AlphaMicron Inc. (AMI) develops ways to apply liquid crystal technologies to curved plastic surfaces. Its major technology breakthrough is VALiD, a "smart eyewear" application that gives users fast, electronic control over the tint of their eyewear. VALiD was developed in response to the Air Force’s need for millisecond responsive, controllable transmittance visors for their pilots’ helmets.
In 1997, Tamas Kosa, Peter Palffy-Muhoray and Bahman Taheri founded AMI through their affiliation with the Kent State University Liquid Crystal Institute. "We thought creating this technology would be an interesting challenge," says Bahman Taheri, CEO of AMI. "There isn’t anything else like it out there." In fact, Taheri notes the government had been trying for many years to create this technology and had considered it impossible. Because AMI was able to overcome the technical obstacles, the company gained funding from the U.S. Department of Defense through SBIR awards.
While in the early stages of forming AMI, Taheri received a call from Linda Yost at Kent Business Incubator, who had met Taheri when visiting the Liquid Crystal Institute. Yost offered to help the company any way she could. Although the AMI scientists were able to develop their unique technology, "we had little business experience," says Taheri. "We needed as much help as we could get." They decided to enter the incubator.
With the incubator’s assistance, AMI has become quite successful. The company’s revenues grew from $100,000 in 1997 to $1.2 million in 2000, while its staff grew from four part-time employees in 1997 to 14 full-time employees in 2000. Additionally, AMI has been involved in a joint development with a Fortune 500 company and has discovered a consumer market for its technology in sunglasses and ski goggles.
"We started with a very small facility," says Taheri. "What we were able to achieve was due to the people here. We’ve really overcome many obstacles." Yost explains that although the incubator was able to help AMI with things like hiring, creating a staff handbook and finding a location, the drive to succeed came from AMI employees. "They are scientists, not businessmen, but there is an entrepreneurial spirit in this company," says Yost. "They were willing to listen to our advice. It’s rare to find that in scientists."
Taheri expects this award to bring recognition to his company and the region as well. "It is wonderful to receive this award. We started small and to get to the point where we are receiving this recognition is a great honor," he says. "This also shows that technology can grow here in northeast Ohio and it is a good area to develop high technology."
Because of AMI’s success, the Kent Business Incubator is now trying to develop a specialized technology incubator. AMI has been trying to create local support for the new facility. "They have been a great advocate for the program," says Yost. "They have freely given the incubator credit for helping them achieve their success."
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