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“Our technology is going to complement the current forms of printed, back-lit communication,” says Jeroen ter Schiphorst, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder at Lusoco. The company is initially focusing on sustainable advertising signs. This is because these kinds of signs consume a significant amount of energy, about three hundred to six hundred kilowatt hours per piece annually. “Of course, we are using more and more renewable energy, but our demand for energy will also increase significantly in the years to come, for example due to the rise of electric cars,” Ter Schiphorst explains. “All the energy we don’t use or don’t have to generate still makes a difference.”

Energy-generating graphics

The advertising signs that Lusoco is targeting are made of a glass or plastic sheeting with fluorescent inks. “We see a similar principle in the green, luminous stars that children often used to hang above their beds. Only our ink has to glow as soon as the light goes out,” he says. The fluorescent particles in the inks absorb light either from the sun or from artificial lighting. This causes the ink to glow. The absorbed light is transported to the side of the glass plate via waveguiding. “This is actually the same principle as it is for the Internet via a cable, only now we are not using a round cable but a flat plate instead,” says Ter Schiphorst. This creates a concentrated beam of light on the side of the plate. “We then put a narrow, in-house designed solar cell on top of that,” he continues. “The image can generate energy this way.”

The solar cell is in turn linked to a battery that stores the energy generated during the day so it can be used at night. Then LED lights are shined on the side of the glass. “Because the ink itself glows, the contrast with the background is greater than when you shine light on, or behind, an advertising sign,” Ter Schiphorst explains. That makes the sign more visible while using less energy.

Competing with solar panels

The idea used to be that Luminescent Solar Concentrators, the technology Lusoco works with, would be able to completely replace solar cells. A window or a piece of plastic could then be used to generate energy. “Except the efficiency of solar panels is much higher so it remains more interesting in terms of cost,” Ter Schiphorst goes on to explain. “That’s why we focus on selling products that also reuse the generated energy. That way, we no longer have to deal with energy prices, but we do make applications possible that were not possible before.”

Inventing the wheel

Ter Schiphorst and his associate Teun Wagenaar set up Lusoco four years ago as a spin-off from the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e). They focus mainly on the technical components of the product, such as the fluorescent ink and the electronics. “In the Netherlands, just under two thousand companies are operating in the advertising market. If we really want to get off the ground, we need a large marketing and sales team. In order to then be able to sell the products all over the world, a distribution center would also be needed,” Ter Schiphorst elaborates. “We don’t want that. That’s why we are focusing on offering the technology to large parties in the market so that we can work together. They already have the channels established for marketing and distribution and we can really contribute something with our technical knowledge.”

Pilot project

The first advertising signs have already been placed in Eindhoven. This serves as a pilot project so that the company can further test the technology. “We have already put up some signs. We are currently working with a party to produce this on a large scale as well,” he adds. In doing so, Ter Schiphorst wants to test the scalability of the technology. “We are offering the technology and the knowledge to this party. So the signs are all going through one customer, not very many separate customers,” he continues.

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A sign from Lusoco © Lusoco

Emergency exits

In addition to the practical development of the first advertising signs, Lusoco is also looking at new applications for the technology. “We are also able to create images on glass that are (virtually) invisible. We can then make these light up, for example, in the event of an emergency.” Ter Schiphorst is thinking of, for example, signs for emergency exits or indicators on cars windows. “Emergency exit signs are often hung high and are therefore less visible if there is a case of smoke development. We could possibly have arrows glowing on the windows to indicate an escape route.” Lusoco approaches this application with the same type of business case. “We don’t want to sell individual signs but rather connect with manufacturers of the current emergency exit signs,” he says.

Marriage with an investor

Ter Schiphorst anticipates that the company will be running fully independently by 2026. “In recent years, we have worked with various convertible and subordinated loans, for instance, from the Brabant Startup Fund and Rabobank,” he goes on to say. “We are now looking for an investor in order to take the next steps.

“We are now looking for an investor in order to be able to take the next steps. For example, with our launching customer of the advertising signs and by tapping into new markets.” Ter Schiphorst believes it is important to find an investor who is a true fit for the company. “We’re looking for an investor who understands chemistry and new materials and who wants to explore new opportunities with us,” he says. “It’s almost a marriage you enter into with an investor,” he laughs. “It’s really very important that there’s a good match.”

Ter Schiphorst hopes that ten years from now he will see advertising signs with Lusoco’s technology appearing on streets around the world. “During my studies, I didn’t think that I would become an entrepreneur,” he says. “But I did know early on that I didn’t want to work for a big company. I really wanted to make my own mark on wider society.” Ter Schiphorst dared to take the plunge following several meetings with entrepreneurs, including his business partner. “We tested the technology on a small scale in the laboratory and then applied it on a large scale. We can really have a positive impact on society this way.”