Camas company wins innovation award

Honor could help Lightfleet earn needed venture capital

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor

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Lightfleet Corp. of Camas has won a Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award for its method of connecting computer processors using beamed light instead of copper or fiber-optic wire. The company won in the computing systems category and was one of 17 companies nationwide honored by the awards.

This national recognition could help the 7-year-old company land the $30 million in venture capital it needs to launch its products by mid-2011, said Jim Burke, senior product marketing manager.

Funded largely by angel investors to date, the company faced a major setback in its product launch after the financial crisis caused a venture capital deal to fall through, Burke said. The company laid off half of its 54 employees and dramatically slowed its development.

It still managed to deliver a prototype of its first product earlier this year to Microsoft, which will test how it handles a range of applications, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Even though we’re not shipping yet, we’re not a preproduct company,” Burke said. “We have strong customer demand, now it’s just a matter of execution.”

Lightfleet’s technology speeds the time it takes complex data centers to process information by allowing servers to communicate via beams of light. Today, data must pass through a linear series of wire switches.

Such efficiency will be increasingly important to data centers as more companies, including Microsoft, allow customers to run programs through Web browsers rather than software installed on computers.

Spending on these Internet-based, or cloud, services on public applications alone is expected to increase 27 percent per year in the next four years to become a $55 billion industry, according to an IDC analyst report released in July.

Lightfleet’s potential for growth, driven by cloud computing’s rapid expansion, could help Camas become better known as an innovation hub in the Pacific Northwest, said Camas Mayor Paul Dennis.

As one of a handful of leading-edge technology companies, including Logitech, that have recently moved to the new Camas Meadows Business Park, Lightfleet’s expansion would help establish a pool of engineering talent in Camas that would draw related suppliers and customers to the area, Dennis said.

Click here to view the Wall Street Journal's list of winners.