Sheffield, December 7th 2022
Phlux Technology, the designer of high-performance infrared sensors, has secured £4 million in seed funding from leading deep tech investors. The round was led by Octopus Ventures and included Northern Gritstone, the Foresight Williams Technology Funds and the Innovation Fund, as well as receiving funding from Innovate UK. A spin-out of Sheffield University, it has used its in-depth research into Antimony, the semi-metal element, to develop a unique, patented approach to infrared sensors to dramatically improve their performance in LIDAR (light detection and ranging) systems. The new architecture is 10x more sensitive and with 50% more range compared to equivalent sensors, reducing the cost of manufacture of LIDAR sensors and opening up mass market adoption.
“We are delighted to be leading this investment round for Phlux Technology, as this innovative breakthrough is critical to the future direction of transport, communication and emission monitoring systems. Today, there is market consolidation among the silicon-based sensor companies, precisely because they can’t solve the problem that Phlux has cracked, making its potential hugely exciting.”
Amy Nommeots-Nomm,Deep Tech Investor, Octopus Ventures
Positioning Phlux and Sheffield at the heart of cutting-edge semiconductor technology
According to the Semiconductor Applications Catapult, the UK compound semiconductor market was worth around $8bn in 2020 rising to $11bn in 2024, which is around 8% of the global market. TechUK highlights the country’s strength in semiconductor design and Intellectual Property (IP) with 110 design firms based in the country, as well as leading in non-silicon-based compounds – the field that Phlux is emerging into. Phlux is based in one of the world’s leading centres for III-V semiconductor research, with world class research and facilities at Sheffield University, and The National Epitaxy Facility, which was awarded £12 million in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
“Phlux Technology is a fantastic example of the exciting new generation of science and technology businesses in the North of England turning research into reality. The company’s innovative approach demonstrates how world beating technology, with the potential to change entire industries, is emerging from the Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester triangle. Northern Gritstone exists to support and supercharge businesses like Phlux.”
Duncan Johnson,CEO, Northern Gritstone.
Infrared sensors, such as those that Phlux is building, have applications beyond LIDAR in satellite communications and enabling internet in remote regions, fibre telecoms, autonomous vehicles, gas sensing and quantum communications. Phlux was recently awarded an Innovate UK project with Quantum success story QLM, developing sensors for a LIDAR based camera monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are excited to be working with Phlux to develop sensors for our single-photon LIDAR for the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Murray Reed, Chief Executive officer, QLM. “Climate control requires very large-scale deployment of monitoring solutions, which demands low cost technology and complete supply chain control of critical components such as sensors. Phlux’s technology is particularly exciting as it offers a higher performing alternative to the current approach and opens up a new UK supplier with significant potential for us.”
Overcoming the limitations of silicon-based sensors
Phlux Technology was founded by Ben White, CEO, Professor Jo Shien Ng and Professor Chee Hing Tan, who met at Sheffield University where they researched novel semiconductor materials and devices for infrared detection. Unlike Moore’s Law for semiconductors which predicts performance improvement every 18 months, infrared sensors (InGaAs) have reached a plateau in terms of performance. Having studied alternatives for more than 10 years, the founders identified Antimony as a material capable of revolutionising the LIDAR sensor market. It opens access to the 1550nm infrared space, offering higher sensitivity and capacity as it operates in the ‘eye safe’ region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Well over 1,000 times more photons can safely be launched compared to silicon compatible emitters, enabling Antimony based sensors to see further, with greater pixel density at a mass market cost.
“Our ambition is to become the Nvidia of the sensor market, starting off with delivering the world’s first LIDAR sensor chip using Antimony,” said Ben White, CEO and co-founder. “Industry will never achieve full autonomy with LIDAR if it relies on silicon-based sensors, so our approach will reshape the sensor market for robotics and self-driving machines. We are delighted to be spinning Phlux out of Sheffield University at a time when it has ambitious plans to become a global centre of excellence for semiconductor research and the UK is looking to demonstrate its capabilities as a global science superpower.”
In the first stage of commercialisation Phlux has developed a single element sensor with world leading sensitivity that is retrofittable into today’s LIDAR systems and will be part of the Phyllo series product line. Longer term, Phlux is building an integrated subsystem and array modules forming a high-performance sensor toolkit and over the next year, it will grow its engineering team in areas such as fabrication, mixed signal circuit design, optics and testing.
“Increasing sensor performance whilst driving down cost are key enablers for accelerating the uptake of higher levels of driving automation and with this seed funding, we look forward to seeing Phlux’s sensor technology transition to full commercialisation,”
Matthew BurkeHead of Technology Ventures at Williams Advanced Engineering
“Phlux’s innovative technology has the potential to become the prevailing standard in the automotive LIDAR systems. We look forward to supporting its entrepreneurial team as they deliver on this ambition.”
