Top 10 Quantum Dot companies [six to ten]

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New Materials News today announced the list of companies that were ranked 6 to 10 in its list of the Top 10 Quantum Dot companies. The firms that were listed were InVisage, UbiQD, LG, NanoPhotonica and QD Laser. Source: New Materials News

Today we are delighted to publish the first set of companies that have made New Materials News’ list of the top 10 companies operating in the quantum dot sector. Covering places 6 to 10, the companies that have made the cut are InVisage, UbiQD, QD Laser, NanoPhotonica and LG.

Our list of the top quantum dot companies was motivated by the number of requests we received for fine-grained information on companies active in this fast-growing area of the industry. Sadly good-quality information was very thin on the ground. Announced earlier this year, we wanted to identify those companies that we thought were well-placed to take advantage of the growth that the industry would experience over the next decade.

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In this process we want to cover companies active at all stages of the quantum dot supply chain, not only those firms that were active in manufacturing quantum dots. As a result, our enquiries extended to companies that were active in integrating quantum dots into their existing product ranges, like some of the largest displays manufacturers.

The process was conducted in a number of extended stages. First, we called for nominations, and we were delighted to receive over 250 from sector executives, researchers, investors, and other sector professionals and stakeholders. Secondly, we asked for more information from the 16 companies that made it on to our longlist of firms. This information was then passed on to a small committee of judges who created and ranked the final list of companies.

The league table: places 6 to 10

RankingCompanyFoundedHeadquartersCEOStatusRole
6InVisage2006USAJess LeePrivateQD Manufacturer
7UbiQD2014USAHunter McDanielPrivateQD Manufacturer
8QD Laser2006JapanMitsuru SugawaraPrivateLaser Manufacturer
9NanoPhotonica2011USAChris MortonPrivateQD LED Manufacturer
10LG1947South KoreaKoo Bon-MooPublicConsumer Electronics Manufacturer

6. InVisage Technologies

Founded in October 2006, InVisage Technologies manufacturers quantum dot-based digital camera sensors, retailed under its QuantumFilm brand, which enables users to capture colour-rich, high-resolution images. At the moment the company is targeting the smartphone camera market, but its product roadmap include rolling out its high-sensitivity sensor technology to D-SLR and infrared cameras.

Due to the sensitivity of its quantum dot-based photo sensors, QuantumFilm also enables smartphone camera users to capture 4K photographs and videos, which are about four times the resolution of traditional 1080p HD content. The technology also enables users to capture true slow motion videos and eliminate distortion that traditionally occurs when taking photos of moving objects.

The firm is well financed, and has gone through more than four rounds of funding, most recently at the end of 2014. Having raised about $120 million in total over 9 years, its investors include GGV Capital, Nokia Growth Partners, OnPoint Technologies, Charles River Ventures, InterWest Partners, China-based Oceanwide Holding Group, Intel Capital, and RockPort Capital.

The company, nonetheless, has yet to bring its products to market, and its estimate for when QuantumFilm might be integrated into smartphones has been pushed back a number of times. In 2011, the firm said QuantumFilm “could be in devices early [2012].” This was later pushed back to Q2 2014, and according to latest news, it is now expected to hit the consumer market later this year.

Led by Jess Lee, the company is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, where it employs over 70 people. The firm also has a design site in New Hampshire and an office in Hsingchu Science and industrial Park, Taiwan, where it also recently opened its first high-volume, full automated QuantumFilm sensor manufacturing facility. It manufactures all its quantum dots in-house.

Judges’ comments

InVisage has clearly carved out a niche for itself in the sector, going after the consumer (smartphone) photography market. It’s not difficult to believe almost all smartphone manufacturers will integrate QuantumFilm technology into its product lines once it hits the market, or will want to. The very large amounts of money InVisage has managed to raise, including from other companies active in the phone space, is testament to that.

But the firm has been hamstrung by delays bringing its products to market. It looks likely that the company will do so by the end of the year, or the start of next, but it’s not infeasible that another 12 months could slip by given its current track-record. The smartphone market is particularly vulnerable to disruptive innovation, and although its technology is still someway ahead of what is currently available in the camera market, every delay leaves open the possibility that a competitor will hit the market.

The firm is banking heavily on having a shelf-life of a number of years, or even decades, to recover its investment. This seems sensible, but there are clearly risks in such a turbulent market that is prone to disruption.

