WaveOptics’ co-founders on the ups and downs that led them to a £12m Series B

At UKTN, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.

This week, we spoke with David Grey and Sumanta Talukdar, co-founders of WaveOptics, a startup which specialises in the creation of waveguide-based optics.

Grey and Talukdar spoke about the challenges of running a bootstrapped business and the power of mentorship.

Tech vertical: AR
‪Funding: Recently closed a £12m ($16m) Series B
‪Staff count: 11-50 employees
‪Location: Oxfordshire
‪Founded: 2014

Q: Where did the idea for WaveOptics come from and why?

WaveOptics was founded to enable the mass adoption of truly immersive augmented reality (AR) specifically for the consumer electronics and enterprise industries.

We identified that mass adoption of AR could only be unlocked if there was a display technology specifically designed for AR that addressed the three challenges of performance, form factor and scalability. The development of this display technology – and ultimately product – represents our founding vision.

What’s your background? What were you doing before?

Prior to starting WaveOptics, we were responsible for developing head-up displays (HMDs) and head-mounted displays (HUDs) in the defence industry. Sumanta’s background prior to that lay in optics specifically around displays. David has an extensive background in designing optics particularly around information display to eye. We both have advanced degrees; Sumanta has a PhD in Physics involving computer generated holograms and David has a Masters in applied optics from Imperial College.

How is it going with WaveOptics? Can you share some stats?

The business continues to go from strength to strength. Headcount has doubled over the past year or so and we have recently closed a $16m (£12m) Series B. We continue to make strides in the performance and manufacturability of our AR displays, which has seen a strong increase in customer interest.

Who are your competitors and what sets you apart?

There are only a few AR display makers globally that leverage “waveguides” as we do. Even within that very small group, the technical approaches to the same overall challenge is quite different making direct comparisons challenging. Having said that, we firmly believe that we have an advantage in producing waveguide displays that provide great visual performance without the need for bulky projection hardware and at a compelling mass market price point.

What has been the most challenging part about setting up your firm?

We started working in AR years before it became a buzzword and the particular display technology that we invented was until then unprecedented. As a two man bootstrapped startup this presented certain challenges when identifying and engaging with potential future stakeholders. Fortunately, we had an amazing support network in the form of our mentors who helped us navigate the challenges of the early days.

What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?

Building a fantastic team.

What advice would you give any tech entrepreneur looking to raise funding in the UK?

WaveOptics would not be at the level of maturity today if it were not for our mentors from the very early days. We would recommend the same to anyone looking to build a startup and raise funding – find mentors who have been through the same process and who 100% believe in your vision. The best of them will then give you all the time you need, challenge your assumptions and when you are ready, they will open their networks to you.