The idea of using the technology to inspect printed circuit boards arose from the work that the Wolfson Unit had done for an Italian car firm. At this point it was felt that more value could be developed from this idea by forming a separate company instead of a licensing deal. Visual Developments was born and won a DTI Smart Award to continue product development.
Then, in 1996, it was recognised that the company needed a "substantial investment" to succeed. It was here that 3i, Europe's leading venture capital company, came on board. 3i originally invested £1.1 million in the company in 1996 to fund the commercial development of the technology. The funding was used to develop optical inspection technology for the printed circuit board industry.
In April 1999 Kestra was sold to US company CyberOptics Corporation for approximately £7 million. Vuman received just over £1.1 million in return for its initial investment in starting the business, while 3i received £4.1 million.
Kestra represents the success that can be achieved through collaboration between university companies and venture capitalists by identifying the ideas which have potential and putting together the right funding and management team to build a successful business.
Commenting on the sale, Vuman said: "Kestra is an excellent example of successful technology transfer and shows how university companies are able to build businesses together with external funders which have the potential to grow into companies of significant value."
Catherine Tooher of 3i Manchester said: "We are clearly delighted to have been able to back Kestra from a very early stage, as a result of our close links with Vuman and the University of Manchester. Following our investment, the company has progressed significantly and we wish Kestra and the new owners continued success."