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Technology Stocks : Lightwave Logic, Inc.
LWLG 3.200-4.8%3:59 PM EDT

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From: XenaLives9/1/2023 12:30:26 AM
   of 1807
 
Wall Street Transcript Interview (TWST) with Dr. Lebby - August 17, 2023

TWST: Let’s start with some background on both the company and you.

Dr. Lebby: The company started about 20 years ago as the founders spun out of DuPont as a chemistry company designed to generate electro-optic polymers using chromophores.

TWST: And just to help the audience, a chromophore is really a molecule that you can insert that when struck by light reacts and generates electrical flow. Correct?

Dr. Lebby: Yes. An easy way to rephrase that is, a chromophore is a molecule with a “conjugated backbone” with its molecules electrically aligned. This conjugated backbone allows for really fast electron movement, and this really fast electron movement allows light to be switched really quickly.

TWST: Thanks, please continue.

Dr. Lebby: The company spent its first decade developing different types of chromophores that were activated by electro-optic effects. I joined the company in 2015 to look for applications for these electro-optic polymers. The major application and the biggest opportunity is in a device called an optical modulator.

Optical modulators are devices used in the millions today on the internet. They physically stand in front of the lasers we use to generate the light that goes into the fiber optics. A modulator blocks and lets through the light in digital code to generate the information transferred through the internet.

The company since 2015, since I joined, has been making its own electro-optic polymers using chromophores and also putting those polymers into modulated devices that can switch light really quickly.

The big net bonus of using polymer materials or organic materials is that they switch light a lot faster than the semiconductor technologies traditionally used, so you can send a lot more information. And you can also do it in lower power. We’ve progressed a long way in the last few years.

TWST: And your background?

Dr. Lebby: I was born in the U.K., in London, educated in U.K. universities. I’ve got two doctorates and an MBA. I’ve been in the fiber optics semiconductor field since the 1980s. I came to the States in 1985 to join Bell Labs, did some initial research work there on lasers and different types of devices.

Since then, I’ve been working in R&D and production manufacturing of different types of devices that include lasers, photo detectors, modulators, and things that help light to go faster using fiber optics as well as free space light, meaning optical beams sent through the air. You can see applications of that today with sensing and LiDAR.

So I’ve been in the field as a photonics engineer, with specialties in fiber optics and semiconductors and electronics for the last 40 years. And I’ve done various jobs, including running companies, R&D groups, in production and sales, too, so I’ve seen lots of different aspects of the industry.

TWST: Now stepping back to this technology for a moment, can you explain a bit more about chromophores?

Dr. Lebby: The fast electron movement in chromophores allows light to be switched really quickly by changing the refractive index of the material, or how easily light can pass through. When you have a material like a chromophore and you apply a voltage called a bias across it, it acts similarly to an organic light-emitting diode, or LED, another polymer-based material. You place a bias across that and you generate red, green, or blue light.

With our chromophores, if you put a bias across it, you can switch light really fast. In fact, much faster than with semiconductors. And you can also do it at super-low voltages, which saves lots of electrical power.

TWST: And you’re basically saying, turning the light on and off very rapidly.

Dr. Lebby: Exactly. So if you think about the fiber optic internet, where you have fiber optic cables, you have a laser at one end of the fiber that generates the light. Ten years ago, we couldn’t turn the lasers on and off that quickly. We needed to turn them on and off a lot faster. Physically turning the laser on and off doesn’t work very fast. You can imagine just like a flashlight, turning the flashlight on and off takes time.

But it’s faster to put a shutter in front of the flashlight. And if that shutter moves really quickly, then the ones and the zeros, essentially the digital information that goes down the fiber optic cable — light for on, no light for off — that generates ones and zeros. If you have a shutter that works super-fast, then you can send a lot more information faster.

We put our polymers in front of the laser with an electrical bias and we can switch the light really quickly. That allows us to send a lot more information down the fiber optic cable.

TWST: So it’s sort of like the photographic filter that you can control electronically. It used that as a shutter.

Dr. Lebby: Yes, it’s like a shutter on a camera or a windscreen wiper or your eye blinking. You’re blinking really fast, right?

TWST: And the reason that you need the speed of switching the light is you can put a lot more ones and zeros in a row in a given amount of time.

Dr. Lebby: And the easiest way to picture this is we all have internet coming into our homes today via our internet cable. And if we don’t have high data rates, 50 megs, 100 megs and the kids have all got their video streaming going, sometimes we don’t have the bandwidth to keep everything going.

