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Home / Latest News / James Nelson throws light on LED business

James Nelson throws light on LED business

If there is such a thing as an entrepreneurial gene, then 31-year-old James Nelson surely has it. His father is Dr Drew Nelson, the former BT research engineer who 25 years ago set up what is now IQE, the successful Cardiff-based semiconductor manufacturer whose products are found in all the major brands of smartphone.

The young Mr Nelson was born in 1982 in Ipswich. The family moved to Cowbridge when he was seven, shortly after his father set up what was then called Epitaxial Products International (EPI) in St Mellons.

His father’s success in setting up his own business was clearly an influence on the growing boy.

“My father grew up from a normal background. As kids we saw him grow to become this businessman that was always flying around doing different things. I think I always thought, I wish I could do that,” he said.

He added: “I’ve always liked the idea of starting little businesses. When I was a kid we would go around the village offering to wash people’s cars for a fiver. Mum and Dad had to buy all the equipment but we would make £5.

“A lot of these ideas would pop into our heads, we would start them and see where they would go.”

Nevertheless, his father’s very success precluded Mr Nelson from following his father into the company.

“When I grew up I always thought, could I work for my father, could I join his team?

“But that company became public and a lot bigger, and at that point I thought I couldn’t really add that much value to get very high up in that company. Just because I’m Drew’s son, it would be unfair,” he said.

Mr Nelson went to university in Bristol, doing a masters degree in electronic communications. Part of his thesis was on energy scavenging devices –  that is, devices that could gather energy from the surroundings.

He turned his thesis into the development of solar-powered light for bus shelters, which brought him into the world of LEDs.

As part of his degree he also took courses on accounting and entrepreneurship.

“We had lectures where entrepreneurs would explain how they had got to where they were by seeing a gap in the market. That inspired me,” he said.

After graduating he got a job in the corporate finance technology team of a London investment bank. But the banking crisis of 2007 saw many of his team laid off.

“[That] just left the core of us there to do a lot of the work with no extra benefits. At that point I thought, now is the perfect time to do something if you want to do it,” he said.

In truth, Mr Nelson was never likely to be happy for long working for someone else.

“In the banking job you could work 20 hours non-stop and not really get very far,” he said.

“I always thought, I’m working solidly and there’s somebody else who’s working not solidly, and they’re treated [equally] – not the way it should be but that’s life.

“So it was only [looking for] a gap in the  market that I thought, this is where I can change something and do something, without having to stay on the same path.”

A friend, Tom Leese, was setting up a company supplying LED lights in Dubai.

“I thought, here’s the perfect time to jump ship and bring that over to the UK as a start-up business to help people save energy and money,” Mr Nelson said.

So at the beginning of 2008 he returned home to South Wales and, with financial backing from his father, set up Greenlux. He did not apply for any grant support from Government.

“I found all the hoops to jump through too laborious, when at that time you had to get your head down and get the business going, not sit around and wait for someone to do something,” he said.

“We’re looking at grants now for expanding but the hoops you have to go through… will just put a pause on the business, and you don’t know what might happen.

“I feel at this day in industry if you stop your customers are going to go somewhere else so you have to keep going 24/7.”

Greenlux began as an LED lighting distribution and service company, although now it specialises in the distribution.

One of its first customers was Rockwool, the Pencoed-based insulation and sound proofing manufacturer.

“They put some faith in us and got us going. As you get one name it gives others a bit more confidence.

“It took about a year to 18 months to really get going. A lot of that time was spent researching the products, researching how the energy industry works, coming up with good proposals,” Mr Nelson said. Then Greenlux landed a contract with Cambridge University, which has remained a customer for two and a half years.

“I feel if you give somebody good service from the start, whether they want one lamp or 1,000, you’ll get repeat business, and that’s how we’ve won business,” Mr Nelson said.

Greenlux’s role as a service company has been taken over by Truelux, which was originally created in Dubai as a joint investment with Tom Leese. Truelux UK is also jointly owned by Mr Nelson and Mr Leese, unlike Greenlux which remains in the hands of Mr Nelson and his father.

