Imaging systems firm is a picture of success

For Steve Hollock and five ofhis colleagues working at Plessey/GEC, the thermal imaging market became so appealing they left the British engineering giant and startedup their own company.

The team of six, with skills in the areas of technology research and development, marketing, and commercial management realised that most existing thermal imagers’ quality of image was far in excess of what was necessary for many applications. They were being approached by customers wanting lower specification technology,which was simply notavailable on the market.

The six of them then decided to set up their own company to manufacture and sell low cost, low resolution thermal imaging and smart detection systemsthat could bridge the marketgap between household burglar alarms and high-tech military imaging equipment.

Having come up with the idea, the group managed toraise £1m through donationsand investment from family and friends. But going to financial institutions to raise the sums really required to bring the technology to market involveda great deal more work and Hollock and his partners found themselves contacting some30 financial institutions without much success.

Eventually it was a venture capital organisation called Pi Capital that was able to put the team in contact with some individual investors. This core group of investors were to provide the £3m that breathed life into Infra Red Integrated Systems and saw it finally become a company in 1996.

The group approached the DTI for support towards the outset. Since then they havegot involved with the DTI’sLINK scheme. This providesa percentage of a company’s research and development costs, with research carried out in conjunction with a university.

The company is currently working with 15 universities, including Cranfield and Leeds. One project, with Edinburgh’s Napier University, is aiming to develop an advanced people counting detector. Such a device could be used for counting the number of people on a platform in any weather conditions.

Hollock, who is now sales and marketing director of Irisys, said: ‘Getting the money was the biggest challenge so far. Lots of management time went into that when the technology really needed to be developed.’ Last year the company launched its first product and achieved a turnover of £30,000. It now supplies people detector and counter systems to a number of major OEMs andthis year saw turnover jump to £700,000. Four years on, the company has over 20 employees with hopes of turning over £4m in 2001 and £10m by 2004.

This year at Manufacturing Industry Achievement Awards, the company won the emerging company of the year award. The judges were impressed with its rapid growth and clear strategy to exploit its niche market.