Heterocyclic maleic anhydride derivatives have been extensively studied in natural products chemistry over the past few decades. However, their incorporation into optoelectronic devices has lagged behind that of other pi-conjugated systems, and they have never been studied in white light emitting diodes (WLEDs). The development of emissive pi-conjugated materials for (WLEDs) has been an emerging scientific and technological research area to replace phosphors used in LED-based solid-state lighting. Here, we demonstrate the design, synthesis and characterization of two new highly emissive alkyl-substituted bis(thienyl)maleic anhydrides (C6-Th2MA and C12-Th2MA) with favorable photophysical properties. The new core is synthesized via a novel trans-to-cis isomerization-assisted one-pot reaction, which is demonstrated for the first time in the literature for the synthesis of a bis(heteroaryl)maleic anhydride. Due to its favorable absorption and fluorescence properties in the blue and yellow region of the visible spectrum, respectively, C12-Th2MA is studied as a potential wavelength-upconverting material. A WLED fabricated by drop-casting a polymeric solution of C12-Th2MA on a blue LED (InGaN, 455 nm) yields promising CIE coordinates and color-rendering index (CRI) values of (0.24, 0.20) and 65.0, respectively. Considering the simplicity of the current molecular structure and facile synthesis, alkyl-substituted bis(thienyl)maleic anhydrides stand as ideal phosphor alternatives. Therefore, the current findings may open new perspectives for the development of maleic anhydride-based small molecules for low-cost, energy-efficient, and solution-processed lighting technologies. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.