Sponsored by Forest Grove Economic Development
Home Back Issues July/August 2013 Oregon's nanotech industry: Can small be large?

Oregon's nanotech industry: Can small be large?

| Print |  Email
Articles - July/August 2013
Monday, July 08, 2013
Article Index
Oregon's nanotech industry: Can small be large?
The Scientist
The Investor
The Entrepreneurs

The Entrepreneurs

0713 Nano 04The office of Pacific Light Technologies in the Portland State Business Accelerator building is a hive of intensity. In a cramped room without any reception area, workstations are aligned in tight rows, and many employees don’t look up from their tasks when the office door creaks open.

One of the founders of the company, Juanita Kurtin, and current CEO Ron Nelson emerge from the back row of desks and head toward a small conference room across the hallway. Kurtin, 38, an Intel alumni and previous employee at the Intel-funded SpectraWatt solar company, started PLT after SpectraWatt went bankrupt in 2011. She felt SpectraWatt’s research in quantum dots — tiny nanocrystals that glow when stimulated by a source such as ultraviolet light — was too good to let languish.

Nelson, a seasoned veteran of at least two successful startups, is a 2010 transplant to Oregon from the Bay Area. Nelson says he was skeptical about nanotechnology. But after he saw Kurtin’s pitch on how PLT dots could make LED lighting soft, white and pleasing — and less expensive — he led the due-diligence investment team for OAF, then stepped down to become PLT’s CEO.

Another employee brings in a box, bigger than a shoebox but smaller than a breadbox, affixed with two dome-shaped lights on its top. One of the lights is a standard LED whose glass cover has a heavy-metal-based phosphor coating — the same type used in fluorescent lights. The other light, which Kurtin turns on with a small knob, is like a softer, warmer and still incredibly bright version of the first one. On the inside of this light’s small glass dome is a coating of nanocrystal quantum dots that make the second light more pleasant to the eyes than the first. PLT believes its coating will not contain expensive “rare earth” metals and will be cheaper than phosphors to produce and sell. Currently, a 100-watt LED bulb retails for more than $50.

Nelson is quick to say PLT expects to produce its quantum-dot coating in marketable amounts this year and generate revenue by 2014. PLT has surmounted quantum dots’ reliability issues for use directly on LEDs, and will “soon” begin production, he adds, without specifying where.

Oregon, Nelson says, has been good to PLT. “As a transplant from Silicon Valley, the startup climate is better than I thought it would be. Within 60 days from my first email about PLT, we managed to get the team together, get money, buy equipment for pennies on the dollar from SpectraWatt, and get going.”

Nelson and Kurtin are keenly aware that in spite of PLT’s strong patent portfolio, a good team and trade secrets, the startup is in a very crucial time. “We have three major competitors making coatings for similar applications. It is survival of the fittest,” Nelson says. “A lot of what will happen can’t be predicted. It can be a great technology and be too early or too late, miss its window or somebody just out-executes.”

Nelson doesn’t try to peer into the company’s future, keeping what he calls “necessary blinders” on to focus on the formidable challenge of getting the company’s coatings to market.

“Even with a sexy technology, you have to solve real problems and build a business based on what your customers really need. While I like the challenge of creating an economically sustainable company and making lighting better across the world, it’s also a bit like playing the roulette wheel.”

He acknowledges that venture capitalists are always nervous about having their investments far away, and he has firsthand experience trying to manage an unsuccessful Pasadena, Calif. company that was distant from its Silicon Valley investors. But ONAMI got PLT off the ground with $250K of seed money, and Nelson hopes to be in Oregon for the long run.

“Those dollars really powered this thing,” he says. “It was probably the difference right there of PLT staying in Oregon and making it or having our technology wither on the vine.”

April Streeter is a Portland-based freelance writer. Her most recent article for OB was “Farm Futures.” She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 



 

More Articles

Trends in business succession

News
Thursday, July 03, 2014
TrendsBY TED AUSTIN & MIKE BAELE | GUEST CONTRIBUTORS

The Office of Economic Analysis announced that Oregon is currently enjoying the strongest job growth since 2006. While this resurgence has been welcome, the lingering effects of the 2008 “Great Recession” continues to affect Oregon businesses, especially with regard to estate planning and business succession.


Read more...

OB Video: Dress for Success

News
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
DFSOBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

Dress for Success Oregon promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools.


Read more...

Why I became an Oregon angel investor

Guest Blog
Monday, July 14, 2014
AngelInvestBY TERRY "STARBUCKER" ST. MARIE

I really didn’t know that much about angel investing, but I did know a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit.


Read more...

13 West Coast seafood species now 'sustainable'

News
Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Fishing OrBiz Fishing 0357 ADOBErgbCiting the transition to catch shares management as a key to rebuilding stocks and reducing bycatch, 13 species caught by the West Coast trawl fishery today earned designation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as sustainable.


Read more...

Who said we should sell in May?

Contributed Blogs
Friday, July 18, 2014
BullMarketBY JASON NORRIS | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

Back in May, we shared a common Wall Street quote about investing, “Sell in May and go away.” Fast forward to July and the most common question we have been getting from clients is, “When is the market pullback going to occur?”


Read more...

OB Video: Building trade ties with the EU

News
Monday, June 16, 2014
BritEmbCampionBY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

The Oregon economy could get a boost from a new trade agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union.


Read more...

Interview: Dr. Mark Goulston

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 10, 2014
JustListenBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Tom Cox interviews Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS