Business age: 2.5 years. The business really took off following seed funding in November 2014.
Number of employees: 40
Length of time in the Enterprise Zone: We were initially based in the SETSquared incubator at Engine Shed, but we moved in April 2016. Then, we were 25 people; we’re 40 now. The Enterprise Zone offered great incentives for us: proximity to the station and reduced business rates were both important in the decision. None of our employees drive to work, so the local public transport links, the cycle path, the local and national trains, and the regular bus services are all important to our employees.
How would you describe what Ultrahaptics does to someone who’s never heard of it? Ultrahaptics is working to create the most remarkable connection between people and technology. By using ultrasound to project sensations onto a hand in mid-air, Ultrahaptics is allowing people to feel and control technology like never before. From invisible buttons and dials that you feel when you need them, through to tangible interfaces that track your hand. This elegant and simple technology was created using complex mathematics yet is based on human nature. It’s technology as it should be.
How did Ultrahaptics come about? The technology came out of Tom Carter’s undergraduate studies at the University of Bristol. He wanted to explore whether it was possible to manipulate ultrasound to create touch sensations in mid-air. His studies developed into the basis for his PhD. Then, in 2013, recognising the commercial potential of the technology, Tom, along with his Professor and a fellow researcher, span out the research as Ultrahaptics, with Tom taking the position of Chief Technical Officer (CTO). Seed funding of £600k was received in 2014, which quickly led to the team hiring experienced CEO, Steve Cliffe, and launching their first product in the form of an evaluation kit.
Can you tell us a bit more about the types of projects Ultrahaptics’ technology has been used in? Ultrahaptics’ technology can be used pretty much anywhere where people interact with technology. That’s why our customers range from car manufacturers looking to make controls that recognise mid-air gestures safer and more responsive, to kitchen appliance companies who want their devices to be controlled without needing buttons, which can become contaminated with germs and food.
Home entertainment is another market which has been attracted by our technology. Who doesn’t want to be able to ditch the remote and control all their home entertainment with the wave of a hand, reaching out to feel buttons find your fingertips in mid-air?
Then, of course, there’s virtual reality. Being able to touch a virtual world is the final dimension in being truly immersed.
What have been Ultrahaptics’ key successes since starting out? Some of our most exciting successes we can’t talk about as all of our customers have non-disclosure agreements with us. There are customers across multiple markets that are keen to be the first to implement Ultrahaptics in their consumer products and they are all keeping their cards pretty close to their chest at the moment!
We have, however, raised one of the UK’s biggest technology A rounds of funding of £10.1m (October 2015) and this is testament to the size of commercial opportunity ahead of us. We were also very excited to receive a grant of €1.49m from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 fund to help bring the technology to a wider audience more quickly.
We’ve also grown the team from 4 to 40 in the past 18 months. Without compromising on excellence, we’ve built a community of passionate, dedicated employees who are committed to seeing this technology succeed.
What are Ultrahaptics’ plans for the future? We’re really excited about where the business is going. We’ll continue to grow the team over the next few months so we can support our customers further. We’ve just made our first hires in both the USA and central Europe, so we’re expanding geographically. Most of all, we are keen to see those first products on the market with our technology enabling them to bring a whole new sense of connection between people and the devices all around us.
Describe the business in 3 words. Fighting the ordinary
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