An Interview with Jennifer Sethre, President, Lighting Science Group
The editor of our sister publication – edisonreport – sat down with Jennifer Sethre, President, Lighting Science Group at LIGHTFAIR. Below is the discussion.
Randy: What is the strategic direction for LSCG?
Jennifer: There has been turnover in leadership…
Randy: Yes, I think five CEO’s in four years…
Jennifer: There’s been more, but let’s go with five. We are taking Lighting Science back to its roots where it belongs and that is a science and technology company. We have so many amazing technologies that were shelved and have been sitting on technologies that were really cool before and now they are exceptionally cool…
Randy: Such as…
Jennifer: Night spectrum. What spectrum of light do people need to see in different situations or environments? Or our grow lights. What spectrums do you need to grow specific fruits and vegetables? Different vegetables need different spectrums and we have done a very deep dive on this research, but not rolled out a product. Another product that comes to mind is Pixel View, which is a light sensor, a security camera, and a people counter in one device. This is an excellent product for retail.
Randy: Let’s discuss the first one, night spectrum. It appears that Lighting Science is focused on the Light & Health Market and can you make people sleep better?
Jennifer: Yes, in space you work for 18 hours, then rest for six hours. Circadian rhythm issues can lead to accidents. We have a picture of an astronaut in space with his boots on backwards. In space, establishing the astronaut’s circadian rhythm should result in better sleep and less accidents. The Good Night light which doesn’t suppress the body’s production of melatonin like other lights do, causes sleep. The Awake & Alert light does what its name implies. The lights are not in the International Space Station yet, but are scheduled to be installed in 2015. Lighting Science was appointed through a contractor to Boeing to develop the lights for NASA.
Randy: I heard something about the LA Dodger’s retrofitting their plane with the Good Night light.
Jennifer: Yes, the LA Dodgers retrofitted the lighting on their plane and flew to Australia. They had the Good Night light and the Awake & Alert light and they won all three of their games. We have many patents on this technology.
Randy: Let’ discuss market channels. DIY vs ED vs Direct. 80% of your sales come not from one channel, but from one customer. Is that a good?
Jennifer: No, it’s never good to have that much share with a single customer, but Home Depot is an amazing customer and give us great economies of scale. That share of our sales is more like 70%, and 20% to 25% is in the Electrical Distributor market which is growing. We also have real growth with ESCOS, Retrofit Companies and National Accounts.
Randy: Are reps important to LSCG?
Jennifer: For the Electrical Distributor, channel, yes.
Randy: How many sales people do you employ?
Jennifer: 18 people in sales and they are amazing people. When I say 18, I mean these are 18 full time direct employees of Lighting Science.
Randy: US vs International?
Jennifer: We are starting to grow in international. There are huge opportunities in South America, Costa Rica, South Africa, Dubai, the UAE. Turkey has a huge amount of streetlights. We learn in many of these countries there are lots of sand storms, where visibility is critical. We are able to meet the visibility requirement and meet their energy reduction goals. Much of this is solar and our products work well with solar. We can easily incorporate our pixel technology in roadway luminaires if needed. The Pixel technology ties into smart cities strategy, which will be a focus. We will use our own IP and create strategic partnerships. Cities want to have a one-stop solution and we can’t offer everything, thus the strategic partnerships with companies that can offer a complete package.
Randy: Let’s discuss Manufacturing. How is Foxconn working out?
Jennifer: Foxconn is a strategic partner. They are nimble, quick to respond with stellar quality.
Randy: Do you have to manufacture in China to be competitive?
Jennifer: We want to take a lot of power back. Maybe we could build in the US. We are great at ideas, innovation, engineering, but gathering components and building a supply chain, we fell down….
Randy: Would you sell design services to other companies?
Jennifer: Other companies have approached us wanting to license. While we have not generally entertained these in the past, we might in the future. We look for strategic relationships with others who have different strengths.
Randy: Tell me about your decision to join Lighting Science, a troubled company.
Jennifer: There you go. Look at your question. But I’ll answer it. In manufacturing, the team is what is important and our team is amazing. I will put our talent and creativeness against any in the industry. Since Zach (Gibler) died, and I know he was a friend of yours, perhaps his passion has not been at the company lately. Zach was a force to be reckoned with, perhaps revered is a better word. I am not pointing fingers at any of my predecessors, but the passion that Zach brought has been missing. So to your original question, I don’t think that the company is broken, I think that might be a perception from some people. Our employees are passionate and smart and have great ideas. They had problems getting the ideas implemented in the past. For example, what’s next after LED lamps? Once everyone has retrofitted, what is the life after? We look at the grow market. With our technology we can take light and grow food in places where they can’t grow it today. Think about that for a minute. We bring the ability to grow food in places that cannot. One of the partners we work with, has improved a seed that requires less water. In fact, the plant can generate it’s own water and use that water to generate itself. Couple that technology with our spectrum and people can start their own vertical farms. That is fascinating. And Lighting Science is leading the structure.
Another idea. Think about putting the Awake & Alert lamps, into HID fixtures to keep employees safe. Put them into schools and help students stay alert. We are working with the Cleveland Clinic and only beginning to scratch the surface on patient wellness. Think about the potential improvements with Alzheimer’s patients. Scientists are trying to establish a link between circadian rhythm and Alzheimer’s. Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm can address boosting melatonin in things like “sundowning” where patients get worse in the afternoon/evening.
Randy: If troubled company is not the right word, perhaps a company in turmoil is a better description. I heard you are running out of cash.
Jennifer: You heard wrong.
Randy: Are you back in litigation with Philips over IP?
Jennifer: Not that I am aware of. Look, the lighting industry is a huge playground and there are lots of opportunities for our products. Is litigation always the best answer? Usually not. We try to find ways to work with companies and find win-win solutions.
Randy: Is Pegasus, your largest investor, unhappy?
Jennifer: No, not true. Craig Cogut, the founder and co-managing partner of Pegasus is very passionate about Lighting Science Group and somewhat active in our business. That’s not unusual. Do shareholders want to be profitable? Absolutely, but look at Silicon Valley, look at the fits and starts of so many great companies—it’s not unlike some of the fits and starts we have had.
Randy: Is there any other message that you want to give to our audience?
Jennifer: I think one area we can improve is to better utilize our founder Fred Maxik and Maxik Labs. I am a big fan of Fred’s and he has been underutilized. He and his team have such passion and commitment. What if you could design a spectrum that keeps mosquitoes at bay? Think about putting our lights outside of sleeping areas in certain countries, and those lights could be solar operated with a battery. So it’s within our reach to dramatically reduce mosquito-born diseases. It is within our reach to grow food in places where food cannot be grown. A troubled company? No. We are a company with fascinating world-changing opportunities.