Smartkem sits down with Sri Peruvemba
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Smartkem sits down with Sri Peruvemba

  1. How did you get started in the display industry?

    I started my display industry career by working at Standish Industries in Wisconsin, some 25+ years ago; we were making monochrome TN (Twisted Nematic) and STN (Super Twisted Nematic) LCD. We had the widest temperature displays that worked from -40°C to +85°C, and we deployed them into gasoline pumps, parking meters, tractors, and similar outdoor applications. Our company was acquired by Planar in Oregon who made wide temperature Thin Film EL (TFEL) displays. The acquiring company had me move to Oregon where I had the opportunity to work with early AMLCD (Active Matrix LCD), colour TFEL, and even the early renditions of monochrome EL and microdisplays. After a change in management, I didn’t like the direction they were taking so I said yes when Three-Five Systems (TFS) offered me a job. I became general manager for their business unit out of Boston where they made large area displays for industrial applications. They had me sell that business unit two years later and I went to work for Sharp, managing P&L for industrial, medical displays, signage and TVs that were being assembled in Mexico for the US market. Sharp at that time was the most profitable display company, leveraging its success in building the world’s largest fabs: first Gen 6, then Gen 8 (in Kameyama, Japan). Our US-based business was valued at over $1.8b, and were supplying Apple for the first iPhone, to Motorola for the Razr etc. We had a 59% share of the industrial market, it was the largest company I had worked for, and things were stable. Then, I got a call to interview for a position with a somewhat lesser-known start-up called E Ink. They had a product (ePaper) that didn’t quite work reliably, and they were betting on a market that didn’t quite exist (eReader). They were about to raise money in a down round and they were losing money; and it snows in Boston……. But I said yes, going to work for E Ink was one of the best mistakes I made in my career. This was an opportunity to create a brand and to market an unknown product in an unknown application. E Ink had an amazing team of young talent eager to prove something. After a few stumbles, the Amazon Kindle skyrocketed that company and we ended up selling it to PVI in Taiwan; a decent exit and I had the honour of rebranding PVI to E Ink. Subsequently, I took on fractional CMO and board roles with companies, volunteer roles with the Society for Information Display (SID), mentoring roles and other activities in the broad display industry.

  2. What technology has changed the display industry the most since you started your career?

    When I started in the industry, most of the TVs were Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT). There were a few rear projection TVs but there weren’t any LCD TVs. That was the biggest wave: when flat panel LCD took over TVs and pretty much every other application, sending CRTs to obsolescence. The next big change was when OLEDs pretty much took over from LCD in mobile phone applications. There were other technologies that made an impact: electrophoretic displays dominate eReader and ESL (electronic shelf label) applications; LEDs dominate the outdoor display applications; LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) and OLED microdisplays support the emerging VR/HUD applications. The biggest change was the price (I am deliberately saying price instead of cost) for display panels. They dropped almost every year, and when the market said there is no more drop possible, they dropped prices again. This created opportunities for the market to adopt displays in more applications than I would have ever imagined.

  3. What advice do you have for someone new to the industry?

    THINK BIG, start small, move fast.This industry rewards people that think big and aim for applications with technologies that will make a big difference. But you can lose your shirt when you tinker with something that hasn’t been done before so start small (don’t mortgage the house) and moving faster than the next guy is your advantage. There are always more hungry people somewhere else in the world that want do exactly what you do for less or they are vastly more talented than you are.

  4. What do you think is the most exciting thing about the display industry today?

    We, as a society, want more displays!In applications that did not exist before (exterior of a car for example, in AR devices); in renditions that we hadn’t realized before (3D light field displays); rapidly replacing paper and plastic signs everywhere, providing information where it’s needed.LCD displaced CRTs; OLED displaced LCD in the largest volume application: Mobile Phone; now microLED is threatening to replace the incumbents. But, the incumbents are fighting back with combinations of quantum dot technologies enhancing LCD and OLED; with newer backlight technologies using miniLEDs. The constant competition among these technologies makes this industry very exciting, maybe not to those that are wed to one technology, but for OEMs and consumers that want all the technologies. And what comes tomorrow might be even more exciting – we are working on flexible displays, that can create designs like never before, most of our current laptops, tablets, phones etc can be folded into tiny form factors.

  5. What first interested you in joining Smartkem in 2019?

    The ability to build flexible displays using Smartkem technology. Smartkem had already achieved what I believed was the best performance among OTFT developers; I believed that the technology would appeal to customers in a variety of markets. When I first talked to the technical team, I felt that the depth of their knowledge would enable them to move the needle.

  6. How has the company changed since then?

    It’s a true start-up; from the CEO to R&D to HR to Marketing. When I started, we were working on backplanes for OLEDs, we were making miniLED backplane substrates for LCD. As microLEDs emerged, we were able to develop materials that could be used in these new devices. We are now engaged with potential customers in a variety of markets, applications, and geographies.

  7. Why did you decide that you wanted to join the board of Directors?

    Because I can contribute even more in this role.

  8. What do you think is the most exciting thing in store for Smartkem in the future?

    Customers will demand better, more unique devices. I believe that Smartkem will enable display makers to deliver unique and differentiated products. Let me cite an example: Automobile applications for displays and touch have seen some of the greatest innovation in the recent past but only a handful of companies have delivered unique products. The entire industry wants them and wants something even better. The focus of innovation has shifted from motors and transmissions to electronics and navigation technologies. I believe that Smartkem can enable automobile manufacturers to deploy sensors, displays, and touch interfaces on contoured surfaces over a large area. We are working to enable lower cost AR/VR/MR devices so that they can go from niche status to mainstream. I believe our technology will enable some of the best products of the future by working with pioneering companies.