Liquavista, a start up with electrowetting MEMS technology from Philips, announced this past April that it has received its first venture capital round from New Venture Partners (NVP). The company is going after the lucrative mobile device display market.
As with Qualcomm's MEMS display technology, Liquavista's approach also promises to yield brighter and less power hungry displays which can maintain high contrast indoors as well as outdoors. Although their technological approaches are somewhat different, both Qualcomm and Liquavista are targeting this multi-billion dollar market opportunity. We recently spoke with Liquavista's CEO Mark Gostick.
MEMS Investor Journal: How did you get involved with Liquavista?
Mark Gostick: I was recruited by NVP, our lead investor, when the technology was still being incubated inside Philips Research - so early in the process, before there was even a separate company.
MEMS Investor Journal: What were the main challenges during the spin-off process from Philips?
Mark Gostick: Fortunately NVP have been through the process of spinning technologies out of large corporate labs many times, so their processes are well developed to anticipate most challenges. Once you have covered the mechanistic issues, it comes down to making sure the team understands the advantages of being in a spin-off and are fired up and motivated to make it a success.
MEMS Investor Journal: How much did NVP invest?
Mark Gostick: This is not public info, sorry.
MEMS Investor Journal: With Philips as your parent company, are you being funded by them? And are you currently looking for additional investments from other parties?
Mark Gostick: I would not agree that Philips is our parent company. We are completely independent and have our own freedom of action. We are being entirely funded by external venture capital sources, having done a first closing on a Series A investment in April of this year. We expect to completely close the round within the coming weeks.
MEMS Investor Journal: How close are you to commercializing your system?
Mark Gostick: We have said we will have commercial product shipping from a manufacturing process in the first half of 2007.
MEMS Investor Journal: Once commercialized, how much will your module cost and how does that compare with display modules used today?
Mark Gostick: To me cost is less the issue than price! We believe we have cost advantage over LCD manufacturers because of our architecture and process requirements. We'll be fully price competitive with existing generation modules, especially when the superior performance is factored in.
MEMS Investor Journal: Who do you think your first customer will be? What kinds of specific applications are you initially targeting?
Mark Gostick: We are initially targeting small portable devices like watches, clocks and MP3 players. We believe our initial product will be in here.
MEMS Investor Journal: What main challenges are you currently working through?
Mark Gostick: The ones that new technologies face in moving from lab to production - making processes robust, scaling them, building team, securing customers and demonstrating supply chain.
MEMS Investor Journal: How have you arranged your fabrication? Who is your fabrication partner?
Mark Gostick: We are arranging fab through a partnership with an existing LCD manufacturer, but cannot reveal the name.
MEMS Investor Journal: What do you think about Qualcomm's MEMS-based display technology? How do your two systems compare?
Mark Gostick: I think the devices I saw at SID were very good, and are the product of a large effort by a professional team. I think Qualcomm have clearly shown that the successful evolution of mobile devices needs low power, outdoor viewable displays as a key enabler if the services they carry are to enjoy widespread acceptance. We subscribe to that vision of the enabling nature of our and the iMod technology.
MEMS Investor Journal: Besides you and Qualcomm, what are some other interesting new display technologies? Are any of these approaches competing with Liquavista's?
Mark Gostick: The whole area of reflective displays is going through a period of renewed interest as people are offered more and more portable and mobile devices. I believe that ultimately good reflective displays will dominate these devices and that the availability of displays that can be read in all lighting conditions, like paper, will stimulate the creation of new product categories. We are already seeing that with the e-book devices from Sony and I-Rex using e-ink displays. But I view these all as complementary - our technology has its sweet spot just as each of these others does, and they can co-exist in an enlarged market.
Mark Gostick is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience working in venture capital backed technology companies. Originally an engineer, he has been through the business cycle with the emergence of optical discs in the late '80's where he had significant positions with Nimbus Records amongst others. In the 90's he was the first employee of Cambridge Display Technology Ltd and worked with the company through several funding rounds, and a successful exit for the founders at which time he was responsible for the commercial side of the company, including strategic develoment, marketing, licensing and IP portfolio.