MC10 Tapping Founding VC North Bridge Venture Partners to Advance Stretchable Silicon Business

7/13/09

North Bridge Venture Partners has committed to participating in a planned $5 million Series A round of financing for stealthy startup MC10, which the Waltham, MA-based VC firm formed last year to commercialize stretchable silicon material, according to MC10 CEO Dave Icke. The stretchable silicon is both flexible in a literal sense and in terms of its potential utility, providing a vast range of possible commercial products for industrial and biomedical applications.

MC10, which is currently housed at North Bridge’s office in Waltham, recently revealed it has licensed the stretchable silicon technology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where material scientist and MC10 co-founder John Rogers invented the technology and has been developing it for several years. The company’s planned Series A round of financing will likely be led by North Bridge, which has provided seed funding for the startup, and involve one other, unnamed venture firm, Icke says.

MC10 says it aims to deliver the high performance of brittle, rigid semiconductors in a flexible, stretchable material. The technology could be used to embed advanced electronics in products that can conform to moving, multi-dimensional surfaces. For example, this could be useful in putting sensors in wearable health monitors on the skin, or for medical devices such as catheters and stents, all of which need to conform to spaces in or on the human body, Icke says. Another application of interest would build on Rogers’ work to develop curved imaging devices, or “electronic eye cameras,” that mimic the human retina.

Though flexible semiconductors already exist, Icke says, many of those products rely on organic materials that do not provide as much performance as his firm’s silicon-based materials. (Carmichael Roberts, a general partner at North Bridge, first told Xconomy about the formation of MC10 this winter in the context of a broader discussion about his work.)

“It’s really a versatile platform,” Icke says, “in that it can incorporate a variety of different sensors and actuators and most types of electronics into something that is conformal and three-dimensional.”

The stretchable silicon material is extremely thin silicon printed onto pre-stretched rubber. Icke says that much of MC10′s intellectual property addresses how to design the material so that the stress that occurs when it is bent or stretched is applied to the rubber and electrical interconnects and not the active electronics. Icke calls the initial product that uses the technology “stretchy sensor tape,” which the firm expects to be broadly applied across industries. (Technology Review illustrates how the material is made in this story about Rogers’ stretchable silicon research, and TR previously noted that Cambridge, MA-based E Ink, Fujitsu, and Lucent Technologies have developed flexible electronic devices.)

Though MC10′s technology was developed at the University of Illinois, the brainpower behind this discovery has roots in the Boston area. Before he invented the stretchable silicon technology, Rogers did his postdoctoral research in the lab of renowned Harvard chemist George Whitesides. Another product of Whiteside’s lab is Roberts, who co-founded MC10 and serves as its chairman. Whitesides is another co-founder of the startup. Icke, who joined the company in April as its seventh employee, previously worked as vice president of marketing for clean technology firm Advanced Electron Beams in Wilmington, MA.

The next step for MC10 (which may be a temporary handle for the firm) is to close its Series A round of financing, enabling the startup to expand its engineering team to further advance product development, Icke says. There’s already been a fair amount of interest in technology from industry, he notes, and he is also exploring the possibility of gaining government grants from agencies such as the NIH and DARPA to enhance development of the technology.

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