If you have not just 50 megabits or 100 megabits but a gig or 10 gigs, you can have 10 cameras streaming or 10 computers streaming, and not even worry about these things, plus you can have an increased quality. You can have a higher-density or higher-quality image.

And so, more bandwidth is what everybody has really been asking for over the last decade.

TWST: And it’s also important from the provider viewpoint because all of this traffic is being intermingled on its transmission media.

Dr. Lebby: Look at our interstate freeway system. Some cities have got eight lanes and other cities have got two lanes. If you look at the internet as the interstate freeway system, the data centers are the intersections. All the traffic gets routed to a different destination, and it comes back through the data centers. If we can send the traffic faster, it gets routed to the destination a lot faster and we can have our return signal a lot faster.

It’s not just the consumers or the end users who benefit. It’s actually the network providers and the network operators really benefit too.

TWST: Is your material only used on the sending side? Or is it used as a demodulator on the receiving side?

Dr. Lebby: We use this only on the sending side because what we’re doing is we’re modulating the light that generates the information. When the light goes to the fiber, it gets collected by a photo detector at the destination. What we have really helps the transmitter on the sending side.

TWST: And you talked about an aligned backbone. What’s that?

Dr. Lebby: That refers to the idea of a conjugated backbone. Each chromophore is a molecule that is a dipole, with a positive and negative end. In the old LCD digital displays, we would align all the dipoles in the LCD liquid material by putting an electrical bias, or voltage on it. That meant you could go from black to transparent. Ours is a similar concept, except our material is solid, it’s not liquid.

TWST: And then, from what I was reading on your site, you heat the material first, then put on the electromagnetic field, which aligns everything, and then you cool it down to keep everything aligned.

Dr. Lebby: Correct. It’s a thermal process where you can align all the dipoles by heating the organic material, and then you freeze them in place when you cool it down. That allows us to apply very small voltage biases to switch the light really quickly.

TWST: Can you give some idea of how much advantage there is in terms of transmitting information versus using semiconductors?

Dr. Lebby: The incumbent technology today is semiconductors. These are materials like silicon, lithium niobate, or indium phosphide. These are all semiconductor materials used in modulators on the internet today. For an apples-to-apples comparison, we look at the electrical optical bandwidth of these devices, which is a metric of speed performance.

Most of the devices used on the internet today have a bandwidth of about 20 to 30 gigahertz. Our technology starts at 70. We’ve already demonstrated above 100. And we’ve had nice experiments that show that the technology can go out over and above 250 gigahertz. This can be upwards of an order of magnitude faster than technology today — five to 10 times faster.

Also, the incumbent semiconductor technology needs a few volts to drive the modulators. We can drive this polymer technology under a volt. That’s a big power saving.

And if you think about some of the Achilles heels that these data center folks are really struggling with — with the rise of artificial intelligence and the new computational processing overheads that everybody’s all excited about — they need to send information faster, on one hand.

On the other hand, they need to go rein in the power consumption because these things are taking a good percentage of the electrical grid of the U.S. And so, they’re looking for innovative technologies to bring the power consumption down and to send data faster.

TWST: And also, the higher the power consumption, the more heat you have to dissipate.

Dr. Lebby: Exactly.

TWST: So, in other words, some of the industries you’re looking at, it could be data center, computational stuff, it could be telecommunications.

Dr. Lebby: Yes, you’re exactly right. Our initial application is what I call fiber optic communications: telecom, data comm, high performance computing. But it’s the fiber optics part of it, it’s not the processing of the chip, that’s all done by silicon. What we do is take those signals of the chip and then send them really quickly to the destination.

TWST: So it gives you an advantage in terms of companies’ work. They don’t have to replace all of their equipment. It’s not a wholesale change. It’s an exchange of the signaling part. But the fiber optics aren’t different. The computational stuff isn’t different. That makes adoption easier and more possible.

Dr. Lebby: That’s exactly right. The infrastructure remains in place. All we’re really doing is literally changing the modulator.

TWST: Because one of the tough things in telecom or in any sort of computing, data centers, cloud computing, or what have you, is the minute you start saying, “Oh, and you have to replace everything,” they start going, “Oh, wait, we can’t do that.”

Dr. Lebby: No, you’re absolutely right. And we have another advantage here. It’s more architectural, right? So if you can directly drive polymer modulators with a 1 volt or less, you don’t need the dedicated integrated circuits called driver chips. You can directly drive these things from ASICs — application-specific integrated circuits — or DSP — digital signal processing — chips.

Architecturally, you need fewer ICs. You save even more power consumption if fewer ICs go into the network card. It’s a bonus that if you get your voltage to the right level, the power consumption not only goes down from the device you’re using but it goes down architecturally because these data center architects can design these things on fewer chips.

