"Kodak’s digital transition is a key driver in us setting up a different type of research facility in Europe, with the goal of identifying differentiated or unique European science and technology and user preferences," Dr Weller said.

"We have already begun collaborations with a number of start-ups because there are so many in areas of technology that are consistent with our aims. There are at least half a dozen that we talk to on a regular basis, giving us the ability to get involved with novel and innovative ideas.

"The strength of the area’s inkjet companies were also a big factor as we will be heavily involved in the development of new materials and inks, for example. We have a natural interest in flexible displays and expect to be very strong in this area going forward. Of course locally-based Cambridge Display Technology and Plastic Logic are both very strong in these areas.

"And in terms of mobile imaging, the European market is more mature than the US – consumers here tend to use their mobile phones in a more advanced way. Therefore this is the best place for us to forge new ways of sending images between phones."

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