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2020 30 Under 35 Profile: David Gershaw

David Gershaw, 33
Chief Innovation Officer
Light Efficient Design

One could say that for David Gershaw, chief innovation officer at Light Efficient Design, becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t a choice. “Entrepreneurship has always been in my blood,” said David. “My dad, my grandparents, my great grandparents—they were all entrepreneurs.”

David was just five or six years old when he started his first business—collecting rocks and selling them at his grandmother’s art fairs. “My dad taught me how to use Microsoft Excel to keep track of my costs and sales. It wasn’t an internationally successful business,” he laughed, “but I learned a little bit about business at a really young age, and that spark stayed with me.”

David launched his first real business in high school: His dad brought home a BMW X5 and David designed a ring of lights to go in the car’s headlights. “It didn’t start as a business, I just thought it would be cool on my dad’s car,” David noted. “Other BMW owners would ask my dad where he got them, so I started an online business called CustomAngelEyes.com and hired some of my high school buddies to work with me in my parent’s basement. It was a very niche business, but anywhere in the world if you wanted your BMW headlights customized with LEDs we were the only place to go.”

David ran the company through high school and while he attended the University of Connecticut, where he studied manufacturing engineering and business management. In 2007 he was offered an internship at Osram Sylvania, where he worked as an engineer in the solid-state lighting research laboratory. “I was working with all these really smart scientists on the fundamentals of the LED,” David said. “We were growing the diodes and wire bonding and learning about phosphors and everything that goes into the LED package itself. I learned a lot about the real fundamentals of solid-state lighting.”

“I saw an opportunity toward the end of that internship to start a company—to be a supplier of some unique technology that my group at Sylvania was working on in the lab,” David continued. “In 2009, as I was graduating college, I started RemPhos Technologies [‘remote phosphor’] and from 2009-2013 we were a private label manufacturer for Sylvania.”

David describes those four years as an “awesome opportunity,” but he wanted more for the company. “We wanted to take what we learned and build our own brand,” he said. “We decided to focus 100% on energy efficiency retrofit type lighting—and that is where we’ve been ever since: totally focused on being the absolute best we can be at developing the right product and tying it together with the right service so that our customers see real value in using our products in our company compared to all the other options out there.”

In 2018 RemPhos merged with Light Efficient Design. “Myself and Tim Taylor, the CEO of Light Efficient Design, saw an opportunity,” said David. “RemPhos was very focused on the northeast market, but we didn’t have a lot of presence throughout the country and in Canada. Light Efficient Design had a large existing rep network and customer base, so we saw an opportunity to combine companies and become bigger and stronger as one.”

It was then that David’s title changed from CEO to CIO—Chief Innovation Officer. “I thought ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ sounded cooler than CTO, because a CTO usually wears a suit and sits behind a desk,” David laughed. “I don’t want to wear a suit. I want to be out there with the customers on the job site, seeing where the needs are and where we can innovate, develop new products, make changes—make things better and easier.”

When asked what appeals to him about the industry, David replied: “It’s fun to be in an industry that keeps you on your toes. If you don’t stay on top of what’s happening and where you need to innovate, you’re going to fall behind. There are so many companies that are working hard in this industry so you really have to stay on top of your game, stay focused on developing what’s next and what will be relevant.”

Looking ahead, David sees lighting playing an ever-increasing role in our day-to-day lives— above and beyond providing illumination. “Medical devices, for example,” he said. “We’re seeing it with this pandemic—lighting is playing a more important role than just providing illumination, it’s suddenly front and center as a tool to fight the virus. There are many examples of lighting being used in very interesting medical ways that will have an impact on improving human life, on saving lives. I think that over the next 50 to 100 years we’re going to see light replacing a lot of other procedures and treatments in the medical industry and it’ll be safer, more efficient, and better at solving certain problems.”

When asked about his future in the industry, David said: “One of my key goals is to grow this company well beyond the level that we’re at today—to help bring us into areas that may not seem so obvious. Lighting is going to continue to play such an important role in many parts of our lives other than general illumination. I look forward to helping bring the company into those other exciting areas.”

When he’s not at work, David, who lives in Massachusetts, spends time on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. “We spent a lot of time in the summer boating and fishing and enjoying the ocean,” he said, adding that working out (David enjoys yoga and CrossFit) and spending time with family and friends also top his to-do list.

Still, David is never far from entrepreneurial thoughts: He is currently working on a children’s book about it. “I was fortunate enough to have a lot of opportunities as a child because I was surrounded by great people who gave me the spark to achieve what I’ve achieved so far,” he said. “I want to help ignite that spark in young kids that maybe don’t have that same kind of support I had.”

 

Each year tED magazine recognizes 30 of the industry’s best and brightest under the age of 35. Please visit tedmag.com/30Under35 for nomination information and updates about the 2021 program. Questions can be sent to tED Editor Misty Byers at mbyers@naed.org.

 

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