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ZBD Displays heads the Deloitte Fast 50 list

12 Nov 2012

A ranking of the UK's fastest growing technology vendors confirms that photonics can be a route to rapid business expansion.

The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 list, now in its fifteenth year, ranks the UK's fastest growing technology companies by assessing their revenue growth over the last five years.

For 2012, the number one spot was taken by ZBD Displays, a developer of epaper systems for commercial and industrial applications headquartered in Ascot.

The company, founded in 2000 as a spin-out from QinetiQ, topped the Deloitte list by posting a growth figure of no less than 17,910 percent over the period.

A second company based around photonics technology, M Squared Lasers of Glasgow, Scotland, also figured prominently in the list, coming in at eighth position with revenue growth of 1,603 percent.

Although the Fast 50 is run independently of the UK government or business groups, and is limited to those UK-based companies which were nominated to Deloitte as entrants, the results none the less indicate the growth potential available to companies active in the photonics and other high-tech sectors, even as they weather the UK's economic climate.

For the retail sector, ZBD provides epaper electronic point-of-purchase displays for use instead of paper labels or other signage. Based on the "zenithal bistable display" technology first developed by QinetiQ and which has lent its initials to the spin-out company, the displays retain their image without power, consuming it only when changing from one display to another.

The current generation of ZBD displays can also be updated wirelessly, and integrated directly into a retailer's stock control or IT systems.

"Initially, we commercialized the technology in overseas markets, so we actually ended up with a global supply chain and customer base before positioning the business domestically," commented CEO Shaun Gray, who also noted that ZBD relies on private rather than public investment. "We've never qualified for any grants, even though we're doing some of the highest level research in physics and chemistry in the UK," he said.

Regional focus
M Squared Lasers, founded in 2005 by former executives at Coherent, develops laser sources and control instrumentation for use in remote sensing, biophotonics and security, among other applications. Around 50 percent of its sales are to North America, and the company has operated a subsidiary in Silicon Valley since 2011.

In contrast to ZBD's experience, M Squared has secured growth capital and assistance from sources including Scottish Enterprise, the UK's Technology Strategy Board, and the European Union's FP7 program.

"FP7 is a tremendous platform to help European companies raise their game and has helped us raise our profile in the US too. There are certain things for which you need to partner with large European companies to have a global impact," commented CEO Graeme Malcolm.

The companies on the Deloitte roster are nominated, either by themselves or a third party, so the list is effectively self-selected. But certain patterns none the less emerge from the snapshot.

Notwithstanding the presence of M Squared Lasers, the Fast 50 list demonstrated a distinct regional bias: six of the top ten are London-based, with companies from the capital accounting for 42 percent of the overall ranking and 79 percent of the list's combined revenue. The South East region accounted for 22 percent of the listed companies.

According to Deloitte, the average growth rate of the Fast 50 companies is 1,505 percent, falling from 2,820 percent in 2011. However, the combined revenue generated by the full list is £1.5 billion, 38 percent higher than the total of last year's list, and the highest it has been for the last five years.

The UK Fast 50 is part of an international effort run by Deloitte, and entrants will be put forward to the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) program.

Universe Kogaku America Inc.CeNing Optics Co LtdIridian Spectral TechnologiesSPECTROGON ABLASEROPTIK GmbHABTechHyperion Optics
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