Fresh Money for New Materials
This week, the venture capital was flowing to startups claiming to have
new approaches to optical components using materials such as ceramics and
Yesterday, Continuum Photonics Inc. announced that it had raised $14
million to develop a new material for optical switches, bringing its total
funding to about $16 million.
The round was led by new investors Flagship Ventures,
and Prism Venture
Partners, with Harris &
Harris also participating. Seed investors Massachusetts Technology
Development Corporation (MTDC), Gainesborough LLC, and private
individuals also took part.
Continuum is in stealth mode and won't have a product out until the end
of the year, according to Aaron Bent, its founder and executive VP of
business development. With barely a pause, he went on to explain that the
switch is based around an electroactive or so-called "smart" ceramic
material -- which changes shape when a voltage is applied -- and on
"It's not 2D or 3D MEMS [micro-electro-mechanical system], or a planar
lightwave circuit," he says. "What it is, is something we believe will be
disruptive in terms of price point, loss characteristics, and -- a third
thing that many people forget until the end -- reliability."
Bold claims, given that the product is early stage, and the market for
optical switches has been put on hold. "The best I can say about that [the
market]," Bent says, "is that lots of people have tried to enter the
photonic switch market and failed. But there is still a need."
In its favor is the fact that Continuum isn't just relying on the
optical switch market. Founded in 1998, it's been selling products based
on its smart material into other markets -- military stealth technology
and vibration damping -- for several years.
At the OFC conference back in March, the startup showed a demonstrator
of its switch technology -- a 9x9 optical switch with an insertion loss of
less than a decibel. Bent claims that it can make a 128x128 switch with
losses under 1 dB -- a number that has competitors raising their
"If they're claiming all ports across a fully packaged device at low
loss, that would be hard to believe," says Conrad Burke, OMM Inc.'s senior VP of sales
and marketing. For comparison OMM, which makes switches up to 32x32,
claims insertion losses of under 7 dB for its biggest switch. And losses
tend to increase as switch size increases.
Burke also points out that there's a big difference between a lab
experiment and, worst case, fiber-to-fiber measurements in a
A few days previously, Optimer Photonics Inc. scored $5.5 million to continue
development of a polymer for optical switching (see Optimer
Photonics Grabs $5.5M ).
Optimer is a spinoff of Battelle Memorial Institute, an R&D establishment that
primarily works for U.S. government departments. Battelle previously
incubated PIRI, a developer of Arrayed
Waveguide Gratings (AWGs) , which was sold to SDL for $148 million in
October 2000 and then became part of JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU
board; Toronto: JDU) until JDS shut it down a few months ago (see JDSU Posts
Loss, Buys Startup ).
Optimer was founded in July 2001 by a bunch of integrated optics
experts who hadn't left Battelle with the PIRI sale. They were joined by a
group of materials scientists and chemists, to help in the development of
an electro-optic polymer -- one that changes refractive index when a
voltage is applied.
Optimer isn't the only startup developing electro-optic polymers for
optical switching. Several others, including, Lumera Corp., are using
materials developed by Dr. Larry Dalton at the University of Washington
But unlike the others, Optimer is planning to use its polymers in
conjunction with waveguide components, like AWGs, bought from elsewhere,
to make a variety of components, including modulators and attenuators as
well as switches. It hasn't yet decided if it will sell end-products
itself, or if it will partner with AWG companies.
Optimer's investors are Battelle, Primaxis Technology Ventures Inc., and Mitsubishi Corp.
— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
does not reflect the views of Light Reading. These messages are only the
opinion of the poster, are no substitute for your own research, and should
not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose. The anonymity of the
user cannot be guaranteed.