Vector Photonics, another James Watt School of Engineering spinout, has developed a ground-breaking photonic crystal surface emitting laser (PCSEL) technology - the most significant innovation in laser design and manufacture for 30 years. PCSELs have the key characteristics of low cost; robust manufacture; broad wavelength range; and high power, giving them a huge advantage over all other semiconductor laser technologies used today.
A University of Glasgow-led spin-out, Vector Photonics, has secured over £1.65m of equity investment and seed funding of over £4m with a key business model of the development and high-volume manufacture of Photonic Crystal Surface Emitting Lasers (PCSELs). The PCSEL is a new class of laser diode that the team have been working on for around a decade which has been hailed as the biggest breakthrough in the field of semiconductor laser research in 30 years. The PCSEL breaks traditional design rules for incumbent technologies where gain, feedback and emission are co-linear by having in-plane gain and feedback, and orthogonal, out-of-plane emission. As a consequence, laser diodes with significantly enhanced performance may be realised. This work at the University of Glasgow is led by Prof. Richard Hogg, with Vector Photonics CTO Dr Richard Taylor and Director of Product Development Dr David Childs playing a key role in the development of the PCSEL during their time at the University of Glasgow.
Through a series of strategically deployed EPSRC IAA-funding interventions, the University and Vector Photonics were able to de-risk the technology and establish crucial market interest which has helped to attract major investment funding. Initial IAA support enabled the realisation a prototype PCSEL device, critical in allowing the development of their commercialisation. This success led to a RAEng Enterprise Fellowship for Dr. Taylor and the incorporation of Vector Photonics in March 2020. The demonstration of a prototype PSCEL assisted with the recruitment of a specialist commercial team and helped secure customer engagement in a variety of application areas for PCSELs. Two patents based on PCSEL technologies have also been secured.
Subsequent IAA funding has enabled the secondment of a Research Associate Dr. Katherine Rae to Vector Photonics to develop InP-based PCSELs, a world first. This has resulted in a collaborative Innovate UK project (LOCAL) to develop PCSELs for data communications applications in data-centre transceivers. This has been critical in de-risking the company, and helped to trigger the first-round of investment.
Following on from this, there have been two subsequent Innovate UK projects: Facilitator, based on 3D plastic printing; and Bloodline, focused on 3D metal printing. These have created a strong, industrially focused environment for training PhD and Masters students. Recently, a KTP has been secured under the supervision of Dr Jeff Kettle to develop and transfer processes to ensure the reliability of the PCSEL. In addition Vector Photonics are sponsoring a PhD student to develop low-cost manufacturing processes.
Vector photonics funding graph: the EPSRC IAA provided funding a crucial junctures in the formation of Vector Photonics.
Not only has the EPSRC IAA been instrumental in establishing Vector Photonics, but also in developing staff at all levels. Dr. Richard Taylor completely changed his career trajectory from working as a Research Associate in an academic setting to that of CTO of Vector Photonics. This required the development of entrepreneurial and management skills which were developed through ICURe, an RAEng Enterprise Fellowship and the IAA. Dr. Taylor was personally shortlisted for the IET Mike Sargeant award, awarded to outstanding early career professionals who have made significant progress in their career over more than three years. Prof. Richard Hogg is currently seconded to Vector Photonics and was shortlisted as UoG Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021 for his work with Vector Photonics. Dr. David Childs moved from his position in the Electronics and Nanoscale Engineering Division in the James Watt School of Engineering to Director of Product Development at Vector Photonics. The team of Taylor, Childs and Hogg were the recipients of the prestigious RAEng Colin Campbell Mitchell Medal in 2021, an award given to an engineer, or small team of engineers, who have made an outstanding contribution to any field of UK engineering. Dr. Katherine Rae gained valuable insight into industrial practices and the funding process for spinouts, which has been valuable in her own career development.
“Without the support from the IAA, I wouldn’t be founder, director and CTO. I would probably still be a postdoc in someone else’s lab.”
– Dr. Richard Taylor, founder, director and CTO, Vector Photonics.