TWST: Is this related to processes that could be used to create polymer semiconductors? Or is that totally out of the realm?

Dr. Lebby: Well, it depends how you define polymer semiconductors. The way we’re using it is, we apply liquid polymer material onto silicon wafers. And then we can cure it onto the wafers, just like you would cure a photoresist in an oven. So, we’re using standard fabrication techniques. Now, some people would say, well, that’s polymer semiconductors, because you got polymer onto a semiconductor.

TWST: But that’s not a polymer being a semiconductor, that’s polymer sitting on a semiconductor.

Dr. Lebby: That is absolutely correct. Look at it as a polymer semiconductor.

TWST: I mean, otherwise, it would be the same as saying that spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread turns the peanut butter into bread.

Dr. Lebby: Yes, that’s a really good analogy.

TWST: Now, what are the market dynamics here? You’ve been at this, the development, for a very long time. And your financials make clear you haven’t brought in revenue. So I’ve got to think that it’s been a long stretch to get up to the point where you can actually start to go to market. Is that correct?

Dr. Lebby: When I joined the company back in 2015, the designs of the chromophores and the polymers at the time were for the telecom market. The telecom market requires 20-year lifetimes and extreme temperature ranges. If you look at the requirements of the data center market, the reliability doesn’t have to be 20 years.

TWST: They tear down outmoded data centers in five to 10 years and build new ones.

Dr. Lebby: Exactly right. And in the temperature ranges, 0- to 70-degrees Celsius, which are much more amenable for polymers. So when I looked at the opportunity in 2015, I thought, wow, the goalposts have changed. This is a really nice situation for polymers.

And polymers have been tried before, but I think they lost out in competition with semiconductors, even though they had really good performance.

Nowadays, from a market standpoint, we have the performance in polymers and the end users, the customers, all know this. What we’re going through right now is what I will call the customers wants to see, a “reliability dataset.”

TWST: They want to see somebody else has used it already, right? I’ve been a little flippant there, but they want proof that it’s going to work for an extended period of time.

Dr. Lebby: And it’s exactly the same as 10 years ago, when we first got OLED displays in mobile phones and TVs. There were LCDs, but they had their own problems of fast switching, and you could see it in sports on TVs.

What the OLED industry did 10 years ago was put out a reliability dataset. “Look, this is the reliability data of all these OLED polymers. And look at it today, I mean, do you ever see an LCD display that much?”

We’re going to do the same education for market acceptance. Once the market sees a reliability dataset that we’re putting together right now, I think my plan of getting the electronic polymers ubiquitous is going to be successful.

TWST: What are the financial considerations on their end? How much do they gain versus how much does it cost them to gain?

Dr. Lebby: Our business model allows licensing, tech transfer and actually selling devices.

If you’re one of these folks that are putting together what we call a fiber optic transceiver, which is a little box that contains the modulators and lasers and some of the other components, you’re really just swapping out a chip.

But replacing the chip is in some ways like an old four-cylinder motor car and putting a V8 in it. Our chip represents putting the V8 into the motorcar. You’re just boosting up the performance and lowering the power consumption.

And that’s really what we’re doing. We’re not really changing a lot of the infrastructure. We’re just putting a faster solution in existing transceiver boxes and in existing networks.

TWST: What’s the cost differential for that?

Dr. Lebby: We can scale our technology economically. And we certainly can beat some of the costs that are going into the transceivers today. But what we’re actually doing is providing an incredible performance increase. That will allow us to raise our ASPs — average sales prices — and keep our margins. And it’s really all about the margins, making sure that we can maintain our margins while we scale in volume.

We’re comfortable we can do that because our advantage is lower power and much higher speed, as well as a small footprint in a very small size so these components fit into these boxes.

TWST: So you’re looking at value pricing, where the part might be more expensive, but you’re providing more performance and using less power, and as a result it’s going to be less expensive.

Dr. Lebby:
Also, you’re saving the customer architectural IC designs. You don’t need driver chips and they are really expensive, way more than what a device would cost. And so, you’re providing that advantage to network operators.

TWST: When do you think these sales are actually going to start? How long for you to become a product company with regular revenue?

Dr. Lebby: In terms of the public guidance we’ve given, we put out a press release back in May for our first commercial licensing of our technology. That was our first public commercial deal. The business model allows us to license our chromophore materials as well as put our materials into devices and sell those devices.

Commercially, we’ve begun that road. We haven’t given a lot of guidance into the details of the revenue expectations at this point. But commercially, we were in a new phase since May this year.

