Michigan State’s InPore Hopes to Churn Out Better Wind Turbines Through Chemistry

6/15/10

Michigan State University spinout InPore Technologies makes a particle that, when mixed with other materials, makes plastic stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more flame-retardant. Yeah. I know. Doesn’t sound all that sexy. It really is, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, the reason the East Lansing, MI-based company recently earned a $100,000 paycheck from the Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest business plan competition is not only because it has great technology to sell, but because it has people who know how to clearly describe, in the words of CEO Gerry Roston, “the story.”

The reviewers for the competition who singled InPore out of the pack said the company knew what it was doing and why they were doing it. In turn, what attracted Roston to the company about 18 months ago was its founding scientist, MSU chemistry professor Thomas Pinnavaia.

“This is the single most critical thing for any startup,” Roston says. “It’s not the technology, it’s not the money, it’s the people.”

Nothing against academics in general, Roston says, but, for a professor, Pinnavaia “is an extremely personable, extremely approachable person. He’s passionate about what he does, he’s open to learning from others, he wants to learn from others, he wants to make this happen. And that enthusiasm is the other thing which really drew me to the business.”

So, according to Roston, who has made a career out of mentoring early-stage companies, the key to tech startup success is to have a plan and people you can believe in. Then, of course, there’s the technology itself. It’s a small thing, really—on the nanoscale, actually. But, warns Roston, don’t call InPore a nanotechnology company. That “nano” prefix is the “kiss of death” in the marketplace these days, he says.

The company’s proprietary particle goes by the brand name Silapore. Most of the plastics you interact with everyday—from your car to the phone or computer you’re reading this story on—contain fillers that do different jobs. They make the product stiffer or add color, for example. But the fillers, themselves, can also make the plastics weaker. Silapore particles, according to InPore, have such a unique morphology—or, arrangement, texture, or topography—that it makes products stiffer, stronger, lighter, and even flame-retardant and scratch-resistant.

The scratch-resistance and lighter weight make the material attractive to the automotive … Next Page »

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