Impinj, Riding Wave of RFID Resurgence, Looks to Double Sales, Add 20 Employees

10/13/10Follow @gthuang

As a reporter, you can tell when the innovation economy tide is turning, when a particular sector is rebounding, or when certain companies have turned the corner. How? Because all of a sudden CEOs want to talk on the record, PR people are your best friends, and marketing and real estate guys chat you up about the field at random events.

That’s the feeling I’m getting about radio frequency identification (RFID) these days—and I’m getting it from both coasts. The field of RFID comprises tags, readers, and software that, together, enable wireless communication via tiny embedded chips so people can gather information about everything from the location and status of product inventory on shelves to runners in a marathon. A couple of months ago, I profiled ThingMagic, a 10-year-old Boston-area RFID company founded by MIT Media Lab alums, whose time appears to have come, thanks to fortuitous changes in the market.

ThingMagic’s sister company in the Northwest is Impinj, a 10-year-old Seattle RFID tech firm founded by University of Washington professor Chris Diorio. Impinj is a bigger company than ThingMagic—and has raised much more venture capital—but both startups survived the RFID-for-retail-supply-chain-tracking hype around 2003-2004 (and the ensuing crash) and lived to tell the tale. The firms have worked together on RFID reader technologies, with Impinj selling its reader chips to ThingMagic. Now they and a few other survivors and competitors, including San Francisco Bay Area-based Alien Technology, are poised to make some bold moves.

I spoke with Impinj CEO Bill Colleran by phone last week to hear about the company’s progress, and some interesting new challenges ahead. One thing that grabbed me was how much the competitive landscape in RFID was decimated by the early hype and glacial adoption of the technology—plus the economic recession. That now leaves Impinj with relatively few competitors. “There’s been a shakeout along the way,” Colleran says. “We’re in a great position to grow as this industry takes off.”

And take off it apparently will, across sectors like consumer electronics, automotive, healthcare, and apparel and other retail applications—finally. “RFID has experienced a resurgence in the last year or so,” says Colleran. “The common theme is the technology has continued to move along—performance is dramatically better, and cost has come down…It’s a maturing of the technology and ecosystem. We’re seeing wholesale adoption.”

That’s easy to say, of course, but here are some stats to back it up. Impinj says it will ship as many RFID tag chips in the second half of 2010 as it has in the previous five years … 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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