The energy-efficient Nanoleaf Gem is company's first designer bulb (image courtesy Nanoleaf)

Alumni startup Nanoleaf creating green jobs in Toronto, China

Earth Day sees company add designer bulb to its suite of energy-efficient LEDs

It started with a viral campaign for the world’s most energy-efficient light bulb in 2013. Now, international media are also calling Nanoleaf a “green job” leader.

Founded by University of Toronto  engineering alumni Gimmy Chu, Tom Rodinger and Christian Yan, the company has grown from its days as a crowdfunded venture working from the founders’ apartments to a bi-continental company attracting investment from the likes of Li Ka Shing (dubbed “Asia’s richest man” by Bloomberg News). (Read more about NanoLeaf in U of T News or check out its website.)

Now, Nanoleaf’s efforts have been highlighted by Reuters as a best practice for the increasing trend of ‘green jobs’ in a country that the International Monetary Fund ranks as the world’s largest economy. 

(Interested in entrepreneurship and startups at U of T? Visit U of T's Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.)

Nanoleaf recently won two 2015 Red Dot international design awards for its bulbs and opened an office in Toronto. And, on Earth Day, the startup launched its newest product: Nanoleaf Gem – described as “the world’s first all-glass, designer LED bulb.”

One of Nanoleaf’s newest recruits, alumna Leslie Chen, shared the latest on their recent growth…

What’s new with NanoLeaf? 
Nanoleaf recently set up an office in downtown Toronto, so we are now officially a global company that spans two continents. 

The Toronto office opened in January this year. We were originally in the MaRS building, which started off with three people, but now we have moved into our own office at Queen and John, having expanded to eight people. There are about 20 employees in China and we have a small office in Hong Kong with a few people as well. 

The expansion to Toronto was to focus on research and development, to expand our team of engineers as well as develop the creative team, which includes me and a new industrial designer. We mostly coordinate with the China team over Skype and e-mail. Meetings are usually nights for us and mornings for them!

We’ve also been getting ready for the launch of our new product, the Nanoleaf Gem, which is the world’s first LED décor bulb. 

How has the green lighting landscape developed since you came on the scene? 
Green lighting has definitely expanded since Nanoleaf started. There are now so many ‘green’ companies and products out there, but Nanoleaf is constantly striving to be the best and to create the most sustainable yet stylish products available. 

What are you most interested to see in the near future in terms of energy-efficient lighting? 
We’re excited to see even more energy-efficient bulbs available. Not just energy-efficient but also LED lights that challenge the industry standards, which inspired us to create the Nanoleaf Gem. 

People usually don’t associate LED bulbs with beauty, so we wanted to create a light bulb that was eco-friendly but still appealed to designers and artists. 

What’s your next big goal or challenge to work through as a company?
Our goal for the Nanoleaf Gem is to get designers and others in that industry to start thinking about adopting LED lighting. We’re all about green without compromise. Green products usually only focus on the energy efficiency aspect and forget about style, but we wanted to bring those two worlds together with the Gem. 

Any favourite U of T startup companies that you’re keeping an eye on?
We recently saw Fuel Wear Clothing in Metro, which was really interesting. Similar to Nanoleaf, it was founded by three engineering grads who launched their product with a Kickstarter campaign.

Brianna Goldberg writes about entrepreneurship and produces The Cities Podcast for U of T News.

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