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Micronics: Shrinking the macro world

Micronics, Inc., based in Redmond, has developed a series of plastic cards that can fit in a wallet. These are not credit cards though. Each microfluidic card is a powerful "point-of-care" mini-lab that can analyze blood and other fluids quickly and cost-effectively, possibly performing up to twenty diagnostic tests with just a few drops of blood. With these cards, doctors and emergency workers can carry around the equivalents of full-size lab equipment in their pocket.

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Although the microfluidic cards have many applications, building a company around them is challenging because the cards are a disruptive technology. There is nothing like them, and they do not yet have a recognized place in the market, says Karen Hedine, Micronics' president. Micronics may therefore develop supporting technology, such as software for lab card analysis, that will make the cards more practical to adopt.

Based on university research
The core of Micronics' technology was developed at the University of Washington. Professor Paul Yager and his colleagues in Bioengineering, Laboratory Medicine, Molecular Biotechnology, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering started researching point-of-care diagnostics in the early 1990s. WTC funded the group's initial research in portable stat labs.

The microfluidics research that emerged from the lab was so ground breaking that Senmed Medical Ventures, a venture capital group that funded the group starting in 1994, felt a platform with broad commercial applications could be developed. It licensed from the University of Washington the rights to the technology and formed Micronics in 1996.

Long time support from WTC
Washington Technology Center (WTC) has been a long time supporter of Micronics, even before the company was actually formed. WTC funded the University of Washington research lab that developed the core microtechnology that was "spun out" into Micronics. The WTC has also awarded grants for research projects between the University of Washington and Micronics, facilitated contacts with researchers, and provided use of the state-of-the-art Microfabrication Lab. While Micronics was forming, its first employee kept his office in WTC's Fluke Hall.

Micronics still collaborates with university researchers through WTC's Research and Technology Development (RTD) program. Micronics has participated in three WTC projects, each with a different researcher studying a relevant aspect of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). The ties between Micronics and university research are also strong because some of Micronics employees were hired after completing postdoctoral fellowships in Yager's lab.

Micronics is small, employing about fifteen people, but it is poised to make a significant impact on the microfluidics industry.

Related WTC links:

  • Micronics is a WTC client

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  • Accelerating the energy technology industry: The Northwest Energy Technology Collaborative

    The Northwest Energy Technology Collaborative (NWETC) kicked off on August 21, 2002 at a ceremony in Spokane with Governor Gary Locke. "Washington state has the potential to becomea world leader in the development and marketing of energy technologies," Locke said. "The collaborative will help us ensure that the state's entrepreneurs, researchers and policy makers work together on a strategy that allows us to realize this vision and, ultimately, improve people's lives."

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    The energy technologies currently being researched or developed in Washington include fuel cells, wind, small hydro, solar power, and energy efficiency. The collaborative seeks to accelerate this industry by promoting synergies between businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, and the government. Plans include designing large-scale energy programs that small companies could not develop on their own. Other possible projects include identifying intellectual property that can be commercialized and coordinating research and development efforts.

    Boosting energy technology in Washington can benefit the regional economy. Such a program also has implications beyond state borders: encouraging businesses to develop innovative energy sources can help the United States decrease its reliance on dwindling fossil fuels and discover cleaner power sources.

    Besides working with groups that develop or sustain energy technology, the collaborative also plans to reach out to companies whose primary business can contribute to energy technology in an indirect manner. For example, a company may manufacture a machine using a technique that can also inform wind turbine design.

    The collaborative's founding members are Avista Corporation, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (SIRTI), and Washington Technology Center (WTC).

    Since its August launch, the collaborative has expanded its membership to include the Inland Northwest Technology Education Center (INTEC) and Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development (OTED).

    Related WTC links:

  • NWETC.com

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  • WaFAST update

    The Washington Federal and State Technology Partnership Program (WaFAST) is quickly closing in on the first year of activity, one in which over 1,000 companies across Washington participated in proposal writing support, business plan development training, or angel investment activities. A proposal -- in concert with Idaho -- has been submitted for a second year of funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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    The next major event for SBIR awardees is the National Fall SBIR/STTR Conference in Vermont on October 28–31, 2002 filled with sessions on product development and commercialization.

    Get ready for the active season for SBIR solicitations! Not only will NIH and DOD be accepting proposals late in the year, but several of the smaller agencies are running their once a year competitions.

    "Seed Investing as a Team Sport"
    WTC is organizing, along with Sirti and PNNL, a conference entitled "Seed Investing as a Team Sport." Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce Technology Administration and presented by the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds (NASVF), this program will focus on helping people from outside the Seattle area develop the capability for providing local seed capital to worthy entrepreneurial ideas.

    Aimed at accredited investors and using a "hands-on" approach, this program, which NASVF has run sixty times around the country, will provide interested investors with the ability to understand how they can approach seed investing in their local communities, how they can distribute risk by investing with others, and how they can connect and network with like-minded investors across Washington state.