7. UbiQD

Founded in February 2014, UbiQD manufactures inexpensive, low-toxicity quantum dots. Their low-toxicity means the company is able to target new markets outside the traditional displays and lighting sectors, including the security, safety and personal care markets.

The company’s quantum dots are synthesised from copper, indium and sulphur, making them about “one order of magnitude” less expensive than the only other cadmium-free quantum dots on the market, which contain indium phosphide. Cadmium-free quantum dots produced from indium phosphide are also held back by their caricinogenic properties.

UbiQD only started selling its quantum dots to research and development customers in July 2015. It forecasts revenues of about $100,000 this year. Nonetheless, the firm says it has already built “prominent” relationships with large electronics manufacturers, but is unable to name them because of non-disclosure agreements. It is, however, on record that the quantum dot materials used by UbiQD were originally developed for solar cells in collaboration with Sharp Corporation.

Led by Hunter McDaniel, the firm is based in Los Alamo, New Mexico, and it is licensing its technology from Los Alamo National Laboratory, where McDaniel was previously a researcher, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company has also filed a number of its own patents.

The company’s current largest shareholders are Dr Hunter McDaniel and the New Mexico Consortium, and the firm is expecting to complete a Series A financing round in 2016, although it is not clear how much the company is hoping to raise.

Judges’ comments

Despite its age UbiQD has quickly established itself as one of the most interesting and innovative companies in the sector. The low price point of its low-toxicity quantum dots means that it is able to enter industries, like personal care, that have so far been off-limits.

The risk is that the early promise of the company isn’t complimented with commercial partnerships with the large consumer electronics manufacturers, those having already inked deals with the likes of Nanoco, Nanosys and QD Vision. This risk is somewhat mitigated by the fact that UbiQD is the first mover in newer industries.

UbiQD also has to prove that it is able to get the capital in place to see the company through to profitability. That will mean moving beyond its current headquarters, and securing a large industrial-scale production plant. It’s ability to raise the required funding in 2016 will be one of its most significant tests.

8. QD Laser

Founded in 2006, QD Laser is a provider of quantum dot lasers used, predominantly, in the telecoms and consumer electronics industries. It sells its products through distribution partners in Asia Pacific, North America and Europe.

The firm retails a range of lasers spanning a number of highly tuned wavelengths, which are also able to operate at extreme temperatures. In 2008, the company launched the first quantum dot laser able to stably operate between -40 and 100 degrees C.

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A subsidiary of eletronics giant Fujitsu, the firm was originally capitalised by Fujitsu Ltd. and Mitsui Ventures, the early-stage venture capital fund. The firm’s shareholders also now includes Mizuho Capital and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation, following a Y700 million ($5.8 million) investment round in 2008.

Headquartered in Kawasaki, Japan, the privately held company reported revenues of $5m last year (2014; company figures) and is projecting revenues of about $7m this year (2015; company).

The company is led by Dr Mitsuru Sugawara, a Fujitsu veteran, who previously held a senior leadership role at their Nanotechnology Research Center. The firm has previously entered into a research partnership with the University of Tokyo, and owns patents that cover its process for growing quantum dot crystals.

Judges’ comments

In an industry where a number of companies still haven’t managed to take their products to markets and remain in the early developmental stage, QD Laser stands out for its strong – and growing – revenue figures. It also benefits from the financial backing of Fujitsu.

As data and connectivity demands continue to rise around the world, especially in the emerging markets, we can only see demand for ultrafast telecoms and communications equipment rising. Also, as the majority of QD Laser’s products are not used in consumer-facing electronics, it should not be harmed against any cadmium backlash.

Nonetheless, as its products are sold to industrial companies for specialist telecoms and data uses, the overall size of the market is (much) smaller than the consumer segment that most quantum dot manufacturers are exposed to. For that reason, in spite of its healthy balance sheet, growth is never likely to be explosive.

9. NanoPhotonica

Founded in 2011, NanoPhotonica is a manufacturer of quantum dot LEDs for consumer displays, including for smartphones, tablets, laptops and TVs. Although it is currently only targeting the screens market, it also says it is able to “explore other important emerging markets,” such as the lighting sector.

