How a Nanotech Startup Could Change Your Life: The Modumetal Story

8/26/09Follow @gthuang

“What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?”
“No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”

It’s one of the many memorable exchanges from “The Matrix.” But next time, Keanu Reeves should just talk to Christina Lomasney about getting some Modumetal armor—so he truly won’t have to worry about dodging anything.

Lomasney is the co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based nanotech startup Modumetal, which has grand plans to reinvent the metals industry, not just body armor. Three months ago, Modumetal announced it had raised more than $1.5 million from the Alliance of Angels, Second Avenue Partners, and WRF Capital, to advance its development of nanolaminated structures—fundamentally new kinds of metals that are stronger and lighter than steel and can be used to make better armor, structural components, and corrosion- and heat-resistant coatings. The 17-person company has also raised just under $1 million in government contracts and grants.

But first, let’s flash back to 2007. In a formative meeting, Lomasney and her fellow co-founder (and former University of Washington physics labmate) John Whitaker were talking with Dan Rosen, chair of the Alliance of Angels, about the idea behind their company. “They looked like the cat that ate the canary,” Rosen recalls. “My comment was, ‘Do you guys really understand what you have there?’”

Christina Lomasney, co-founder and CEO of ModumetalIn what can be a telling exercise for any entrepreneur, Rosen asked them to write the Wall Street Journal article that would appear the day Modumetal was successful. They wrote two. The first said that all U.S. auto manufacturers had adopted Modumetal to make their cars, increasing their fuel efficiency by 50 percent. The second said the military had announced that new vehicles using Modumetal technology have saved 10,000 lives. “Both were very interesting glimpses of the future,” Rosen notes.

Fast forward to last week when I sat down with Lomasney (see photo, left), a Boeing alum, to discuss where things are going with Modumetal, hear more about its strategy, and get a tour of the facilities. Those ambitious Wall Street Journal milestones haven’t been met yet, but if anything, the vision for the company has grown.

Lomasney is not one to make speculative or unfounded claims. Her one-word summary of Modumetal’s culture is “competent.” Last summer, she said the company was transitioning from military to transportation applications. So when she now says, “We’re the next ArcelorMittal”—the world’s largest steel maker—you sit up and take notice. As she explains, the metals industry has not changed that … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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