Pi PHOTONICS is a startup in Hamamatsu that is pursuing new ways of using light to pioneer the future of the earth

November 27th, 2023


HOLOLIGHT by Pi PHOTONICS is the only product that utilizes highly bright LED and unique optical elements to form a variety of lighting patterns

One startup company that has been committed to pursuing new ways to use optical technology is Pi PHOTONICS that was started by Takahiro Ikeda in 2006 in Hamamatsu City, the center of the optical industry.

The year before, renowned manufacturer of optical sensors, Hamamatsu Photonics took the initiative in establishing the “The Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries” to foster entrepreneurship and cultivate talent capable of launching new industries that focus on light and its infinite possibilities.

Against this backdrop, this gave startups such as Pi PHOTONICS the environment to grow and develop its strong mission to contribute to the development of the photonics industry. Its flagship product, “HOLOLIGHT” is a special LED light that can form various highly visible light patterns from a distance. In addition to innovative spatial effects, Pi PHOTONICS’ products are widely used for safety, for example, in a factory to indicate hazardous areas around suspended loads of overhead cranes and the direction of travel of industrial vehicles such as forklifts, as well as areas that are off-limits, assisting in areas where hearing-impaired people work and helping prevent industrial accidents in manufacturing plants.

HOLOLIGHT series is very useful as safety lighting to visualize the warning zone and prevent accidents.

Takahiro wanted to be involved in everything from research to prototyping, development, manufacturing, and sales. To realize this dream, he decided to study at “The Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries” and six months later, he started Pi PHOTONICS. A year after that, he played around with LED lighting as a substitute for sunlight for the high-quality reproduction of holograms.

Takahiro said, “I was impressed when I saw the light stretching in a straight line to a distant mountain about 1 km away from the university. This light is not found anywhere else in the world, and there must be people who absolutely need something like this.” He added, “With the support of Hamamatsu City, I commercialized the product in a short period of time, exhibited it at various exhibitions to gather needs, and repeatedly developed new products. That was for about three years and my start-up period, when I was working alone.”

Currently, Pi PHOTONICS is expanding its business in Japan and overseas, mainly for safety applications in factories, and has its sights set on going public in the near future. For the first time this year, Pi PHOTONICS participated in A+A2023, a leading international trade fair for occupational safety and health at work held in Dusseldorf, Germany, to exhibit their HOLOLIGHT series and other new products. HOLOLIGHT combines a high-output light source with a proprietary lens system that manipulates light into a wide variety of shapes. This industry-leading illuminance offers a high-quality safety light to illuminate dangerous areas.

Regarding the appeal of light, he said, “People tend to think that optical technology is complicated, but I want to show it to people in a simpler form, and with that, I want to integrate it with the new values that people have. I am aiming to pursue new ways of using light and to open possibilities for the future.”

Hamamatsu City is currently fostering more than 100 startups and is one of the leading startup cities in Japan, with an annual investment of 5 billion yen in startups in the city. This is due in part to the fact that Pi PHOTONICS’s was selected as a “Startup Next Innovator,” a program promoted by the Japanese government since 2015 to foster the next generation of innovators.

Takahiro explained that this was a time when the name ‘startup’ was not yet common and referred to as a venture company. The mayor of Hamamatsu at the time also had experience in ventures, so they decided to support him. He added, “The private sector began to take an interest in ventures, and Hamamatsu City began cultivating talent by sending out applicants for the “Next Innovator” competition every year.” During this period, five people who had been involved in venture businesses in Hamamatsu established an entrepreneurial community called ‘Hamamatsu Venture Tribe’. He added, “The mayor came to our events, and we invited new business managers from large corporations to our events, where we discussed the problems that we startups were having, and a strong relationship was formed, where we could meet face-to-face and talk frankly with them.”

Japan has four regional Startup Ecosystem Global Base Cities groups, and the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem is one of them, covering Hamamatsu City, Nagoya City, and Aichi Prefecture. Pi PHOTONICS was selected for “J Startup Central,” a program that supports startups aiming for global success. Takahiro commented on the Central Startup Ecosystem, “Until now, there was a sense of distance between Hamamatsu and Aichi and Nagoya, but that gap has gotten much closer. For example, Aichi Prefecture has the ‘A2 (Aichi-Austin) Innovation Kick-Start Program,’ which is a partnership with University of Texas, Austin, one of the world’s leading startup ecosystems, and despite being a Hamamatsu company, for the third consecutive year, we have been selected for the program. We have achieved sales in the U.S. and been featured as a successful case study of Central Japan. We will be happy if the achievements we make bring greater awareness to Central Japan, Takahiro said.

Currently serving as a regional mentor (commissioned by Hamamatsu City) to support startups in Hamamatsu City, Takahiro said, “As a mentor, the first thing I can do is to share my real-life experiences with entrepreneurs who want to take on challenges. Ultimately, it depends on whether or not the entrepreneur decides to take on the challenge.” In Hamamatsu, there is a word that goes along with the entrepreneurial spirit: “やらまいか” (Yaramaika) which means “why don’t we?” in the local Shizuoka dialect. It reflects the region’s culture of taking on new endeavors and trying new things, even if challenging, he said.


Interviewee profile

Takahiro Ikeda

Founder and CEO of Pi PHOTONICS


Takahiro, originally from the Kansai region of Japan, studied engineering and completed his Master's degree at Tokushima University. Then, he ventured to Hamamatsu City to begin his research career at Hamamatsu Photonics K.K. and later became a visiting researcher at MIT in 2004. Back in Japan, he pursued a Ph.D. at the Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries, driven by his passion for photonics. In 2006, Takahiro founded Pi PHOTONICS, blending his academic background with his entrepreneurial spirit, shaping a successful venture in the field.

To me, Hamamatsu City

is やらまいか!(Yaramaika) This means “why don’t we?” in the local Shizuoka dialect and used when taking on new entrepreneurial challenges.

Personal motto

Life is full of destinies based on experience and future that changes with dreams and hopes