Other than having disruptive technology and innovative thinking, it also takes unwavering perseverance and passion to prevail in the innovation and technology business.
Meet Toby So, founder and CEO of Film Players, an HKSTP incubatee in the Incu-Tech programme specialising in the Smart Film technology. After a roller-coaster ride of experimentation, he has established a company that is now recognised by a broad clientele across various sectors for its adaptable ideas and applications.
After graduating from university with a major in chemistry, Toby worked for a Korean consumer electronics giant involved in researching LCD display technology and applications. He realised early on that he wasn’t cut out to work for somebody else.
In 2005, he embarked on entrepreneurship, starting one business after another, from cafés to a self-help laundromat, hair salon and food distribution. There were success stories but also dreadful misfires. It wasn’t until 2016 – 11 years later – that he finally found his calling. He wound up his other ventures to raise more than a million dollars to turn Film Players into a reality.
Smart Film is equipped to penetrate markets
Smart Film is a type of film that displays images through power changes. It is just 0.3 mm thick and looks like a regular plastic film. It can be bent or cut. It uses little power and can be charged with portable chargers or batteries. Smart Films applied on glass doors, floor-to-ceiling windows or escalator glass panels can become blinds, screens, information displays or notice boards to show numbers, alphabets and images.
Toby says that Smart Film is similar in function and application to Smart Glass, which hit the market a number of years ago, but Smart Glass is still rather costly and involves extensive installation. It is a big task to replace regular glass windows with Smart Glass. Smart Film, on the other hand, is much cheaper, more convenient, more flexible and more power friendly. It has potential to be widely adopted.
Installing Film Players’ Smart Film is very much like putting on wall paper. All it takes is to smooth out the film on glass and then connect it to the networked control system. It can be used outdoors too, after adding a water-proof and fire-resistant protective layer.
Scalable application across industry sectors and markets
Smart Film can turn the glass partitioning of a conference room to opaque or black for privacy, or turn an airport’s glass surfaces into displays for time, weather and flight information. An office building’s sizeable glass walls can become massive advertising displays comparable to large LCD displays. With imagination, the possibilities for application is extensive.
While Toby concedes the most obvious downside of Smart Film is that it’s monotone, it is also a highly budget-friendly canvas for a large information display. As long as the design is good, the lack of colour can be compensated.
In the past two years, Film Players has received multiple awards, including an International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva in 2018 award. It is now actively expanding its market reach beyond its existing clientele that includes companies, schools, public facilities, malls and airports. Toby believes that Hong Kong, being chock-full of skyscrapers, presents lots of opportunities for growth. At the same time, he’s getting ready to explore the markets in South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia as well as cities in the Middle East and Europe.
HKSTP helpful with talent, market expansion and financing
Since Film Players became an HKSTP incubatee, the company has received plenty of help in recruiting talent and connecting with business partners. In 2017, it became a member of HKSTP’s LEAP acceleration programme and received stepped-up support for market expansion. Toby reveals that the company needs more resources to cope with its rapid expansion and it will maintain close ties with HKSTP to enhance its fund-raising efforts.
Meanwhile, its research and development work is still going ahead full steam. Toby says the company is exploring ways to equip Smart Film with sensors to enable Internet of Things functionalities. As well, it is developing a smart management system to give users the capabilities to manage content shown on the film. Also on the drawing board is the ability to update content through Wi-Fi. And it is working with a research team at Hong Kong Science and Technology University to further reduce the power consumption of its Smart Films.
Toby recognises that while the market outlook for Smart Films is rosy, it will inevitably attract competitors. Film Players is ready to take them on by constantly upgrading its technology, supported by the creativity of its team, to come up with more applications for different industry sectors to stay ahead of the pack.