Truelux recently won a £100,000 contract with the Celtic Manor, replacing a large part of the resort’s lighting with LED lights.

Other clients include the Royal Emirates Pearl in Abu Dhabi,  the Stokers furniture chain, Ramada Hotels, Barclays Wealth and the Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

According to Mr Nelson, such customers can save between 50% and 80% on their lighting bills if they switch to LEDs – between 60% and 90% if they are replacing incandescent halogen bulbs, depending on what they need.

When you start adding in maintenance savings and replacement costs it can amount to a large amount of savings, he adds.

“A typical halogen or incandescent lamp lasts between 1,000 and 2,000 hours, a typical LED will last between 35,000 and 50,000 hours. That’s almost five years, 24/7. So if you put it in your kitchen and ran it six hours a day, it would last 20 years,” he said.

LEDs will even save energy compared to energy-saving CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs, Mr Nelson said.

“The biggest problem with those are that you turn the light on and nothing happens for a few seconds, the light colour quality is poor and they don’t last very long.

“LEDs compared to those are instantly on, they’ve got a much better lifetime, they can be dimmed whereas CFLs can’t, and the colour quality is much better,” he said. It used to be the case that a light bulb was a light bulb, but as the above shows consumers are now faced with a sometimes bewildering choice of LEDs, CFLs and halogen bulbs, while the old fashioned incandescent bulbs are phased out of the market.

Mr Nelson’s latest business venture is a website designed to advise customers about which LED bulbs would best suit their needs.

“What we’re seeing is that retailers are trying to push LEDs, get the consumers interested, and get them to start buying,” he said.

“I was talking at a conference at Swansea University about various LEDs and people were saying, I didn’t know these products were out there.

“I thought to myself, these are the experts and if they don’t know these things exist, how on earth is Joe Bloggs going to know?”

So in spring last year he launched Mr Nelson explains how it works.

“ is purely consumer facing, it doesn’t sell anything. It tests the products at an independent lab so we know whether the manufacturer’s specifications are true, and loads the results onto our database.

“There’s a complex search engine which compares all the attributes of a lamp. If someone was to go on there and say, I’ve got a 35 watt lamp and I want something that gives that same light, we will give them a list of products that matches that and list the cheapest places to buy them on the internet.”

The company’s revenue is a small commission on each sale from the merchant. However, even if visitors don’t buy bulbs through the website, Mr Nelson’s other companies stand to gain by spreading greater awareness of LED lights.

“Even if they only use our site for research and don’t buy it helps us, because we need to get the LED reputation better known,” he said.

The LED market is only likely to grow, so it’s no surprise the Mr Nelson has ambitious plans for all his three businesses. “Our plan with Truelux is to be a branded name where we can franchise out to different countries.

“We’re already speaking to an Irish company which we hope to set up. What that will offer those guys is the umbrella of Truelux and case studies of experience,” he said.

For Greenlux the plan is simply to grow to become a bigger distributor.

“For we’re going to be expanding to really get a name in the UK market, but our ultimate goal is to roll it out globally. It’s a franchise model which can be pushed anywhere with local manufacturers and merchants,” he said.

Mr Nelson is married and has one daughter. Running three young and growing companies keeps him busy.

“I’ve foregone pay for that many years to get the company going,” he said.

“I didn’t expect to start a business and suddenly earn a huge salary and all the perks, it’s got to be earned.”

Nevertheless, he takes every opportunity when he can get away from the businesses to pursue some active recreation.

“If someone says let’s go skiing at the weekend, or walking or to the Grand Prix, I say yes. I don’t find sitting down doing nothing exciting,” he said.

“At home if there’s nothing to do I’ll go and chop some logs or something.”

His favourite time of the year is during the Six Nations, “those intense few weeks of good rugby” – although as an English-born man living in Wales it wouldn’t seem to be the most relaxing time, especially this year.

“I don’t consider myself to be Welsh but I am very passionate about Wales. My parents were born on Berwick on Tweed, so they’ve got the same sort of debate about what they are,” he said.

“I would say I’m English but with a Welsh background. I always support Wales in everything, I’ve lived here most of my life and I love it.”

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