The company claims it is best placed to capture a large of the market because of the relative cost of its quantum dot solutions. In an announcement from 2011, the firm claimed that compared with OLED display solutions its technology will use 30 per cent less power, be priced 75 per cent lower, and last twice as long. It is unclear how its quantum dots compete on price point in quantitative terms with other quantum dots players now in the market.

The company points out, however, that many other companies in the sector are “manufacturing only base quantum dots,” which then have to be integrated as backlight colour converters into LCD technology by displays manufacturers. NanoPhotonica, on the other hand, manufactures standalone quantum dot LEDs, which can power screens out of the box, meaning they should, theoretically, come in at a lower price point and should also be able to produce much thinner screens.

Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, the firm is majority-funded through joint development agreements with “some of the largest display manufacturers in the world,” although it is unable to name these due to non-disclosure agreements. Further funding has been secured from US Government research grants and equity investment from “private sources.”

Due to existing relationships with unnamed displays manufacturers, the company has concentrated almost exclusively on developing its technology rather than bringing it to market. The firm’s current intellectual property covers its processing and layering techniques for creating its quantum dot LEDs. The company says it also has patents pending on new non-displays uses, including in the military, policing and recreational sectors.

As a private company, NanoPhotonica has not provided any financial figures to us. The firm says, however, that it has grown quickly over the last year and intends to add staff in the future at all levels of the company. The firm is led by Chris Morton and it has a processing lab in Gainsville, Florida.

Judges’ comments

NanoPhotonica is at somewhat of a competitive disadvantage because it has been guarded about releasing the details of the displays companies that it has commercial relationships with.

Importantly this makes it difficult not only to assess the scale of these deals – the firm claims its partners are multi-billion-dollar players – but also their importance. In particular, it is unclear whether these manufacturers have exclusive agreements with NanoPhotonica or are also working with other players, like Nanoco, Nanosys and QD Vision. This makes it difficult to assess these partners’ commitment to integrate NanoPhotonica’s quantum dot solutions into its consumer electronics ranges.

There is also little recent information about how the company’s quantum dots compete with other firms on toxicity and cost. NanoPhotonica’s quantum dot solutions are low-cadmium, which will restrict the possibility of uptake in some markets where its use has been ruled out completely.

Nonetheless, the company appears to have a healthy balance sheet, which has enabled it to dedicate a lot of its time to research. If strong commercial relationships are already in place – like the firm claims – it is not infeasible that they could leapfrog the rest of the industry.

10. LG

The world’s second largest TV manufacturer (only Samsung is larger), LG is headquartered in South Korea and employs over 80,000 people working across 119 subsidiaries.

In the quantum dots sector, LG made headlines in 2013 when analysts reported the company had chosen quantum dots over organic LEDs (OLEDs) for its next-generation TVs. This was quickly rebutted by the company’s Chief Financial Officer who insisted LG would use both technologies and pursue a so-called “dual-track strategy”.

Since then LG has launched a number of quantum dot TVs using Nanoco’s technology, including a range of 4K Ultra High HD Smart TVs. However, the company has freely admitted its decision to take up quantum dot technology is, partly, to fight off its competitors, such as Samsung, and not because it thinks QD technology creates superior TVs.

In fact, in a press release issued in December 2014, the company firmly put its weight behind OLEDs. It claimed that OLED TVs were “superior” to quantum dot-based ones, and and invited customers to attend an event in South Korea to “compare the qualities” of both OLED and QD-based screen. LG insisted visitors would agree that “OLED TV is much superior.”

Judges’ comments

LG clearly has a dominant position in the displays sector, bringing a number of the quantum dot-based screens to market before other consumer electronics players. It fact last year it pipped Samsung to the post to announce the first 4K quantum dot TV. It also appears to have a stable relationship with Nanoco, which is one of the leading manufacturers of cadmium-free quantum dots, meaning it is well positioned for legislative changes.

Nonetheless, it is not clear how dedicated LG actually is to the sector, and some of its market announcements appear to suggest that it may pivot away from quantum dot-based screens to concentrate and invest in OLEDs. Some of its press releases – and information we have picked up in conversation with other sector players – seem to suggest that LG is partly investing in quantum dot-based tech only because it doesn’t want to be seen not doing something that Samsung is active in.

There are fears that LG is investing in quantum dot technology only insofar is it needs to launch baseline quantum-dot TVs, and is unlikely to be pushing the innovation envelope. It could find itself left behind by the rest of the industry, and Samsung in particular, over the next few years.

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