Osram Opto: Lighting the Way


Juanita Kurtin

Osram Opto Semiconductors is a global leader in the fields of illumination, visualization, and sensor technology. Based in Germany, Osram develops, manufactures, and distributes high-performance light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for use in automotive, general lighting, and other sectors, as well as other optoelectronic components.

In 2018, Osram set up shop in the Portland State Business Accelerator by acquiring Pacific Light Technologies (PLT), a local developer of optical nanomaterials that increase LED efficiency, performance, and color quality. Founded in 2011 by Juanita Kurtin, Ph.D., and colleagues, PLT set out to provide an alternative to the conventional phosphors used to convert colors in LED lighting.

LEDs typically use phosphors, which absorb and reemit light, to convert blue light into white light for use in a variety of applications, including indoor and automotive lighting. While phosphors get the job done, Kurtin's team developed a more efficient tool for the job: quantum dots.

"We founded Pacific Light Technologies based on a technology that we knew would improve LEDs," said Kurtin, who is now director of materials research at Osram. "By designing quantum dots with certain characteristics, we could apply the dots as converters, just like phosphors, but unlike phosphors, our technology provides the benefit of targeting specific colors. We can utilize our technology's much narrower emission peak to increase overall LED efficiency."

Today, Kurtin leads Osram's Portland division, which employs a team of 20. The group's operations include research and development of nanomaterials for use in optoelectronic devices, as well as the manufacturing of quantum dot materials for LED lights. Osram incorporates the new technology in general lighting products available on the market, with plans to expand beyond lighting in the future.

Kurtin notes that the growth of PLT and the acquisition by Osram are in part due to the company's long-standing relationship with the Portland State Business Accelerator. In addition to office space, Osram utilizes the Accelerator's wet lab space for much of its R&D activities.

"I'm not sure we would be where we are today without the Accelerator," Kurtin said. "When we started PLT, the Accelerator was the only place in town with both offices and lab space available for lease. And they connected us with the Center for Electron Microscopy at Portland State, which we've used extensively over the years. Those resources helped us get our feet on the ground. To this day, the Accelerator is an excellent resource for Portland startups."

According to Kurtin, Osram is an example of how high-tech startup companies based in Portland can succeed by drawing on resources such as the Portland State Business Accelerator and the skill of the region's workforce. Among those success stories, Osram is lighting the way.