TWST: Do you see your ideal customers like Cisco or whoever makes these particular modulation devices? Are they the ones who are going to buy?

Dr. Lebby: Yes, they will — a lot of these larger companies. The Ciscos of this world as well as the Intels and the Cienas, these types of players, Googles and others. A lot of these folks are actually vertically integrated. So they actually do a lot of the things themselves. And some of the parts they send out to foundries or to contract manufacturers.

As I see the business model, you need to be flexible, because some of these guys will want to buy from you direct. And other ones who will say, go work with our contract manufacturer or go work with our foundry, get qualified there, and then we’ll give you the business.

And so, we have to be flexible with these large guys, because they have different working models.

TWST: Can you explain the jumps in stock price? In 2021, it suddenly shot up — or starting 2021. And it came up to $18.47 according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Then you had ups and downs. Right now, you’re around $6.70 a share. What’s been going on? What’s been driving the changes?

Dr. Lebby: Well, I can’t answer stock price questions because I have no idea why the stock price goes up and down. But what I can tell you is back in 2021, we actually went public with a plan to scale up our technology. We provided more insight into the impact of our technology with the data centers in 2021. And I think there was definitely a lot of interest.

We actually did an organic shift upwards from the OTC boards to the NASDAQ board without raising money, without doing a reverse split. And as far as we can tell, that was extremely rare. So that was really exciting.

What you’ve seen over the last two years is that we were still essentially a pre-revenue company. Our stock price is not based on quarterly financials like most companies. What we’ve been focusing on in the last two years is getting the technical job done. That’s really where my focus is.

And yes, you’re right. The stock price has varied quite a bit. And I’m sure there’s some folks who play it. But one of the things that we have that a lot of companies don’t have, we have a huge retail investor base that are very loyal. So loyal that every day I get emails from investors asking questions, either getting excited or not excited. I mean, they’re really showing a lot of interest.

In our annual shareholder meeting, over 100 of these folks turn up every year, which is quite amazing. It’s like a technical conference. And I know this makes it more exciting because when you have a loyal shareholder base that really are excited about the technology, it makes me more excited. I get enthused. I just want to make sure it happens.

Has this had a role in the share price? I think it has. I mean, I’m no expert. I can’t really explain it. I’m sure we have a number of shorts that play the boards just like everybody else. But our goal is to create shareholder value and get this technology scaled, ramped and having the impact with the end users like we expect it to be.

And that’s the excitement. It’s not the how or the what. We know what we’re doing. And we know how we’re doing it. It’s why. Why are we doing this? I want to get this technology ubiquitous. I want everybody to use it. That’s really what’s driving us.

TWST: You said you started a new phase in May. How much longer do you think before you’re really hitting the market and hitting customers in a regular way or in a more regular?

Dr. Lebby: The best way I’ve answered this question before is I’m really expecting 2023 and 2024 to be really exciting years. We go into a different phase of the company now. What was this commercial licensing all about? In May, it was market acceptance. We had market acceptance of this technology for the first time. And that’s really going to snowball. We haven’t given you detailed guidance yet. But certainly, at a very high level, the market acceptance of our material commercially means we’re looking forward to really exciting ’23 and ’24.

TWST: And it’s important to remember that industries move more slowly than people sometimes realize.

Dr. Lebby: Sure. It took some time for OLED lights, OLED displays, but they’re everywhere. And everybody uses it. I expect the same thing with our technology.

TWST: You have something new to the market and it seems to be revolutionary. And still, sometimes companies are slow to take it up because there’s a lot of factors that go into the decision. Is this going to work with what we’re doing? What do we have to change? Is there going to be sufficient technical support? There are so many questions that come up in adopting new technology. So it’s 2023, 2024 may be exciting years for you. It may be that things will take a little longer. It’s hard to tell.

Dr. Lebby: Those are good observations. And I would add one other thing. We are a small company focused on fiber optics. But if you think about free space and you think about LiDAR, you think about sensing, you think about displays or projection displays, our technology has the potential impact in some of these other optical areas, which we really haven’t explored to any great extent right now.

TWST: And I’m also going to bet that your costs are going to go up. You’ll have to hire more people in sales and support the more customers you get.

Dr. Lebby: Without question. But I think one of the things we’ve done so far is we don’t have any debt. And so, we’re financially a very clean company. We’ve managed our run rate and our costs very carefully. And we built the company reasonably steadily and slowly. We want to make a big impact and we’ll hire. We’ve hired quite a few people this year, and we’ll hire as appropriate when we scale up.

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