A bright light in Canadian innovation
December 10, 2012— Edmonton, Alberta
LED Smart Inc. develops specialized LED lighting for military, industrial and transportation applications.
With 17 years in business, LED Smart Inc. is a seasoned competitor with significant growth potential now that it has developed proprietary LED lighting technologies.
LED Smart Inc. has been around the block a few times—but lately it's been on an upward trajectory.
Established in 1995 as an electronics assembly manufacturer, LED Smart has been transforming itself—with help from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP)—into a developer of advanced, innovative LED lighting technologies.
LED Smart specializes in linear LED lighting products and intelligent control systems for three major business lines: general lighting for residential and commercial applications; specialized LED lighting for military, industrial and transportation applications; and, currently under development, LED lighting for hydroponic growing systems with internet and automated climate control—a cutting-edge technology that will generate a shareable database of information for future growth projects and offer tremendous environmental benefits.
The firm has enjoyed a long relationship with NRC-IRAP. It began receiving advisory services in the mid-2000s, and launched its first funded R&D project in 2006, developing LED lights for use in transportation. Since then, it has also participated in two Youth Employment Projects and a second R&D project.
Branka Barl is an Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) who has been working with LED Smart since 2008. A life sciences specialist with knowledge of value-added agri-food technologies, Barl came on board in 2008 as the company was exploring the use of LED lighting technology for greenhouses.
"I brought my analytical and strategic thinking skills to the table for that project," says Barl. "I identified a contractor who contributed significantly to its success. I served as a bridge between the firm and the contractor, and helped sort out some complex issues related to the terms and conditions of the contract."
"LED Smart has a leading position in the LED lighting market and is developing its own brand in Canada and internationally. Given the right leadership, this company really has tremendous untapped potential."
— Branka Barl, Industrial Technology Advisor, NRC-IRAP
The economic downturn of 2008–2009, coupled with increasing competition from Asia, adversely affected LED Smart's fortunes. From a high of 43 employees, staff dropped into the twenties. Fortunately, however, Xinxin Shan, LED Smart's founder and president, had decided in 2006 to take the company in a new strategic direction, moving away from electronics assembly to develop its own innovative LED lighting products. When the economy began to suffer, the firm was already working on an R&D project with NRC-IRAP. It began to realize profits from that project soon after.
"We hit bottom in 2010," says Shan, "but by 2011, as we started getting into new markets, we were growing at 35 per cent. This year , we've been growing at 15 per cent." In 2010, the company had revenues of $2.2 million. For fiscal year 2012, it's aiming for $5 million.
Today, revenues from the transportation sector are "growing like crazy," says Shan. The firm has won contracts to install its LED lighting products for rail and bus lines in a number of major North American cities, including Jersey City, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
Yet the firm's greatest potential may lie in products for military use. LED Smart recently won a contract with the Department of National Defense to produce an energy-saving general lighting system for a Medium Support Vehicle System main shelter and mechanical room with optional blackout/covert operation mode for combat situations.
Shan says Barl has been an indispensable source of guidance over the years, helping not only by enabling NRC-IRAP funding, but with business consulting and marketing advice.
In addition, Barl has sought support from other regional NRC-IRAP advisors with knowledge of the transportation industry and strong business skills. She also put the firm in touch with the Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program. Next, Barl plans to work with LED Smart to identify a CEO who can steer the firm through an upcoming growth phase.
Vision, determination and NRC-IRAP guidance pay off
After a downturn in business during 2008-2009, LED Smart's fortunes are once again on the rise:
- Sales in 2012 are up by more than $600,000 from 2011
- The company is making new inroads into the military, agricultural and industrial markets
- It invested about $200,000 in R&D in fiscal year 2012, and created two sales positions
- It is exploring the idea of opening additional branches in the U.S. and on Canada's west coast
Shan says his key challenge is how to take the company from $5 million in revenues this year to $10 million by 2013. “We will likely do this by focusing more and more on the military,” he says. The firm is also looking at patenting its agricultural lighting technology.
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