Spokane Journal of Business

Rohinni to light it up in 2018

LED tech maker to expand in INW, abroad next year

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-—Kevin Blocker
Matthew Gerber, CEO of Rohinni LLC in Coeur d’Alene, displays a keyboard with the company’s technology.
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Having developed light-emitting diodes smaller than the eyes of ants, Coeur d’Alene-based Rohinni LLC is poised for monumental growth in 2018, CEO Matthew Gerber says.

The tech engineering startup is anticipating to generate more sales both here and in its overseas operations.

Founded in May of 2013 by Andy Huska and Cody Peterson, the ambitious startup is a maker of a new type of light-emitting diode technology, the microscopic lights most notably used to illuminate the screens of consumer devices that include desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and cellular devices. 

For the first time in its brief history, Rohinni will generate revenue this year and expects to generate even more in 2018, Gerber says, although he declines to reveal revenue figures. He says Rohinni has raised a total of $15 million in startup capital since it was founded.

At the beginning of the year, Rohinni reached an agreement with Taiwan-based KoJa Cayman Co. to manufacture that company’s backlight displays for its keyboards. KoJa manufactures membrane touch switches that serve as components for its notebook computer keyboards.

Rohinni’s backlight displays are 60 percent thinner than what’s customary for the industry and have the ability to give off between 70 percent and 90 percent more light, he says.

Gerber says Rohinni also is currently in negotiations with an unidentified company he describes as a top seller of global automotive parts. That company, he says, is looking at Rohinni’s LED technology for uses as interior and exterior lighting and sensor displays.

What has generated industry buzz for the company, however, is that observers think Rohinni has developed revolutionary LED technology for lighting systems ranging from electronic displays to fabrics to products that can be submerged under water, Gerber says.

Tony Fadell, a tech designer who helped create the iPod and iPhone, said in an interview last spring with tech magazine Fast Company that Rohinni’s approach to development is “reinventing light.”

Fadell recently has come on board Rohinni as an investor and mentor to help bring a bigger picture for the technology into focus, Gerber says.

Rohinni has developed LEDs that are as thin as paper and have the ability to produce more light using less energy than conventional LED light, Gerber says.

Meanwhile, the company itself has built and developed its own robotics technology that allows engineers to rapidly—and precisely—place LEDs on the semiconductors for individual products, says Gerber, a former vice president at Spokane Valley-based Itronix Corp., a maker of rugged laptop computers that was acquired by General Dynamics in the mid-2000s.

Rohinni has more than 50 patents that either have been awarded or are currently under review. The company has prototyped products that are used underwater, in fabric, and in architectural lighting, he says.

Rohinni is in the process of hiring two more engineers, which will bring the company to nearly 30 employees by year-end. Gerber says he’s being overly conservative with the expectation that the engineering company will grow by at least 10 to a dozen workers in 2018.

“And these are going to be good-paying technology jobs that will give a boost to our area economy,” Gerber claims.

Rohinni is located at 2139 N. Main, in the Riverstone development northwest of downtown Coeur d’Alene, where it occupies 16,000 square feet of leased space. That location serves as the company’s laboratory where its microscopic lights and the associated products for lights are manufactured.

The company also occupies leased space in a substantially smaller location for about five people—including Gerber—on the second-floor of the Washington Cracker Building, at 304 W. Pacific.  That space serves as Rohinni’s corporate headquarters, however, Gerber says the corporate office is exploring relocating to Liberty Lake to be closer to the Coeur d’Alene engineering laboratory.

Rohinni’s head of business development is based in Austin, Texas, the director of lighting is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the vice president of operations shuttles between Shanghai and Taipei, Taiwan, cultivating relationships with the company’s global supply-chain partners, Gerber says.

“We may be putting up a storefront in Asia in 2018,” Gerber says.

And Rohinni may be on the verge of extending that reach.

Gerber declines to name the two companies that have recently approached Rohinni about the possibility of forging a partnership that would allow the company here to more effectively mass produce its products.

“The most I can say is that they’re two global-class robotics firms that have market capitalizations in excess of $1 billion,” Gerber says. “We’re in throes of exploring strategic financing that will allow us to hire more staff to prepare for what may be about to happen.”

What Rohinni has successfully managed to do, says Gerber, has been to create LEDs for a wide-range of consumer products that are lightweight, durable, and energy efficient. However, the startup still lacks the ability to mass produce.

“We’ve always faced the classic, big play startup problem. How do you get to market quickly with a capital intensive business,” he says.

The next question, he says is: “Where do you start? Yes, we can put lights on shoes, shirts, and greeting cards, but ultimately, where are we going to get the most benefit in a high value environment?”

Consumer electronics and devices are where the company quickly determined it would get the most attention from venture capitalists and high-tech companies.

Then, compounding the challenge effort for Rohinni was the fact it couldn’t find manufacturing devices that were capable of designing and creating LEDs for semiconductors to their tailored specifications.

“Nobody built machines to do what we wanted,” Gerber says. “That’s how we morphed into a small robotics company that now has the ability to create machines to build its products.”

Gerber adds, “So, now we’re searching for a robotics partner to take over construction and assembly so we can concentrate strictly on production.”

Co-founder Peterson also founded touch-screen technology developer Pacinian Corp., in Spokane, where Huska was the software and electrical designer. California-based Synaptics Inc. acquired Pacinian in 2012.

 Kevin Blocker
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Reporter Kevin Blocker, a University of Colorado alum, is a rec league basketball addict. At age 47, he still sports a 32-inch vertical leap. He has three children, all of whom are hooked on hoops.

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