Phoenix Pulls in $12M to Fuel Growth of Neutron Generators

Things are accelerating at Phoenix.

The Monona, WI-based business, which manufactures particle accelerator-based neutron generators and other machines, has outgrown its current headquarters and plans to break ground on a new home next year, says vice president of business development Evan Sengbusch.

Phoenix, which recently shortened its name from Phoenix Nuclear Labs, also plans to add about 30 new employees to its current 56-person team by the end of 2018, Sengbusch says.

The company has raised a $12 million round of financing to support the expansion. New York-based Deerfield Management led the Series B funding round, Sengbusch says. The other investors included several Wisconsin-based funds that had previously backed Phoenix, he says. The company has raised a total of about $18 million in outside investment since launching in 2005, Sengbusch says.

Phoenix recently leased additional laboratory, manufacturing, and office space at a building near its longtime headquarters, Sengbusch says. The newly leased space roughly doubles the amount of room the business has for its operations, but it’s “meant to be a temporary solution,” he says.

The long-term plan is to build a new facility that could house all of Phoenix’s employees and equipment for a decade or longer, Sengbusch says. He expects the company will move into its new home in early 2019. Phoenix has yet to determine a specific location for the plant, but Sengbusch says it’s likely it will also be in the Madison, WI, area.

“A decent chunk of the money we raised is [going] towards those facility upgrades,” and adding staff, he says.

Phoenix’s products have applications in industries such as healthcare, defense, and solar energy. The recent name change reflects the company’s broadened focus.

“As the business has grown, we really have diversified beyond nuclear applications,” Sengbusch says. Certain uses of Phoenix’s technology, like making materials for solar panels, don’t have any direct tie to nuclear energy or generating neutrons, he adds.

Phoenix was founded by Greg Piefer, who now runs Shine Medical Technologies, another company he created. Janesville, WI-based Shine has been taking steps to revive domestic production of a crucial medical radioisotope using particle accelerator technology. Phoenix is the exclusive supplier of the neutron generators that Shine plans to use to manufacture molybdenum-99, the material that decays into technetium-99m, the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging. Shine plans to construct a production facility near its offices in Janesville and go into full production there in 2020, vice president of business development Katrina Pitas said earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Phoenix’s machines also have potential uses for military branches and defense contractors. Last year, the U.S. Army awarded two contracts worth a combined $3.6 million to Phoenix. The deal terms called for Phoenix to deliver a neutron radiography system to the Army that it can use to inspect munitions fresh off the production line for defects.

Sengbusch says Phoenix’s technology can also be used in explosives detection—locating buried improvised explosive devices on the side of the road in a foreign conflict zone, for instance.

Phoenix’s accelerators also have applications in the renewable energy sector. In April, the company struck a long-term agreement with Santa Monica, CA-based Rayton Solar, which claims it can make solar panels through a process that uses significantly less silicon than the industry standard. Proton accelerator technology from Phoenix could play an important role in that process.

Under the terms of the agreement, Phoenix plans to deliver a prototype of a high-current proton accelerator to Rayton in the first three months of 2018, Sengbusch says.

It will probably take another year or two before Rayton’s team has “fully proven out their processes to utilize this technology to actually make usable solar panels,” which could lead the two companies to extend their agreement, Sengbusch says. “We’re obviously very hopeful that they get to that point,” he says.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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