Baltimore Business Journal
Technology researchers face many hurdles in reaching the business marketplace. Nanotechnology startup Pixelligent Technologies, LLC is ready to make the leap.
The Baltimore manufacturer of what are known as nanocrystals will soon unveil its first commercial product, potentially an application to help the semiconductor industry build higher-performing computer chips. And it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment that will expand its manufacturing capabilities beyond sample and test supplies of nanocrystals to full-scale production this year.
The moves are just what city and state economic development officials were banking on when they gave Pixelligent loans to move into the former Guilford Pharmaceutical building in the Holabird Business Park last June. The company is bringing back manufacturing jobs to the city, albeit in a more high-tech and high-paying field than factories of old. Expansion of its manufacturing could bring even more job growth than the dozen positions the company expects to add within its first year in Baltimore.
“It’s the first step to getting to be what I’d call a real commercial supplier of our materials to the market,” Pixelligent CEO Craig Bandes said. The company has already worked with several customers, but only providing samples of its technology to allow it to be tested out.
Pixelligent develops additives that make polymers and solvents work more efficiently. So far, the company is applying them to computer chips, allowing them to be etched upon at smaller sizes than previously possible. It has also explored developing a coating for LED lights that allows them to provide more light and yet burn cooler.
The nanocrystals used in that technology are created in equipment known as reactors, something Bandes likened to “large pressure cookers.” So far, Pixelligent has been using smaller versions capable of holding two to five gallons of volume. A full-scale version the company has ordered and is expecting in July holds 30 gallons.
Meanwhile, Pixelligent will launch its first commercial product for sale at a trade show later this month. It will be a joint product with Brewer Science, a 30-year-old Missouri company that also works in nanotechnology. The two companies were awarded an $8 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2010 to develop the nanocrystals that have applications in computer chips and LED lights. Bandes declined to elaborate on what the new product will be.
That the company has gotten to this point is rare for its nanotechnology brethren in the Mtech incubator from which Pixelligent came, said Dean Chang, director of the College Park incubator’s venture creation programs.
“It’s hard to commercialize the technologies because they’re not fully developed; they’re not in forms that could be immediately beneficial in particular markets,” Chang said. That was the challenge Bandes took on when he joined the company, Chang said.
Pixelligent’s backers are banking on Bandes overcoming those challenges. They include the Baltimore Development Corp., state Department of Business and Economic Development and the Abell Foundation. The $5 million investment they made in the company in summer 2011 brought the total amount of money put into the company to $9 million.
February 3, 2012