Lord Young joins rock stars to back electronic revolution

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The Independent Online
Lord Young of Graffham, the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and chairman of Cable & Wireless, is joining forces with the rock group Genesis and the property developer Godfrey Bradman to back a British technology that promises to revolutionise the world of consumer electronics.

The former Cabinet minister is leading a pounds 6.6m investment in Cambridge Display Technology, a spin-off company from Cambridge University that has patented light-emitting polymer technology (LEP).

LEPs have the potential to replace liquid crystal and LED displays in a huge range of goods from computers to mobile telephones and could ultimately replace the cathode ray tube in television sets.

The potential world-wide market is estimated at $29bn (pounds 18.3bn).

Lord Young, Mr Bradman and a handful of other investors have formed a new venture called Light Emitting Polymer Investments (Lepi) which will take a stake of just under 33 per cent in Cambridge Display Technology. Lord Young will also take over as CDT's chairman and represent the company overseas, particularly in the Asia Pacific region which is seen as one of the biggest growth markets for LEPs.

CDT was formed in 1992 by Cambridge University and Richard Friend, now Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge, with pounds 1.25m of seedcorn money. The rock group Genesis and its manager put in pounds 400,000 and other investors included John Sculley, the former president of Apple, Hermann Hauser, one of the founders of Acorn Computer, and Steve Kahng, president of Power Computing Technology.

Including the latest tranche of funding, total investment in CDT stands at pounds 10m - all in the form of equity. Cambridge University remains the biggest single shareholder. Under its chief executive, Danny Chapchal, who joined in 1996 from Siemens, CDT has raised pounds 2m by selling licences to exploit the technology to Philips Electronics, Hoechst of Germany and the California-based UNIAX. The first product to feature the technology, probably a mobile telephone, is due to appear before the end of this year.

"We have taken a view on the technology and decided it has a chance," Lord Young said. "If it succeeds, it promises to be extremely profitable. I believe that within two years we will see quite a lot of revenues coming in."

CDT is also in talks with a large Japanese electronics company about licensing the LEP technology for use in a wider range of household products.

Unlike conventional LEDs, which are based on traditional semiconductor technology, LEPs can be fabricated on flexible plastic sheets and are claimed to be cheaper, thinner and lighter as well as being easier to read.