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Kaiam founder targets Scottish research base

Dr Bardia Pezeshki, chief executive of Kaiam. Pic: Gordon Terris

Californian photonic circuits maker Kaiam hopes to create a high-value research and development facility at its Livingston plant over the next few years as it builds what its creator says could become a “billion dollar company”.

Kaiam’s Iranian-born chief executive Dr Bardia Pezeshki has moved from Silicon Valley to Edinburgh to network with Scottish universities, with a view to moving the company’s research and development from the US to Scotland if possible.

He told The Herald the company’s revenues had multiplied fourfold in the past year as demand for its Scottish-made optronics product exploded. He could not name customers but said Kaiam’s market was datacentres run by “the likes of the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of this world”.

Giant datacentre operators use huge numbers of servers – Google’s are said to be in the millions – which need to be linked together using optical connections. Kaiam’s MEMS technology exploits the original eight-inch wafer fabrication plant built by Kymata 17 years ago to produce photonic integrated circuits.

In the 30 months since Kaiam acquired the plant through its acquisition of Gemfire in April 2013, Scottish employment has rocketed from 65 to 380.

“If we continue this growth in terms of revenue, we are going to be a fairly big company,” Dr Pezeshki said. “In terms of people we will probably grow the Scottish facility a little bit more and maybe end up with 500.”

He went on: “The challenge for me is can I get advanced research and development and create IP in Scotland versus California. There are advantages here, people tend to be less mobile, when you get them they stay, it is cheaper than California where salaries are crazy, and the manufacturing line is here.”

The research team at Kaiam headquarters in Newark is 30 to 40 people, and the aim is to find a similar number of high-calibre engineers to recreate that in Scotland. To that end, contacts are under way with Strathclyde, Edinburgh, St Andrews and other universities and institutions. Already Kaiam is taking on promising young graduates and sending them to California for mentoring and training.

Dr Pezeshki said Kymata - a spinout from the universities of Glasgow and Southampton - had raised £140m to build the plant in 1998. “It is top-notch, the best fab in the world for making these plcs – photonic lightwave circuits. We would not have come here if that factory wasn’t there. Part of it also is Scotland is a great place to live – if this was Shanghai I would not have moved my family.”

But Kaiam has already transferred some production away from China, the chief executive said. “When we acquired Gemfire we had some manufacturing in China at the time, we shut that down the facilities we had there and moved things over to Scotland. Most people tend to move things to China but we did the exact opposite.”

The workforce in West Lothian has now topped the 350 employed by Kymata in the late 1990s. That peaked at 450 but slimmed to 300 after the takeover by Alcatel in 2001, and had shrunk to 100 when Gemfire acquired the business from Alvanex in 2004.

But by 2008, the plant was employing just six people and had to be kept afloat with support from US private equity and the Scottish Venture Fund, recovering to employ 65 when sold by Gemfire to Kaiam. Two years ago the plant attracted a Scottish government grant of £850,000 to expand the site.

Dr Pezeshki founded Kaiam in 2010 and says the acquisition was perfectly timed to take advantage of the new datacentre market.

 

Article posted at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/14127727.Kaiam_founder_targets_Sc...
 

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Sunday, December 6, 2015