[Name]: Sean McMurray
[Areas of Expertise]: Design, Electronics, Sales & Marketing
[Hub Berkeley Memory Lane]:
“It was humbling to walk in and meet with some of the top lighting designers in the Bay with just my concept drawings. They’d ask, ‘Where’s your prototype?’ and I didn’t have one. I wanted to ask first, build later. I listened to their input, and they told me exactly what they needed, but couldn’t find. I needed a 75 watt incandescent equivalent not a 40 watt, so I put 16 LED’s into our light and just fought to get the price down. Now we have it– we did it.”
Sean McMurray, CEO and Founder of ALVA, an LED-based architectural lighting company, is feeling energized these days. The LED market is set to explode, and after fourteen months of product development, ALVA is inches away from going to market. The company is now starting the 2-3 week process of government safety lab testing through Underwriters Laboratories (using a nationally recognized testing lab called Intertek), and drafting sales rep agreements, after which Sean’s dream will become a reality.
An LED, or a light emitting diode, is a semiconducting light source that is ideal for lighting because of its relatively low energy consumption, long lifetime & durability, small size, and mercury-free makeup. LEDs use less power (lasting 50,000-100,000 hrs) and run cooler than incandescent and CFLs. According to Sean, “You can turn my light on for a whole day and hold it to your face, it won’t be hot.”
Until now, LEDs have frequently been too expensive for commercial production in lighting. But ALVA has gotten the technology and pricing right, and designed a product from the ground up with beautiful white light around the specific needs of LEDs. Unlike other start-up lighting companies, ALVA doesn’t aim to be a small niche company, but seeks rather to replace CFL’s entirely as the architectural lighting of choice in hotels, businesses, and other commercial markets. With a system that’s both scalable and affordable, not to mention attractive, ALVA is poised to make a splash in the market for efficient lighting.
“We’re leveraging decades of electronics experience to bring well-designed and well-built LED fixtures to market,” says Sean, who’s background is in sales and electronics. Sean’s expertise in lighting was sparked while working in sales and marketing at Nu Horizons Electronics. As the Director of Marketing with a background in European sales (Sean lived in Italy, and speaks fluent Italian), Sean was tasked to pursue lighting, a project that took him to lighting shows around the world and introduced him to new literature on the enormous potential of LEDs. Sean designed Nu Horizon’s business plan for LED lighting, and for five years ran a light sales group for the company.
While working for Nu Horizons, Sean did 50% of his work from home and 50% in Silicon Valley. Like many Hub members, he was going crazy working from home and decided to join NextSpace , a Santa-Cruz based co-working space, in an effort to find focus and reduce his commute. There, he met inspiring people who gave him the nerve to leave his stable corporate job to start his own company. He received support from many of the people working at Nextspace and started drafting ideas for an innovative LED light fixture company.
Eventually Sean and his wife (who holds the position of Associate Director of Research at the National Council on Crime Delinquency) moved to Berkeley, and the folks at NextSpace told him to check out the Hub. Always with an eye for smart design, Sean loves the Brower Center building. He’s participated in peer-to-peer mentoring, and met a lot of people here, including Maura Parente– his lead industrial designer for ALVA. Though Sean has a nice home office, he sometimes finds it hard to work through the distractions. “The teenager shows up, Wilco comes on– and all I hear is the bass line.”
Sean’s team is around the world (product development is in the Bay Area and Europe, engineer is in LA, partner is in Boston, pattern design is on the coast of Maine, assembly is in China) such that his work is largely virtual. But his product is neither elusive nor imaginary. The lights that Sean shows me are beautiful. ALVA offers limitless shade designs through the use of digital imaging: customers can choose from Hang Tight designs or submit their own. In fact, Sean’s LEDs may soon be illuminating your work at Hub SoMa, so stay tuned… and check out his product at