LED Startup Switch Lighting Hopes to Light the Way in Valley
Silicon Valley is known for computer chips, software companies and social networks -- but not light bulbs.
Switch Lighting, a San Jose startup, hopes to change that. Later this fall, the venture capital-backed company plans to release a new line of bulbs aimed at replacing the ones consumers typically use in lamps and other fixtures.
Switch's bulbs are among a new generation powered by light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, a technology that many experts bet will finally displace the incandescent bulb that Thomas Edison invented more than a century ago, in part because they're much more energy-efficient. Switch hopes to carve out a place in this emerging market by offering bulbs that look better than competitors', produce better light, are more durable -- and potentially cheaper, too.
Unlike incandescent bulbs, there's no standard design for an LED light bulb. While they have a lot of potential, LEDs pose particular problems when used to power a light bulb you'd stick in a lamp. They emit light in a single direction, for example, and generate a lot of heat for their size. And no LEDs emit a pure white light; the closest have a bluish tint.
Bulb manufacturers are experimenting with different designs to cope with these challenges. GE offers an LED bulb in which the glass is cradled in fins that help diffuse the heat. Philips' new LED bulb looks something like bug light with yellow-colored plastic that glows white when lit.
Switch, which has 25 employees, has its own design that looks more like a standard incandescent. What also distinguishes its bulbs is that they are filled with a liquid that, along with sophisticated electronics and the metal base, helps keep the LED elements cool. Those factors allow Switch to produce more light -- and heat -- with each element than other companies can.
Switch's 60-watt equivalent bulb will use 10 LED elements, compared with 18 in the Philips bulb.
That could eventually allow Switch to sell it less expensively and to bring its costs down faster than its competitors.
"We believe they are producing a light bulb that others cannot," said Alan Salzman, CEO of VantagePoint Capital Partners, which is Switch's sole backer and has invested more than $10 million in the company.