Not many businesses start at a kitchen table, but that’s exactly where it all originated for Aurora Lighting, in St Albans in 1999. Today it is an internationally recognised brand, the only privately owned, vertically integrated, LED organisation in the world with manufacturing facilities in both the UK and China, with hubs and distribution facilities in every continent. Founder and CEO Andrew Johnson has been awarded and applauded for his designs, and now, as he leads the company into yet another era, with the rise of smart lighting, he talks humble beginnings and the bright future that lies ahead.
For Andrew it all began after many years of traveling and living in Asia, conducting extensive product development and research alongside longtime Taiwanese business partner and friend Jack Huang. It was during these years that the framework, which would eventually become a worldwide business, began to develop. Jack Huang, who at the time owned a small original equipment manufacturing business selling electronic transformers, assisted Andrew in learning everything he could about the lighting industry and together they built an extensive bank of knowledge that would ultimately become essential when establishing Aurora Lighting.
Upon arriving back in the UK, Andrew found himself at ground zero. The idea behind Aurora had been established but the tools to build the foundations had not yet become accessible, “We really didn’t have anything — no computer system, no office, no bank accounts. We actually did start from zero and I’m proud of that,” Andrew said in a recent interview with CEO magazine.
The yet to be named company eventually became Aurora Lighting in reference to the world famous Aurora Borealis, a spectacular light show that occurs naturally in the skies above Alaska and is widely considered to be the most stunning natural wonder known to man.
Andrew began with a focus on halogen lighting and attempted to fix some of the technical issues associated with electrical transformers and electromagnetic conformity. At the same time both business partners invested in a material-processing factory in China leaving an early footprint in eastern opportunities. Now with an original, marketable product the two began to distribute; Andrew focussed largely on clients within the UK while Jack concentrated on the rest of the world.
Soon after Aurora’s creation Andrew identified certain issues within the market, one of which was a need for a fire-rated solution within the industry. At the time, a trend had begun in the UK and the British public became infatuated with stainless steel kitchen accessories. Halogen downlights seemed to be the perfect match however this came with a noticeable problem upon installation; halogen downlights often meant cutting holes in the ceiling which would then eradicate any fire-rating integrity the installation may have. Aware of this common issue, the company developed a patent that involved putting intumescent material around the housing of the can which, when in contact with fire, blocked the hole, allowing for the 90-minute fire rating to remain valid.
This was considered the first aspect of an evolutionary chain that remains at the centre of Aurora Lighting and was later dubbed Lighting 1.0. The next era, termed Lighting 2.0, focussed primarily on a move to LED technology, integrated luminaires controlled by third party, on-premise solutions. and driverless products (coming up in Part 2).