By GREGORY ZELLER //
Changes in the science of lighting gave Daniel Machlis’ inner entrepreneur a bright idea.
Working for a Brooklyn-based family business that distributed products – including lighting products – to government agencies, Machlis recognized a quantum shift in the making. A longtime “static industry” marked by the occasional forward leap had reached another turning point, he said, with light-emitting-diodes once more redefining how humans illuminate their spaces.
“It started with the Edison bulb and stayed there until the incandescent bulb,” Machlis told Innovate LI. “Then the fluorescent bulb came and heated things up again.
“Now, with LED, the marketplace has opened up for a lot of startups, because LEDs are a lot more flexible,” he added. “That’s where we saw a niche.”
So, while wrapping up his MBA at New York University in May 2015, Machlis launched PreciseLED, putting a literal spin on his “lightbulb moment.” Officially incorporated in March of last year, the Valley Stream-based startup is focused on LED innovations, with a sizeable catalog of cutting-edge products and a team of engineers constantly designing the next big thing.
The company already offers a popular, next-level flagship product – Zenlite, a super-thin linear LED fixture – but won’t rest on its laurels, according to the founder and president.
“In this industry, you can’t be a one-product company,” Machlis noted. “People will forget about you.”
So PreciseLED manufactures tape lights, panels, drivers, under-cabinet fixtures and a host of other LED products, while Machlis and his team of three full-time engineers continuously strive to redefine the cutting edge.
“We’re an engineering-based company,” he noted. “My first hire was an engineer.”
Their big breakthrough, so far, is the Zenlite, a trademarked, patent-pending LED lighting system for new construction projects. Designed to be installed in 5/8-inch drywall, Zenlite promises to held LED chips in place without heating up, thereby protecting surrounding paint and plaster.
Machlis and his team designed the Zenlite’s flange, the component closest to the paint, using polyvinyl chloride, the same material used to make many plumbing pipes. The “thermal connectivity” of PVC is about 1/1000th the thermal connectivity of aluminum – material of choice for most LED equipment – meaning the Zenlite won’t heat up the way other devices do.
“When they’re made from something that gets hot, then paint get hot,” Machlis said. “Then it gets cold when the light turns off, and then hot again. When enough of these cycles occur, you start to see the paint crack.”
The PreciseLED team cooked up the Zenlite after “eye-opening” conversations with contractors, who warned against messing with standard electrician/contractor installation processes, Machlis noted.
The engineers heeded those warnings, but were still able to concoct a completely new take on linear line of light dynamics, starting with size. While a standard LED fixture can be as large as 4 inches deep – meaning “you can’t just put it wherever you want,” Machlis noted – Zenlite’s fixture measures less than an inch.
That’s about the width of the drywall itself, Machlis added, opening a new range of installation possibilities.
“With [standard LED fixtures], the studs of the building have to accommodate the fixture, because it runs deeper than the studs,” he said. “So we wanted to design something really, really shallow.”
That meant the light source – those heat-producing LED chips – would be very close to the fixture’s surface, creating those paint-and-plaster issues. Hence the PVC construction, which protects the paint by keeping the heat inside.
The Zenlite is proving popular with contractors and end-use customers – PreciseLED sells primarily to distributors, who resell to contractors – but isn’t the only PreciseLED product making a name. The company’s “downlight” products, which dim LED lights to as low as 1 percent, are shattering previous dimming boundaries.
“It’s a very sought-after fixture, because some LED dimming is not as smooth as people might like,” Machlis noted. “It usually goes down to, like, 20 percent, but not all the way down.
“There aren’t many ‘traditional’ LED products, because nobody has been making LEDs for more than 10 years or so,” he added. “But we’re the only people offering 1 percent dimming at this low of a price point.”
He wouldn’t reveal the secret of his “smooth dimming” technology, through Machlis did spotlight it as another example of the innovative thinking making PreciseLED a regional mainstay, barely 18 months since the company launched.
That’s the message PreciseLED shares in sales visits, YouTube presentations and social media marketing aimed at distributors, contractors, architects and designers. The company already boasts sales reps “up and down the East Coast,” Machlis noted, and is determined to push west.
“Our own ‘manifest destiny,’” the president said.
International is another story. There are “different needs and different certifications” overseas, according to the entrepreneur, and that’s “a whole new education on our part, so we’re not looking at that in the near term.”
But after investing roughly $100,000 to get the company off the ground, Machlis is pleased by progress that includes 12 full-time employees, the “preliminary stages” of a third U.S. patent application – this covering designs for a flexible aluminum channel offering “serpentine bending” for LED tape lights – and a new alliance with Stony Brook University’s Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence program, which provides access to hundreds of SBU engineers and applied scientists, plus an intern to liaison between the university and the company.
Machlis has also discussed potential funding opportunities with the Long Island chapter of the Workforce Development Institute, which provides grants for training and equipment purchases.
It’s a lot of progress for a company not even two years out of the starting gate, but no matter how fast or how much PreciseLED grows, “we plan to always remain a startup,” according to its founder.
“We want to keep focused on engineering,” Machlis said. “We want to be known as a brand that can be trusted. And when we introduce a product, we want people to know it’s been highly engineered.
“It’s in our blood,” he added. “We really want to make a dent in this industry.”
What’s It? Next-generation LED fixtures and related products
Brought To You By: The very bright Daniel Machlis
All In: $100,000, self-invested, for staffing, trademarks and incorporation costs
Status: Lighting it up