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PolyPhotonix, a poly-capable startup – KTN Plastic Electronics magazine

Richard Kirk, CEO of Durham-based PolyPhotonix, doesn’t claim to have all the answers for tech-based startups. But when it comes to bringing innovation to the marketplace, his argument is sound.

PolyPhotonix is pioneering the early adoption of organic light. They work with designers and potential end-users, to create new products and to support the design process right through to large-scale manufacture.

“We started as many companies do, as one person with an idea. We managed to get that funded through an early Technology Strategy Board (TSB) project, that offered significant investment of £3.5m, over 3 years. We were very fortunate in that we were then able to work with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), which was a good place to incubate the company and work with their scientists and management. Fairly quickly, we were able to work as a larger company might because we had the back-up and we had the systems.”

But what differentiates PolyPhotonix from other science-led start-ups is their keen sense of the commercial imperative. When their first brainwave proved more costly than they’d thought to develop, they diversified.

“Our great strength is that we’re driven by the market, not by our technology and we’ve been very good at talking to one potential funding body and linking them with another. The TSB, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the NHS have all been supremely helpful to PolyPhotonix. We’ve managed to migrate between these big, powerful organisations with a clear message and to pull a little bit of support from here and from there – joining all those dots to get the right outcome.”

Their clear message has managed to raise £12m in four years. Which sounds like a lot for joining some dots – and it is. A lot of that has gone through PolyPhotonix to the seven universities that are currently running long-term clinical trials for its new treatment for macular eye disease.

They’re feeling confident, but are cautious about attracting premature publicity for the treatment: “We’re three years away from finishing trials. People who are losing their sight are understandably desperate for any therapy, immediately. It’s just not fair to make big statements until we’re ready to go to market.”

In the meantime, Kirk and his colleagues are constantly looking for the next brainwave. “We talk continuously to other scientific sectors. It’s great to get physicists, medics and biologists – people who are all at the top of their game – together in one room to spark ideas off each other. I love to engineer those meetings – and I make sure we do it frequently.”

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