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Name: E Ink

Provides display technology for all the major e-readers, including those sold by Sony, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. In the next two years, it is expected to face serious challenges from competitors such Plastic Logic and Pixel Qi, which use rival technologies. At press time, E Ink was in the process of being acquired by Prime View International, with the deal to be finalized in December 2009.


URL: www.eink.com
Location: Cambridge, MA
Telephone: (617) 499 6000
Year Founded: 1997
Number of Employees: 127


Executive Leadership:

President and CEO: Russell J. Wilcox

Bio: Honors degree in applied mathematics from Harvard University, MBA from Harvard Business School. Prior to E-Ink Wilcox worked at Corporate Decisions, Inc, a business consulting firm for technology companies.

Vice president, research and advanced development: Micheal D. McCreary

Bio: B.S. in Chemistry from Principia College and a Ph.D. in Physical Organic Chemistry from MIT. He has also attended executive business programs with Berkeley and Wharton. Prior to E-Ink McCreart was a General Manager of the Microelectronics Technology Division at Eastman Kodak


Board Members and advisors:

Kenneth A. Bronfin, President, Hearst Interactive Media

Joseph Jacobson, MIT Media Lab

Kenneth Mabbs, FA Technology Ventures

Stephen M. Ward, retired CEO of Lenovo

Geoffrey Wild, CEO and President of Cascade Microtech, Inc.


Funding:

A series B round of investing concluded in January 2000, raising $37 million. Investors include Havas (a division of the Vivendi Group in France); Gruppo Espresso (Italy); Investpress, Inc. (Spain); CNI Ventures (a division of Central Newspapers, Inc., the McClatchy Company, Cabot Corporation, and an affiliate of FleetBoston Financial made initial investments in this round. Prior investors were Atlas Venture, Applied Technology Ventures, Solstice Capital, The Hearst Corporation and Creavis GmbH.


Technology:

E-Ink makes electronic paper displays–once an image or text is drawn on such a display, it requires no power to maintain the image, just as if it had been drawn with ink. The displays don’t need a backlight like conventional LCD screens, and can also be read in sunlight like paper. While the company has being working on color for years, products are only available in black and white. E Ink has 150 patents issued in the US alone, a portfolio that provides the company with broad protection for its technology as E-ink has issued patents covering not only the displays, but also methods for manufacturing required materials, processes for assembling finished displays, and techniques for integrating the displays into finished products.

While many of E Ink’s patents are focused on electronic paper, many also have broader applicability in fields like organic electronics and flexible semiconductor manufacturing. With over 100 additional patent applications pending, E Ink anticipates the pace of new patent issuance to continue to increase.


Market:

E-ink competes in several product categories including e-readers and electronic signage. E-ink is very well positioned in the e-reader market as it makes displays for all the market leading products, including Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s E-Reader, and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. Forrester Research estimates 3 million units of E-readers to be sold in 2009. It predicts 900,000 devices will be sold during the holiday season. Forrester also sees sales doubling in 2010–with about 10 million units sold overall by the end of 2010. In the US, Amazon is the market leader with nearly 60 percent of the market, Sony holds 35 percent; other device makers (Foxit, Interead, IRex) 5 percent.


Strategy:

Since E ink was founded in 1997, its strategy has been to seek agreements and development partnerships with other firms. For instance, E Ink has publicly announced relationships with Air Products and Chemicals, Inc to develop next generation materials for electronic ink displays; Dialog Semiconductor PLC to lower power consumption and reduce costs; Funkwerk Information Technologies Karlsfeld to develop and produce display modules for innovative stationary and mobile passenger information systems; Motion Display to design, manufacture and assemble E-Ink”s electronic paper displays for the retail signage market; and TOPPAN Printing Company, Ltd. to develop color electronic ink displays.


Challenges and Next Steps:

As e-readers become a commodity product, E-ink will have to offer faster, cheaper, and more energy efficient technologies. It has announced that in 2010 it will be able to offer built-in support for a number of wireless technologies such WiFi and 3G. A greater variety of display sizes should also become available to facilitate product and price differentiation among manufacturers.

Color is becoming a big obstacle for E-ink. Barnes and Noble’s Nook also integrates a built in a color touch screen for navigation, the first in its kind, as E-ink so far does not provide color features. In June 2009, Prime View International began a the acquisition of E-Ink for USD $215 million, deal expected to be finalized in December 2009. It is to be expected that this acquisition will speed the development of color E Ink as E-Ink will have access to increased operating funds to boost production and accelerate new technology and product developments.

Finally, beyond today’s generation of technology, future versions will integrate E-Ink’s products with bendable plastic electronics that are being developed by several companies including a Philips spin-off (Polymer Vision), Epson, and Plastic Logic. The integration of these two technologies will allow something that looks like paper, but is also much closer to its thin, light and flexible form.

Compiled by Jimena Almendares

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