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Ultrathin, lightweight speakers are a sound success

Warwick Audio TechnologiesLightweight speakers that are hardly thicker than a sheet of paper and can be moulded to fit any shape are being commercialised by university spin-out company, Warwick Audio Technologies.

The technology grew out of research by Duncan Billson and David Hutchins at the University of Warwick and its development has been supported by Warwick Ventures since the company’s inception in 2001.

The speakers are much lighter than conventional systems and use less power. Consequently, they have attracted a great deal of interest from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The company is working with a number of multi-national companies making home audio systems. They are also working with car manufacturers who see major benefits to using the speakers in vehicle audio systems. The speakers can be incorporated into the linings of the car where they can produce high quality sound for much lower weight.

Another key feature of the technology is its ability to direct sound towards an audience without spilling out into surrounding areas. This has led to other applications including conferencing systems, advertising displays, and PA systems for use in public spaces such as transport hubs, supermarkets and reception spaces. A subsidiary company, ZonarSound, has been set up to supply some of these products directly to distributors.

The researchers behind the technology approached Warwick Ventures early and we filed a patent, incorporated the company and wrote its first business plan. Warwick Ventures’ Business Development Manager David Calvert has been involved with the company from the start.

“When we first heard the technology making a noise, we were very intrigued. The quality was not much, but it was quite difficult to believe that something so thin could make real sounds,” he recalls. “A quick look at the market opportunity told us that the market for speakers is vast and varied and there is room for a novel thin and flexible speaker.”

To provide the business with a sure grounding for investment, Warwick Ventures also managed the company, as interim CEO, enabling it to secure a £500,000 investment from two venture capital firms, Synergis Technologies and Mercia Fund Management.

David Calvert emphasises how vital this was to getting the business off the ground: “Getting investment is a time consuming operation, and the academic inventors haven’t the time to do this on their own. Warwick Ventures has significant experience in this too and so we are often able to help. After the company secured this investment, it was able to bring in its own management and we withdrew from any executive role.”

Since then, the business has grown as the technology and product development has continued to advance. ZonarSound has appointed distributors in countries throughout Europe, while Warwick Audio Technologies itself continues to develop partnerships with OEMs.

The company has recently secured a further £1.25 million investment to develop its operations further. Investors include Finance Wales and business angels from FSE Investor Network, along with Midlands-based firms Mercia, Midven and Minerva Business Angels, and company directors. The total investment in the company since its inception is £4.5 million.

Company Chairman and acting CEO, Derek Mottershead, says: “After many years of development this funding now gives us the opportunity to complete the commercialisation of Warwick Audio and establish a sound base for ZonarSound. We already have a number of products on the market and we believe there is enormous potential for growth.“

Warwick Ventures maintains its involvement with Warwick Audio Technologies, as board observer, monitoring its investment and helping ensure the company maximises its commercial opportunities.

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