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Alumni launch "world's most energy-efficient light bulb"

U of T "a good atmosphere for entrepreneurship"

NanoLight bulbs will begin shipping to investors in May (all photographs and video courtesy NanoLight)

Three University of Toronto graduates are set to flip the switch on “the world’s most energy-efficient light bulb”—and investors are scrambling to support them, with their company's start-up goal already having been surpassed by more than 500 per cent.

"For all three of us, the main goal is not to make a huge amount of money," said Christian Yan, one of the founders of NanoLight. "The goal is just innovation in general. We wanted to do something that will make people think in another way."

NanoLight is a new type of LED light bulb developed by Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering alumni Yan, Tom Rodinger and Gimmy Chu. The team’s innovative design uses small LEDs on a folded circuit-board to produce a cool-to-touch, environmentally-friendly light bulb.

What sets NanoLight apart? It uses only 12 watts of electricity to produce light equivalent to that of a 100W bulb. It plugs into a regular light fixture. It gives off warm light in all directions like a traditional bulb. It turns on instantly.

And it will last for about 20 years.

NanoLight’s stylish design and ground-breaking energy-efficiency has resulted in a flurry of investments on the crowd-funding website, KickStarter, since its launch on January 7. The project had raised more than $140,000 with more than 3,000 investors at time of publication—although their initial goal was to raise just $20,000 by March 8.

"It's totally crazy, we had no idea," said Yan, who had hoped KickStarter would allow them to build some initial cash flow and make people aware of the product.

"All of the response has been overwhelming," he said. "More and more backers started coming and we have emails every day from different distributors and importers thinking it's a great idea. Right now it's almost too fast for us, but it's been really, really great."

photo of Chu, Yodinger and YanThe NanoLight team met at U of T while developing a vehicle with the university’s solar car project, Blue Sky Solar Racing. Rodinger was a senior member of the team, completing his PhD, while Chu and Yan were third-year Electrical and Computer Engineering students looking for ways to contribute their skills to different projects and start-ups around campus.

"For Gimmy and myself, U of T was a good atmosphere for entrepreneurship-- people in our class, our professors, it's a really dynamic place with different cultural backgrounds and people who are really smart," said Yan. "U of T provided a great platform for everyone to incorporate business together with engineering."

Yan added that the Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) program hosted an entrepreneurship series where alumni spoke about their experiences building start-ups.

"It was of huge interest for the ECE students because a lot of us wanted to do business and engineering, and it's a perfect mix between the two," he said, noting that his team has been invited to speak at that same series next year about their experiences with NanoLight. 

Professor Jonathon Rose of ECE co-hosts the lecture series, soon to become part of Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery. Fostering a culture of entrepreneurship is the goal, said Rose. 

“We bring in entrepreneurs to tell the story of their company - who had the idea, who made it happen, how it was funded, what went right and wrong and how did they navigate all of the issues that arose,” Rose said. “We believe hearing those stories helps students believe they could do it too.”

On the NanoLight website the alumni describe themselves as adventure-seeking “tree-huggers” who hope that their “great grandchildren can go on their own adventures and experience the wonders of mother nature in the same way we can today.” They're trying to make their part of that hope a reality by working on NanoLight in their spare time, travelling across oceans and continents and negotiating time zones between Hong Kong, San Diego, Vancouver, and beyond, as they continue development of their brainchild.

In the short term, Yan and Rodinger will continue working in Asia to find the right manufacturer while Chu develops their marketing plan from his current base in California. Next steps include looking for the right distributor and opening their sales network across the world-- with interest already coming in from companies in Mexico, Brazil, Germany, France, England and Finland. The team will also continue focusing on legal matters as they push their patents through.

"LED lightbulbs have been on the market for a very long time but now with our new type of LED lightbulb people are seeing it in a different way," said Yan. "I know it looks a little unique, and a little strange, but it catches people's attention and hopefully they'll begin to think more about energy saving and how this in turn will help to bring the electricity bills down and help bring a greener future to the world."

NanoLight’s Kickstarter campaign wraps up March 8 and shipments to investors are set to begin in May.