    This one-day event will be held November 7, 2002 in Spokane and will feature successful entrepreneurs, accountants, and experts from the investing and legal communities who will help participants work through a case study investment opportunity.

    Related WTC links:

  • SBIR Program

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  • Don't miss WTC's photonics workshop on October 8th, 2002

    "Photonics 2002: Lighting the Way," WTC's sixth annual technology initiative workshop, is set for Tuesday, October 8, 2002 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bellevue, Wash. The workshop is one of WTC's key activities for bringing photonics professionals in Washington state together for information exchange.

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    The world's technology industries are facing challenging times. Growth at a blistering pace, followed by a market free fall has resulted in reduced confidence from the investment community and a fallout among those companies not adequately prepared to weather the financial storm.

    The photonics industry has felt the impact of this high-tech turmoil. Scientific breakthroughs in tunable lasers, photonic crystals, and optical polymers compete for attention with news about overbuilt capacity, deflated stock prices and industry shake-out. Yet technical progress continues and opportunities are still available for companies able to shift focus and adapt to the realities of the market.

    This year's workshop will feature a strong program:

    -- Eugene Arthurs, executive director of SPIE, will be the keynote speaker. His presentation is entitled, "Optics and Photonics: A New Perspective."
    -- Axel Scherer, professor of Electrical Engineering at CalTech, will speak on "Photonic Bandgap Structures."
    -- Gary Starkweather, senior researcher of Microsoft Research's Hardware Devices Group, is addressing "Combining Optics and MEMS for Next Generation Displays."
    -- George Ugras, general partner of Adams Capital Management, has a talk entitled "New Components Lead the Way."
    -- David Tuckerman, venture partner of CMEA Ventures, is presenting "A Venture Capitalist's View of Photonics technology."
    -- Larry Dalton, professor of Chemistry and Electrical engineering, will discuss "Materials and Devices for Information Technology Research" A New National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center."

    The registration fee is $145.

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    WTC's year in review: Highlights of the 2001–2002 annual report

    IDEAS. CONNECTIONS. JOBS. That's how we have begun to think at WTC. And it's paying off!

    Fiscal year 2002 was very productive for us and our partner companies. Our impact in Washington reached a new high, generating almost $23 to our partner companies and researchers for every dollar the state invested in WTC -- over $70 million in the last year. These new venture capital investments and major sales contracts are made possible in part by the work WTC sponsors with the state's universities.

    In regions around Bellingham, Port Angeles, Seattle, Spokane, Wenatchee, and the Tri-Cities, WTC is supporting growing companies with research, technical assistance and facilities.

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    Noteworthy achievements

    -- Small Times, a leading microsystems publication, recognized Washington and the Seattle region as one of the country's top micro technology areas. WTC's investment in MEMS was identified as a major factor in this success.
    -- WTC won its first federal funding. The U.S. Small Business Administration is supporting a consortium of seven partners led by WTC to help Washington's companies win federal technology development projects funding.
    -- WTC's Microfabrication Laboratory passed $600,000 in operating revenue. User fees covered nearly 90 percent of operating expenses is on track to financial self-sufficiency.
    -- Two companies "graduated" from the Microfabrication Laboratory into major new manufacturing facilities. These companies, located in Bothell and Vancouver, employ almost 200 people between them.
    -- WTC's impact on all regions of the state continues to grow. Fully 45 percent of the WTC partner companies are from outside the Puget Sound region, up from 38 percent last year.
    -- Our attention to reducing administrative costs is paying off. In fiscal year 2002 these costs dropped to 26 percent from 29 percent of total expenditures last year.

    Related WTC links:

  • WTC 2002 Annual Report

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  • Microfabrication Laboratory news update

    Microfabrication Laboratory sets record for revenue
    The figures are in, and the Microfabrication Laboratory has recorded just over $600k in user fee revenues for the 2002 fiscal year that ended in June. This represents a doubling of income from both industrial and academic clients over the previous fiscal year, a new record for the lab. As a user-supported facility, this milestone is significant as the Lab continues to grow, moving toward self-sustaining status.

    Equipment updates

    -- PECVD system arrives.
    -- Photoresist coating capacity doubled.

    Microfabrication Laboratory recognized at COMS 2002
    Presentations at the 7th International Commercialization of Micro and Nanosystems Conference, held September 8–12, 2002 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, praised WTC's Microfabrication Laboratory for its growing role in nurturing a Micro/Nano industry cluster in the Pacific Northwest.

    Industry analyst Roger Grace, Roger Grace & Associates, said, "Although a number of states have attempted to create MEMS industry clusters over the past five years, only a few have succeeded: New York and Washington." He described WTC's MEMS Initiative as being "absolutely visionary." Other key factors mentioned that contribute to the success of the Lab were ease of access to users and a wide range of process capabilities.

    Visit http://microfab.watechcenter.org for more information.

    Related WTC links:

  • Microfabrication Laboratory

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