DisplayLink unveils major Cambridge growth blueprint
Anglo-US chip designer DisplayLink, whose technology is revolutionising whole sectors from virtual reality headsets to in-car wizardy, is more than doubling its corporate & R & D presence on Cambridge Science Park to cope with soaring global demand.
The company invested $26 million into Research & Development last year – all generated from cashflow – and intends to double that in the next 12 months. It has increased turnover to more than £100m a year.
DisplayLink has also grown headcount to 275 staff – the majority in Cambridge – in double-quick time.
While the US is the global HQ, headcount there is relatively small. Cambridge houses major corporate functions as well as R & D. Elsewhere, there are 60 staff and growing in a vibrant Polish facility and DisplayLink is also expanding across Asia embracing Taiwan, Japan and Korea; it now has a small but significant new office in Tokyo.
The company is moving from the c25,000 sq ft 140 Science Park despite having more than 10 years left on its lease; South Cambridgeshire District Council has just agreed to pay £13 million for the building. DisplayLink is moving into a new building of 61,000 sq ft at the Science Park and hopes to complete fitting out in Q3 and move in ready to roll in Q4.
Founded in 2003 as Newnham Research, the company has added layer upon layer to its product suite and now partners with the global giants of the technology world.
One such alliance saw it work with Intel to produce a revolutionary wireless Virtual Reality headset which Taiwanese giant HTC is successfully commercialising.
Leveraging long life but ultra-low energy battery power, the rapid delivery mechanisms inherent in the product are said to be revolutionising the delivery of exciting new games and encouraging multi-user involvement.
CEO Graham O’Keeffe said potential new markets for DisplayLink were “enormous” – any sector utilising compressed video across a network was fertile hunting territory.
He said DisplayLink’s “unique technology” was proving gold dust for global product developers, with the inbuilt low latency of its chips a key USP. Low latency describes a computer network that is optimised to process a very high volume of data messages with minimal delay. These networks are designed to support operations that require near real-time access to rapidly changing data.
In practical terms, minimising delays to a tiny fraction of those generated by alternative products is a genuine game-changer. Users of Virtual Reality headsets for gaming, for example, often complain about feeling very dizzy and sick because of over-long delays in delivery of the technology to their headsets.
In offices and labs across the globe, desktop computer users complain that their cursors don’t move immediately they click their mouse. In terms of saving lives, motorists wouldn’t feel at all safe given the current time delays experienced in relaying instructions to a car’s display screens using existing technologies.
O’Keeffe told me: “We have grown incredibly fast since moving into our existing Science Park building in 2015. Management places great store in creating the kind of company we would want to work for and an environment which would attract us to work there.
“Reflecting that philosophy, when we were looking to move out of Mount Pleasant House, our CFO John Lee said: ‘Let’s find a building we can cast in our own image.’
“I believe we have done that with the move to our current home and we intend to further develop that model when we fit out the new building. It will be fun; it will be stimulating for engineers – and that is important in Cambridge where the fight for talent is so intense.”
Incorporated as a US company, Cambridge will remain integral to DisplayLink’s ongoing expansion strategy, as O’Keefe explained.
“We design very complicated chips with a lot of applications and there are very few places in the world where you could connect with the majority of people you need to do what we do from concept to product.
“Silicon Valley, yes; Cambridge, certainly; Munich potentially – then you are struggling to identify other fruitful centres to so completely enable what we do. So the Cambridge talent pool is very important to our plans. It’s a great place for us to be.
“I know there is a lot of competition for top talent here but the DNA of Cambridge works in our favour: We have Arm, CSR (Qualcomm), Samsung and many more innovation influencers on our doorstep.
“Then we have the superb cluster of technology consultants – not just the major players but smaller players like Argon Design who are nimble, responsive and very good at what they do for our sector. We have just hired 17 new people so believe we have an exciting proposition to attract new people.”
O’Keeffe often refers to DisplayLink as a startup enterprise, despite its age and turnover – and that’s because of its genuinely unique business model.
Within DisplayLink there are some business units that top $10m turnover in their own right. But there are also several that are genuine startups, pioneering new products to address a broadening range of vertical markets that the parent company can address.
O’Keeffe says: “We have a number of very different product lines and each has its own team. These can be generating five or six new products at any one time. They have to present to our investment council to get the OK for their work.
“And to each of these business units we apply the same rigour and discipline as we would the parent company. Every penny spent is important and focus has to be maintained.”