CEO reflections: past, present & future

Released: 05-Jun-2014

On reaching the 5 year in business milestone, enLighten Co-Founder and CEO Steve Cahill reflects on the journey to date of a start-up innovation company in Australia during a time of seismic change in the global lighting industry.

How has the energy efficient lighting retrofit market changed & what can we expect in the next 5 years.

Take us back to the beginning - how did enLighten begin?

The introduction of solid state lighting (LEDs) was a revolutionary change in the lighting industry, especially in relation to delivering light more efficiently.  We saw the opportunity for this technology to be introduced to the commercial property market replacing existing inefficient lighting, especially in areas that were long lit and provide an attractive return on investment.

To achieve this we needed to create new sales channels that would connect us with end users, so that we could explain the new technology and demonstrate its capability.

This new approach to the market was supported by building owners and managers having a growing awareness of energy efficiency, rising electrical prices and the requirement for their building’s performance to be rated under schemes such as NABERS.

After 12 months  of extensive product research incorporating domestic and international testing and design, we registered the first 2 of our 7 international design patents and began taking our first product to  market in late 2009.

What has been enLighten’s unique selling proposition?

We have established ourselves in the marketplace as an innovator that has redefined how back of house areas are lit – fire stairs, car parks, corridors, including emergency lighting. Our Chamaeleon LED light with inbuilt sensor has been able to deliver up to 93% energy savings when retrofitting fluorescent tube lighting, which has traditionally operated with no controls 24/7.

This record-breaking energy reduction light combined with innovative features and quality components was packaged to provide a replacement option for existing lighting with a return on investment of less than two years.

How have you kept ahead of the market?

Since we first started direct selling the market has changed significantly with other companies adopting our business model as well as similar products.   The only way to effectively keep ahead of the market is to continue to innovate and we have done that on our existing products as well as expanding our LED product range to high & low bay and area lights. 

Having an installation arm and selling directly has provided us with communication channels with end customers, enabling us to better understand their specific lighting needs. This has been vital in helping us understand the needs of the market and in providing our R&D teams with direction.

What have been the major challenges?

Back in 2009, the major challenge for us as an innovation company was to establish ourselves in the commercial lighting marketplace. We were competing against well established global brands on a modest budget.

Armed with a patented technology solution and a compelling return on investment proposition our early challenge was to be believed & to have our first customers take a risk on us. We found those customers to be local government, who supported our initial projects. These early projects enabled us to prove the product and establish case studies.

Our more recent challenges have been in protecting our design patents, as copy products have come onto the market.

How has the energy efficient lighting retrofit market evolved?

Over the past five years, the state government energy efficiency rebate schemes in NSW and Victoria have generated a lot of lighting retrofit activity in the commercial sector. Aggressive sales strategies pursued by a newly created army of energy project companies offering discounted products, some times for a nil upfront cost, have raised the awareness of lighting retrofits as a cost effective energy saving measure but have also increased the confusion level and wariness of end customers, who have been barraged with lighting project proposals with often scant regard to light quality & Building Code compliance.

We welcome the recent eligible activity rule changes by the NSW scheme regulators, who have also increased the reporting requirements to include illumination level compliance.

On the supply side, LED lighting has consolidating its position as the dominant lighting technology, with an estimated 80% market share achievable by 2020.  We are now seeing an explosion of LED lighting manufacturers offering products of variable quality, selling direct to end customers or via online portals.

Throughout this turbulence, we have stuck to our business model of designing & manufacturing innovative lighting solutions using quality components which are delivering energy savings and project payback periods of 1- 3 years net of rebates.

Where do you see the future of lighting?

With LED as the dominant lighting technology, the focus will shift from energy efficiency onto lighting control and light quality.  A new suite of intelligent controls incorporated into the light fitting will offer value added services and improved operation.

We envisage that a light fixture will no longer just be providing light but will integrate seamlessly with the environment to meet the needs of the users including colour changing throughout the day to meet the circadian rhythms and activity of the occupants.  A range of sensors will also be incorporated into the light to provide occupancy and other data for use by third parties.

This is a very exciting area and we are pleased to be leading the charge as part of the Lighting Council of Australia’s initial Lighting Controls Sub-Industry Group, which will kick off later this month.

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