Start-Up Suite Boosts Faculty Entrepreneurs

Howard WangEvery academic researcher hopes his or her discoveries will break new ground. Although the numbers are growing, only a handful of Binghamton faculty have worked to make that ground the foundation of a business. Howard Wang has joined the ranks of those reaching for commercial success.

Howard Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering, has worked to perfect electronic inks, infused with nanomaterials, that could find their way into wallpaper computer screens or clothes that regulate body temperature – and he’s started a firm (NanoMas) to bring his discoveries to market with help from Binghamton University’s Start-Up Suite.

Housed in the Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC), the Start-Up Suite offers fledgling companies low-cost office space, a state-of-the-art conference room, access to business equipment and a receptionist. Companies must have their roots in technology developed at the University and work in areas related to the life sciences.

Wang, vice president and chief scientific officer, founded NanoMas in 2006 with fellow researchers and moved into the suite when Wang came to Binghamton from Michigan Technological University.
The NanoMas team has developed efficient, cost-effective processes for manufacturing electronic inks made of silver and zinc oxide nanoparticles suspended in liquid. The inks serve as conductors and semiconductors. Printing them onto thin, flexible substrate, manufacturers can mass-produce circuitry much as a printing press cranks out newspaper sheets.

Along with paper-thin video screens and clothing that heats and cools as needed, these light, flexible electronics could form the basis for environmental sensors. They could also enable a new, less-expensive generation of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which manufacturers will embed in product packaging to help retailers manage inventory.

Today, manufacturers who are developing machines to print electronic circuitry in high volume are getting ready to bring their products to market. Once they do, demand for electronic inks will surge. So, for Wang and his colleagues, now is the time to make a move.

“We had our technology pretty much figured out,” Wang says. “We had to get out early and let people know they could test on our materials.”

Although many researchers work on electronic inks, NanoMas’ nanoparticles are ideally suited to that application, Wang says. “For performance, smaller is definitely better,” he says, “But smaller also means more unstable — difficult to make as well as difficult to use.”

As difficult as it may be, the future is bright for NanoMas, which  recently closed on a $3.2 million financing plan through a partnership with BASF Venture Capital GmbH, Earthrise Capital Fund LP and NanoMaterials Investors LLC to support the firm. The financing will help NanoMas commercialize nano-scale metallic particles for use in printed electronics, conductive pastes, solar cells and IC chip packaging.

And while Wang is one of the first occupants of the Start-up Suite, the possibility of moving into a well-appointed, on-campus office is encouraging more faculty to enter the commercial world, said Eugene Krentsel, the University’s director of technology transfer and innovative partnerships. If NanoMas were starting out on its own, it would have to settle for low-rent accommodations.

“We probably would be in a garage,” Wang said.

Last Updated: 11/26/13