CHARLIE SZORADI, 47, of Wayne, is chairman and CEO of Independence LED Lighting. The company makes and sells commercial LED tubes, LED multi-tube fixtures for retrofit and new construction, and offers support services, such as on-site lighting audits. Last year, the company won an Urban Green Award from the U.S. Green Building Council for "Best Lighting Retrofit."
Q: How'd you get the idea for Independence LED?
A: In the early 1990s, I thought businesses would install energy-efficient lights because a third of the cost of electricity is in lighting. And GE, Sylvania and Philips hadn't really [enhanced] illumination since the 1950s. Jump forward to 2007. I began to make LED tubes in China because there were no options to do it here at the test level we needed.
Q: You moved manufacturing to Boyertown in 2010.
A: Sometimes we got product from our overseas partners that differed from the [specs] we gave them and quality wasn't as good. We felt we'd need too many people to oversee China production and it just made more sense to sub it out here.
Q: The value proposition?
A: The most common unit of American and global lighting is the 4-foot fluorescent tube. They emit lumen [light] equivalent to 32 watts of electricity and have a 7-year life. Our LED tube uses 12 watts and has a 20-year life. What are you willing to spend to save 20 watts per tube every year for 20 years?
Q: Cost of products?
A: The packages we have range from $25 per unit to the whole-fixture retrofit that we might sell for $100 per unit because they require multiple tubes. We also have a 10-year warranty (up to 60,000 hours of life).
Q: Your customers?
A: We sell through a network of authorized resellers, such as Colonial Electric, in King of Prussia. LED Lighting Solutions, in California, is our rep for the U.S. Navy. There are some direct sales with Brandywine Realty Trust and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Q: Your competitors, and what differentiates you?
A: Philips and Sylvania are among the biggest players, and Cree is one of the LED-specific players. We typically outperform LED competition by 20 percent in efficiency and cost reduction. Our tubes are made with aircraft-grade aluminum that's less porous and more conductive.
Q: Biggest challenge?
A: Any disruptive technology must overcome the incumbent. Every commercial building has fluorescent or LED tubes. If you're comfortable with Sylvania and Philips, you buy from them.
Q: How big a biz is this?
A: Sales were $3 million to $5 million last year, and they are on pace to double this year. We have 12 full-time employees in Wayne.