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Business

Inventor of blue LEDs bringing his startup to Japan

Nakamura sheds some light on his business.

TOKYO -- A U.S. LED lighting startup co-founded by a Japanese Nobel laureate said Tuesday it will make a full-scale run at the Japanese market.

     Soraa was launched in 2008 by Shuji Nakamura -- inventor of the blue laser and the blue light-emitting diode -- and two U.S. university professors. The venture has grown into a company of 250 people generating sales of $40 million a year. It offers both commercial- and residential-LED lighting products, mostly in the U.S.

     Soraa is now looking to expand to other countries. Having set up shop in the U.K., the company has set its sights on Japan, establishing its first sales base in the country, with an eye toward using it as a steppingstone for other Asian markets.

     "Our company's purple LED lighting shows white shirts and other white colors vividly," Nakamura said at a Tuesday news conference here.

     Nakamura received the Nobel Prize in physics last year jointly with two other Japanese researchers for his contributions to the development of the blue LED. But he now finds himself promoting his company's purple LEDs.

     "Soraa's purple LEDs were developed by taking blue-LED technology further," Nakamura said.

     Aside from vivid white colors, the company's purple LED lighting products deliver high energy conversion efficiency, turning 90% of electricity into light. This is a key selling point, since better energy conversion efficiency means less electricity consumption, enabling users to cut power costs.

Bright future

Roughly 400 billion yen ($3.34 billion) in LED lighting products were shipped in the Japanese market in the year ended March 2014, according to the Japan Lighting Manufacturers Association.

     Since LED lighting products already account for about 61% of the market, the potential for growth is more limited than in most other countries. But Soraa has decided to go up against powerful players in Japan, such as Panasonic and Toshiba, because it sees the country as a leading edge in the field. The company hopes to make its products more competitive by exposing them to Japanese consumers and learning from their sharp feedback.

     Some of Soraa's offerings have already been sold in Japan. The products, which carry similar prices as rival ones, have been received well, as their light makes colors look natural.

     There is much room for growth in worldwide demand for LED lighting products. The global market will be worth 6.8 trillion yen in 2020, roughly triple the 2014 level, according to forecasts from Tokyo research firm Fuji-Keizai.

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