Christopher WilesInvestment Director at Foresight
About Phlux Technology
Phlux Technology is the designer of high-performance infrared sensors delivering the world’s first LIDAR receiver chip using Antimonides. A spin-out of the University of Sheffield, the company is based in one of the world’s leading centres for III-V semiconductor research and is building integrated subsystems and array modules to offer a high-performance sensor toolkit, which will have applications beyond LIDAR in satellite communications and enabling internet in remote regions, fibre telecoms, autonomous vehicles, gas sensing and quantum communications.
For more information please go to: https://phluxtechnology.com/
Sugrue Comms for Phlux Technology
+44 7502 203 769
About Octopus Ventures
Octopus Ventures is one of the largest and most active venture capital investors in the UK and Europe, investing in and supporting the people, ideas and industries that are changing the world.
We’ve built expertise across six sectors: B2B software, climate tech, consumer tech, deep tech, fintech and health. We’ve backed more than 180 businesses across the UK and Europe, including successes like Zoopla, WaveOptics, Evi and Depop. We invest in people and teams from as early as ideas on a page all the way through to the later stages of growth, providing capital, expertise, and partnership.
We manage £1.9 bn for our retail and institutional investors and invest £200m each year. We’re part of Octopus Group, a group of entrepreneurial businesses united by a common goal: backing the people, ideas and industries that will change the world.
Hear from our experts at: www.octopusventures.com
About Northern Gritstone
Northern Gritstone is a ground-breaking new investment company based in the north of England, founded by the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, three of the UK’s leading educational research establishments.
It intends to be one of the largest investors into academic spinouts and IP-rich businesses in the UK dedicated to financing companies in some of the UK’s fastest growing sectors such as advanced materials, energy, health technology and cognitive computation.
For more information please go to: https://northern-gritstone.com/
About the Foresight Williams Technology Funds
Foresight and Williams Advanced Engineering started their investment collaboration in 2016 with the launch of the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund. 2019 saw the launch of a sister fund, the Foresight Williams Technology VCT share class, which sits within the Foresight Solar & Technology VCT plc. These two funds target investment in companies developing innovative and transformational technologies and where we believe Foresight’s and Williams’ expertise and services can be harnessed to assist with the development of the businesses, with the objective of achieving successful exits at high-value multiples.
For more information please go to: www.foresightwilliams.co.uk
About Foresight Group
Foresight Group was founded in 1984 and is a leading listed infrastructure and private equity investment manager. With a long-established focus on ESG and sustainability-led strategies, it aims to provide attractive returns to its institutional and private investors from hard-to-access private markets. Foresight manages over 350 infrastructure assets with a focus on solar and onshore wind assets, bioenergy and waste, as well as renewable energy enabling projects, energy efficiency management solutions, social and core infrastructure projects and sustainable forestry assets. Its private equity team manages ten regionally focused investment funds across the UK and an SME impact fund supporting Irish SMEs. This team reviews over 2,500 business plans each year and currently supports more than 250 investments in SMEs. Foresight Capital Management manages four strategies across six investment vehicles with an AUM of over £1.5 billion.
Foresight operates across seven countries in Europe and Australia with AUM of £12.5 billion. Foresight Group Holdings Limited listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange in February 2021. foresightgroup.eu/shareholders
About Williams Advanced Engineering (“WAE”)
Williams Advanced Engineering is a world-leading technology and engineering services business delivering pioneering innovation to improve performance, efficiency, and sustainability to a global customer base.
Combining cutting-edge technological advances and the industry’s best engineers with precision and speed to market derived from the ultra-competitive environment of motorsport, WAE’s capabilities cover a wide range of disciplines.
The company provides ground-breaking innovation covering advanced battery and electrification technologies and product development; aided by advanced simulation, testing, rapid prototyping and volume manufacturing. Working in close collaboration with our customers, WAE remains committed to meeting the continued sustainability challenges of the 21st Century.
The company can trace its foundations back to 2010 when Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited began diversifying its operations; a division which later became Williams Advanced Engineering.
WAE has grown from an embryonic business in 2010 to a company which employs approximately 500 people engaged in leading-edge and transformative technologies for a growing list of Tier 1 clients.
Following the acquisition by Fortescue Metals Group, which completed in March 2022, WAE will continue to service its existing customers and commercialise new technology opportunities, in addition to playing a key role in supporting Fortescue’s decarbonisation strategy.
About the Innovation Fund
The Fund presents the opportunity for alumni and qualifying investors to make an impact investment in spin-out companies formed to commercialise scientific and technological advances made at Queen’s University Belfast. To support the Fund’s pipeline, consideration will also be given to Queen’s student ventures and spin-outs from partner Universities participating in the Queen’s administered NxNW ICURe Programme. The NxNW consortium encompasses Ulster University, University of Edinburgh, University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, and the University of Leeds.
For more information please go to: https://www.sapphirecapitalpartners.co.uk/qubis-innovation-fund