Google and Apple now the big photonics investors, says chairman of Invest in Photonics

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Where do the investment opportunities lie for photonics companies? Greg Blackman speaks to Giorgio Anania, chairman of the Invest in Photonics conference, set to take place in Bordeaux, France from 9 to 10 October

Multinational electronics and internet corporations like Google, Apple, and Samsung are the current big investors in photonics technologies, according to Giorgio Anania, vice president of Photonics21 and chairman of the upcoming Invest in Photonics conference.

Speaking to Electro Optics ahead of the conference, Anania said: ‘There’s been a real change in who’s financing it [photonics]. The investment is coming from corporate companies rather than venture capitalists. The really big investors are companies like Apple and Google.’

Anania said that Samsung Ventures has a budget of $1.2 billion per year to invest in new technologies, with a typical fund being around $100 million spread over 10 years. This is a huge amount compared to the typical investment from venture capitalists.

Invest in Photonics, taking place from 9 to 10 October in Bordeaux, France, is an event for early stage photonics companies to gather information about investment opportunities. The conference will cover sectors including the environment and energy, life sciences, consumer electronics, aerospace, and advanced manufacturing.

In the consumer electronics market, Google has put a lot of investment and development into next-generation photonics for data centres for its servers, for instance. ‘If you look at the volumes… there are 200 million [computer] servers, which could basically change every four years – that’s 50 million optical connections,’ commented Anania. ‘If you look at the volumes in the telecoms space, typically we’re talking about 5,000 not 50 million a year.

‘I think it’s healthy because these guys [corporate investors] can think medium term and move technology forward,’ he added. The venture capitalists, which used to fund a lot of the photonics technologies, are much less active in Europe at the moment, Anania said.

Outside consumer electronics, the conference will have a section on life sciences, which is one of the areas where venture capitalists still invest, said Anania. There’s also a section on photonics for transportation and aerospace, as an increasing number of photonic components and sensors are now found in cars.

When asked about the support for photonics at a political level, Anania commented that, ‘politics, especially in Europe, is miles away from business opportunities’. As vice president of Photonics21, which represents the photonics community in Europe, Anania has been active in lobbying European members of parliament.

‘Europe is going to miss the boat on a lot of things,’ he said. ‘We spend so much money on the things that we don’t want to lose that we don’t have any money left over for the new things coming up. So, we spend the money on fisheries and agriculture; there’s never quite enough to invest in anything for the future in Europe. And it’s not about to change.’

Despite this, Anania commented that there are a lot of positive trends in the photonics industry: ‘The lighting world is going to have a revolution in the next four years… we’re seeing photonics exploding in mobile devices, cars will be packed with photonics. Ten years ago it [photonics] was going into telecoms and the rest was in research labs; now it’s going into a lot of industries.’

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