InPore Switches Gears; Michigan State University Startup Now Targets Flame Retardants Instead of Wind Turbines

6/20/11Follow @xconomy

Plan B it is.

When Xconomy first profiled InPore Technologies last year, the Michigan State University spinout was trying to woo wind turbine makers with a new nanomaterial they could use to build light-weight, scratch resistant blades.

But faced with deteriorating turbine sales, the company, based in East Lansing, MI, has reversed course and is now targeting the broader global market for flame retardant additives used on plastics and other polymers.

“As we really dug into [wind turbines], we thought there would be challenges with that,” CEO Gerald Roston told Xconomy. “We had a hard time getting the word out to the industry. And in 2010, the industry fell off the cliff. Moving out of the market turned out to be fortuitous.”

I’d say. InPore recently signed a letter of intent with a Fortune 50 company to develop and market the flame retardant technology. The partnership could lead to that company acquiring InPore, Roston says, though he declined to name the potential suitor.

Founded in 1996, InPore employs nanotechnology to manipulate the surface porosity (empty spaces) and chemistry of certain particles in a way that creates strong, heat and scratch resistant materials. The company says its Silapore particles can absorb harmful substances during an environmental cleanup and serve as a catalyst for petroleum refining and biofuel production.

But for now, InPore has its eye set on the $4.2 billion global market for flame retardant substances manufacturers use to fireproof highly flammable polymers like plastics. With the U.S. and other countries trying to phase out toxic flame retardant agents like decaBDE, the time is right for InPore’s Silapore particles, which Roston claims are non-hazardous.

The company is seeking $1.5 million to $2 million from institutional investors, Roston says InPore has already secured angel money but declined to disclose the amount. However, the company said it recently closed a $560,000 angel round, according to materials submitted to the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.

Unlike wind turbine makers, potential customers are now seeking out InPore instead of the other way around, Roston says.

“Our struggle now is to supply sufficient samples,” he says. “People are asking for it.”

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