Spotlight Series: Interview with Dr Richard Taylor, CTO and founder of Vector Photonics

02 Apr 2021

Spotlight blog Richard Taylor

Who are you?

I am Richard Taylor, founder and CTO of Vector Photonics, a Glasgow based semiconductor laser company.

Vector Photonics’ patented, award winning Photonic Crystal Surface Emitting lasers (PCSELs) technology is the first revolution in semiconductor lasers in 30 years. This platform technology has the potential to impact all markets that currently use semiconductor lasers and create unrealised markets.   

What inspired you to start Vector Photonics?

I invented the technology during my PhD and then went off to Tokyo, Japan to pursue an academic career. When I returned to the UK my co-inventors and I reviewed its commercial potential. To help with this, I did the ICURe programme and met with potential customers to discuss the technology. I realised our innovation could be game changing, and have a huge impact on the field.

Why should companies use your technology?

Our PCSEL is the only laser technology that optimises for power, speed and costs simultaneously. Current technology will only optimise for two of the three criteria, meaning performance and costs are always compromised in some form. We have a video on our website which explains it nicely.

The 21 April 2021 marks World Creativity and Innovation Day – both are essential for harnessing the economic potential of nations globally. How do you think your innovation can contribute?

Creativity and innovation are key for both engineering and entrepreneurship, which are crucial for a nation’s economy. For example, the technology we have developed allows a 10X increase in performance for a range of sectors.

Semiconductor lasers are ubiquitous and have had significant impact on all of modern life. They enable internet communications, 5G, LiDAR, IoT, facial recognition, 3D printing, biosensing, gas detection, etc.  For data communications we offer lasers with higher data rates that can transmit over longer distances. For 3D printing we offer 10X smaller systems. For LiDAR, we offer the opportunity to remove mechanical moving parts from the system. These are some of the largest growing sectors in the world, each worth billions to the global economy.

What makes working at Vector Photonics so rewarding?

There are two things that stand out. Firstly, it is incredible to build a company based on something that started with a small team writing ideas on a white board, and is now developing into something that has an impact on the world of technology. However, the most rewarding aspect is building a world class team and enjoying every minute of what we are doing. 

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your entrepreneurial journey so far?

The biggest challenge I have faced was negotiating a spinout and IP agreement with the University. 

UK universities are under pressure to pursue commercial gains from spinout companies, even though such policies could lead to arrangements that may deter investors, demotivate active founders and potentially affect the long-term value of the company.  We have spent two years negotiating spinout terms and licence terms that were suitable for Vector Photonics, the founders, and our investors as a result.

UK universities generate huge quantities of knowledge, so it is in the interest of the UK economy to reduce barriers so more people can set up innovative companies more easily.

What’s next in the pipeline for Vector Photonics?

We recently won ~£2m of Innovate UK grants, making this the first time Innovate UK has collaborated with Japan. This allowed us to leverage £1.6m in investment by reducing risk. This will be used to commercialise the technology into high growth markets like 3D printing, data communications and LiDAR.

The last year has been  challenging for everyone. What's it like to run your business through a pandemic?

Vector Photonics was incorporated 10 days before the Covid-19 lockdown started, so operating during the pandemic is all we have known.

Access to lab facilities has been incredibly challenging and has significantly delayed the work we wanted to do, we have had to be much more rigorous with our planning and more flexible with how we work. It has also been difficult not attending any tradeshows or networking events. Successfully raising investment without meeting the investors was certainly tricky, but we have learnt to use the available technology to mitigate the need for travel.

I think companies that have worked through the pandemic will be in a strong position for their next crisis – which is always around the corner.

What advice you would give to a budding engineering entrepreneur?

Join an accelerator programme and build a network with people setting up companies and those have already done so. There will be many hurdles and challenges along the way. Having people to talk to and socialise with is invaluable – many of them will have had the same issues and may be able to help.

What impact has the Enterprise Fellowships programme had on your business? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt?

The Fellowship opened up a network of business and technical contacts I would have been unable to gain without the programme. I have learnt to be tenacious and persistent, and to take  each issue one at a time.

And finally, have you got any tips for potential applicants?

Speak with potential customers about your product, they will be able to tell you if they would buy it. You don’t want to spend years making something no one needs. I did this through the ICURe programme which I highly recommend.

Don’t focus on the technology too much, the other areas are important also (eg team, market, finance). Listen to your mentors even though their messages might be difficult to hear.

 

Quick fire questions

Who is your role model? Karan Faridoon Bilimoria

Tell us a random fact not many people know about you I do Judo

What’s your guilty pleasure? A wee dram (a measure of scotch for non Scottish people!)

When I was a child, I wanted to be… An engineer

If I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be… Probably still in academia

I don’t understand why…  More people don’t want to be engineers

What’s your biggest weakness? I’m too vocal/forthright

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Katherine Johnson, Arthur C. Clarke, Kathrine Switzer, and Andy Baddeley

When I’m not working at Vector Photonics, I am… Watching sport (Rugby, Football, Cricket), or doing sport (running, Judo)

What are your top three desert island items? Running shoes, Kindle, sun cream

Do you have any life regrets?  Of course – anyone who doesn’t hasn’t taken enough risk!

If I could have a superpower, it would be… Luck

If you could live a day in a life of another person, who would it be? Tim Peake – but I want one of the days he was on the International Space Station

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by?

It is a really tough to choose one as they are all incredible – but if I had to choose one it would be Dominika Behounek

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve?

Something that would age wine or whisky in an instant.

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