We spoke to Sam Lewtas, founder of Circada, a lighting system designed to work in tune with light cycles in nature, helping you to feel more energised and well rested.
Sam had an unconventional route to entrepreneurship, having originally trained as a pharmacist with a stint in the medical communications industry before eventually founding his company.
Sam’s idea for Circada stemmed from his experience at university with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and regularly used bright light therapy to help with symptoms. The effectiveness of this artificial light made him wonder if all artificial lighting systems are helping or hindering our lives and decided to explore this further.
In your own words, what is Circada?
Circada is developing circadian lighting to drive healthcare outcomes. Put simply, our lighting system meets our body’s requirements according to the time of day and season, realigning the body clock with nature. Our lighting adjusts its brightness and colour in time with the sun. We make for brighter days and cosier nights and evenings!
Whilst there are other circadian lighting systems, ours is easier to install, can be retrofitted onto existing lighting and is more health-oriented.
Engineering is all about solving problems. What problem is your innovation solving and what makes it ground-breaking?
I am interested in how we can improve health and live more in tune with ourselves and nature, and not in a new age way but by taking on board the very latest science.
The body clock has been found to be primarily set by light in the environment. Jetlag, for instance, occurs mostly due to the lighting pattern shifting with travel, particularly when we experience the peak at midday. Artificial lighting however is static and does not take our body’s needs into account. Circada is looking at how lighting can serve our health better and work more in tune with nature, rather than against it.
Our solution is straightforward to retrofit. Almost all circadian lighting systems go into new builds only, massively limiting the opportunity. Ours not only works in existing builds, but it works via a regular switch, removing the need for complicated control panels.
What was the moment that made you think “I can turn this into a commercial opportunity”?
I was fortunate enough to secure an Innovate UK grant which helped to de-risk the business and gave me the time to develop the idea, as well as the support of my investors at Deepbridge Capital. The real eureka moment came when I formed my collaboration with Durham University in the early days and found a real-world use case for Circada’s technology in hospitals.
Wading into unknown territory can be unsettling – what were you most excited by and what was most challenging for you when starting out?
The most exciting and unsettling thing is simply not having an instruction manual. Personally, I think we grow the most when outside our comfort zones and I have learned to really love this aspect of the business. There has to be balance though and I am lucky to benefit from some excellent advisors who can share their wisdom and at times challenge directions we are taking with a healthy amount of constructive criticism. We spend a good amount of time planning and undertaking market research to make sure we are going the right way.
Can you share a time when failure mattered in your business journey?
I think the hardest challenges we face come from working with external contractors, as their performance can feel somewhat out of your hands. Some have and continue to be fantastic, but some that underperform have impacted us on both time and cost. My advice would be take your time to get to know people first and regularly review deliverables – the good ones stick out a mile and feel like a pleasure to deal with.
What does a typical day look like for you at Circada?
There is certainly no such thing as a typical day when you run your own company! I’m very grateful to have a job I’m passionate about and am generally excited to start work every day.
I work closely with my team, whether it’s with my employees or some of the third parties that constitute it. I feel like we are a creative bunch and everyone brings something different to the table making it an exciting space.
I am currently looking to get a couple more pilots underway in addition to one we have in intensive care, as well as look towards my next round of investment.
What impact has the Regional Talent Engines programme had on your business so far? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt?
Spending time with the mentors really helped bring in extra perspectives at times that were crucial to the business, such as making my first hire and making room for people to best demonstrate their talents. I found the workshops a healthy way to revisit the business plan and spend some time on the business.
Have you got any tips for potential applicants?
Don’t feel like you need to have a market-ready idea to go ahead. The beauty of the Regional Talent Engines is exploring something that you may not have all the answers for right now.
Who is your role model? Marlon Brando
Tell us a random fact not many people know about you: I can speak a tiny bit of Indonesian
What’s your guilty pleasure? Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream
When I was a child, I wanted to be… A hairdresser or a magician
What TV show are you binging? I’m currently holding my breath currently for the next series of Traitors – though I’m not sure how good I’d be at it!
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Make hay while the sun shines
What has been the worst piece of advice? Do as I say (ie don’t think for yourself)
I don’t understand why… Daylight savings is still a thing
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Joan of Arc, Claudia Winkelman
If you were an investor, which Hub Member would you invest in? Nathan Taylor at Blockchop. A neat solution to a clear problem that says exactly what it does
If you had to start all over again, would you do anything differently? It would have been nice to have had a technical co-founder, though I’m lucky now to have excellent electronics engineer onboard.
The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub supports the UK’s brightest technology and engineering entrepreneurs to realise their potential.
We run four programmes for entrepreneurial engineers at different career stages. Each one offers equity-free funding, an extended programme of mentorship and coaching, and a lifetime of support through connection to an exceptional community of engineers and innovators.
The Enterprise Hub focuses on supporting individuals and fostering their potential in the long term, taking nothing in return. This sets us apart from the usual ‘accelerator’ model. The Enterprise Hub’s programmes last between 6 and 12 months, and all programmes give entrepreneurs lifelong access to an unrivalled community of mentors and alumni.
Our goal is to encourage creativity and innovation in engineering for the benefit of all. By fostering lasting, exceptional connections between talent and expertise, we aim to create a virtuous cycle of innovation that can deliver on this ambition.
The Enterprise Hub was formally launched in April 2013. Since then, we have supported over 350 researchers, recent graduates and SME leaders to start up and scale up businesses that can give practical application to their inventions. We’ve awarded over £11 million in grant funding, and our Hub Members have gone on to raise over £1.3 billion in additional funding.