30 Mar Chromacity Co-Founder & Commercial Director
Commercialising Academic Research Excellence
In the last of our series of team blogs, we spoke with Dr Christopher G. Leburn about the entrepreneurial journey to commercialise academic research as the Chromacity Co-Founder.
The journey for Dr Leburn, as the Co-Founder and Commercial Director of Chromacity, is intrinsically linked with the development of the ultrafast laser.
“I’ve always been fascinated about the applied physics that is essential for ultrafast lasers to operate”.
In the early days, Christopher completed an undergraduate degree in Physics at St Andrews University before achieving an MSc. in Lasers and Optoelectronic Devices, which was co-delivered between St Andrews and Heriot-Watt University.
The passion for lasers was always there, but it wasn’t until Dr Leburn embarked upon a PhD in Laser Physics that he realised the true potential of ultrafast lasers to advance scientific research and make a positive impact upon society.
Dr Leburn explained: “I was fortunate to complete my PhD in ultrashort-pulse lasers at the research group in St Andrews which actually pioneered the Kerr lens modelocked Ti:sapphire laser”.
“Looking back over twenty years ago now, I have very fond memories of that time and I gained a lot of valuable knowledge surrounding the complexities and inner workings of laser architecture.”
“It was clear back then, that the light source emitted from ultrafast lasers could serve as the underlying technology in enhancing life science imaging and developing solutions which can improve a patient’s overall quality of life. This became a real motivating factor.”
“Today, our femtosecond lasers are deployed in ground-breaking experiments which use nanoparticles to develop targeted therapies against pancreatic cancer.”
Although Dr Leburn’s ambition and motivation was strong, transforming academic research excellence into a viable business model was a vital stage in the journey.
On completion of his PhD, Dr Leburn took on the role of Assistant Programme Director at St Andrews for an £11 million EPSRC interdisciplinary research collaboration (IRC), involving six leading universities and five industrial partners.
This consortium allowed Dr Leburn to gain experience in how academic and industrial partners can establish an ecosystem that drives fundamental research. However, it was participation in the Converge Challenge which ultimately led to the formation of Chromacity.
The Converge Challenge is a competition that is designed to identify possible business ideas out of academic projects with access to essential funding. Dr Leburn and his colleagues submitted a business plan which was scrutinised for scalability, market validation and disruptiveness.
The plan received a placed finish in the Converge Challenge and this led to the creation of Chromacity in 2013.
Dr Leburn successfully led the growth of Chromacity as CEO, whilst undertaking a Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship to develop new skills which would take the business forward. In time, Chromacity began to excel in manufacturing a suite of ultrafast lasers for academia.
Optical Parametric Oscillators
Chromacity supplied their first flagship Optical Parametric Oscillator (OPO) to the University of Glasgow in support of research into infrared superconducting single-photon detectors around 2015.
“The Chromacity OPO generates a broad bandwidth of light across the near to mid-IR spectral region, developing a tunable and short picosecond output. Tunability and high average power enables the detection of a wide range of solids, liquids and gases for materials characterisation, stand-off and explosive detection”.
Built on the strong foundations of manufacturing ultrafast lasers for universities, Chromacity began to expand its R&D capabilities and product range to target industrial applications. Dr Leburn explained how the Chromacity OPO has been the linchpin to access new industrial markets:
“Our OPO technology has been used in FTIR spectroscopy to detect chemical signatures which are harmful to people, assets and the environment. This stand-off detection technique has huge potential in environmental monitoring, including matters of national security and defence.”
Dr Leburn began to focus on identifying new application areas for Chromacity and drive revenue whilst passing the reins over to Shahida Imani, who specialises in scaling high-growth tech companies and investor relations.
“Shahida and I share the same vision and work ethos to drive Chromacity forward. I’m involved in all aspects of generating and closing opportunities in our sales pipeline and identifying new markets with a strategic fit.”
Whereas the pandemic has affected all businesses, I personally believe that Chromacity has adapted exceptionally well. Our new remote installation capability has uniquely positioned Chromacity to sell OPOs in key territories, such as China and the USA, without an engineer required onsite”.
“This has been a fantastic achievement during challenging times. I really enjoy working with the team and appreciate the contribution everyone has made towards implementing the right infrastructure for future development. I’m excited about what the future holds for Chromacity.”
Dr Leburn continues to accelerate the growth of Chromacity as the Co-Founder and Commercial Director. In his spare time, Dr Leburn spends time with his wife and three daughters, unless he can escape to the golf courses surrounding St Andrews, not too far from where it all began.