"The main benefits have been the intangibles and, in particular, the freshness of thinking that comes with being at a university rather than being on a conventional business park."
Iain Fairbairn, managing director, Theta Technologies

Fast facts 

  • Start date: 2008
  • Website: www.thetatech.co.uk
  • Market sector: engineering
  • Location: Exeter
  • Investment raised: £550,000
  • Number of employees: 5
  • Company turnover: £245,000

SETsquared support

  • premises
  • student placements
  • mentoring
  • networking

Company overview

Theta Technologies has developed new NLA (non-linear acoustic) ultrasonic technology that gives earlier warning of degradation (e.g. micro-cracking or delamination) in traditional and composite materials and layered structures than is achievable with conventional ultrasonic NDT (non-destructive testing).

What was the vision for the company and what problem were you aiming to solve? 

"Theta was created to exploit new technology developed by Peter Armitage, one of our co-founders. The technology came out of Peter's Ph.D. at the University of Exeter in non-linear acoustics."

Company successes

  • 2008: Initial investment of £75,000.
  • 2009: Further £75,000 funding from angel investors.
  • May 2010: £250,000 further round of angel investment.
  • December 2011 – September 2012: Research project on detection of defects in airframe components for a major MRO (maintenance and repair organisation).
  • November 2012: EU funding (FP7) for consortium research ("Stirscan" project) into the detection of kissing bonds in friction stir welds.
  • November 2012: Commissioned by local aero-engineering company Centrax Turbine Components Ltd to undertake research into component integrity.
  • January 2013: Won European Space Agency contract to develop non-linear acoustic testing equipment in partnership with National Physical Laboratory and PsiTran Ltd.
  • February 2013: TSB grant ("Friction Harmonics" project) for development of transducers to be incorporated into in-line quality control of friction stir welds.
  • April 2013: £150,000 additional capital from rights issue to current shareholders.
  • October 2013: launch of Mk2 "Explorer" with Impulse Hammer.

SETsquared support

"From its inception, Theta has been located in the University of Exeter's Innovation Centre.
"It's an environment that's conducive to research-oriented organisations, primarily because we're rubbing shoulders with academic partners, we can discuss issues with them, and we can use research facilities – that's all part of the synergy that comes from being based on an academic site.
"We have been able to draw on the University's expertise and resources in a number of ways. In particular, we've been able to use their facilities such as a specialised CT x-ray scanner to validate our own work. Without the University, we would not have known where to go for this kind of assistance.
"Recruiting good people has been important for Theta's development. For example, our applications engineer Tim Mottram came to us via the University – he was on a post-graduate course when we first got to know him. We have also taken students on internships for specific projects, such as helping to carry out a series of trials.
"Being associated with the Innovation Centre has been good branding for us and has helped us to secure grants, and commissions from commercial organisations. Showing we have a connection with the University's expertise is a positive, and SETsquared's people have been excellent at introducing us to business contacts.
"The Innovation Centre is useful in that it brings together young people with enthusiasm and good ideas, with the experience of others who may be able to help finance them.
"Robin Jackson at SETsquared has always been a good mentor and he's been helpful and imaginative in who he has introduced us to. Just as an example, he was responsible for us meeting people from the South West Composites Gateway in Bristol, which is an EU-funded project to encourage small businesses to adopt composite technology. They have been useful in providing us with test samples we can use to validate our technology."

Future plans

"We plan to broaden the range of products we can offer, building incrementally on our original innovative technology."