No one knew it, not even BrainLit founder Tord Wingren himself, but the idea behind the company and BioCentric Lighting was born as early as 1987. The young engineer was working for RIFA, which would later become Ericsson Components, when he met a customer who wanted a solution for increasing the life span of fluorescent lights.
He got it. And Tord Wingren years later had an inspiration that would revolutionize indoor lighting in the form of BioCentric Lighting. Having led the Bluetooth project at Ericsson, he was already no stranger to implementing technological revolutions.
–When I met the same customer again, in 2011, I had worked with consumer electronics, systems development and wireless communications for years in between. The customer was still happy about his fluorescents and invited me to a discussion between him, some professors and some physicians about how light affects us, Tord Wingren recollects.
An opportunity to make a difference
The discussion centered around the LED lights and their pros and cons for human beings, not to mention how the lack of daylight affects our biology. Tord Wingren was hooked. He took a leave of absence from his work, took courses, studied scientific reports and met research groups in Europe and the US, all to figure out how to use LED technology combined with his experience in systems development to recreate the effects of natural outdoor light – indoors.
– I knew so little about it, but the more I learned, the more I went all in. What struck me was the amount of detrimental effects of poor indoor light – and how much better this could be done. Also, the individual variation of impact from poor indoor light struck me. Having worked so much with technology and systems development, I saw an opportunity to improve life for every person working indoors, says Tord Wingren.
The addition of blue light completed the visible spectrum, enabling the artificial reproduction of every variant of color contained in natural light.
One crucial part of the puzzle was the blue LED, which was still a recent innovation and was awarded the Nobel prize in 2014. The addition of blue light completed the visible spectrum, enabling the artificial reproduction of every variant of color contained in natural light.
Collaborating with scientists
– Before the blue LED was readily available, it was impossible to reproduce pure white light, since it contains every wavelength. The closer you got to blue light, the more complex it got. With blue light available, the entire spectrum of natural light could be combined in a single luminaire. The challenge left was how to generate a high-quality light and vary it according to how natural light varies throughout the day, Tord Wingren explains.
The idea for the foundational first patent was born, and Tord Wingren filed it in 2012.
He then founded the company itself, and filed a number of applications in order to receive seed funding for development activities. Together with some of the professors at Lund University, Tord Wingren formed the first scientific advisory board around BrainLit and presented the BrainLit vision at exhibitions and conferences.
The Swedish innovation agency Vinnova approved the company’s joint application with Lund University for ICT-lighting. This became the first project to generate revenue for the company and in 2014, BrainLit’s first patent was registered in the US. The same year, BrainLit joined the Swedish Energy Agency, collaborating with a scientist team of scientists at Lund University on a project.
We could get standard hardware and use our own software to control it. Only then, after studying the field for three years, I saw what the product could be.
When Tord Wingren later met IT and electronics veteran Peter K Andersson, he introduced an off the shelf control system to address the first business opportunities. Even though this was not precisely the solution that Tord Wingren was searching for to implement his vision, it was perfect for getting things started. Thus, Tord Wingren in 2015 hired Peter K Andersson as the CEO and second employee of BrainLit.
– Peter instinctively realized that we had the groundwork of a scalable solution where we could get standard hardware and use our own software to control it. Only then, after studying the field for three years, I saw what the product could be. Eventually we found luminaires and sensors that could function together as a system, and thus, we had the complete solution needed to generate business, says Tord Wingren.
BrainLit also required a deeper understanding of light itself, so Truls Löwgren was hired as chief technological officer. The newly formed trio refined the configuration of the luminaires and the system to create a unique proposition for customers. These luminaires had to be tailor made, no one manufactured LED:s containing the mix and distribution of light to suit the very particular needs of BrainLit.
– The new luminaires were developed after our specifications. Then we only needed our first customers. Customers who would appreciate being part of developing something new and who were close enough for us to go over and have a cup of coffee with them. Being totally, brutally honest with us was important too, or we couldn’t improve our product, says Tord Wingren.
Improving quality of life for customers
Today, BioCentric Lighting can be found in New York and Hong Kong. But while the company is ready for the world market, its roots in the academic capital of Sweden, Lund, are still crucial to Tord Wingren.
– Many innovative companies start by aiming for the world market and go global immediately. That was not our philosophy. We figured that if we could succeed in our local market, we had a good foundation. The home market is really tough to break into, nobody wants to make the neighbor a wealthy person, Tord Wingren laughs.
As Tord Wingren tells the story of how BrainLit was born, the luminaires of BioCentric Lighting are all around him. Would the young engineer who came up with the idea have been happy with the end result?
– If the younger me could have looked forward in time, he would have been very happy with this. It’s just what I imagined! But I hope to be even happier in five or six more years, when this light can be seen everywhere, hopefully as an industry standard. It was a great experience to initiate Bluetooth and to follow it through its global success, but BioCentric Lighting will become even bigger. Then we truly can improve the quality of life for so many people, he concludes.