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New technology stimulus program for small businesses in Washington

Washington Technology Center's new Microfabrication Laboratory Access Program will award short-term access to sophisticated MEMS fabrication equipment to help companies develop job-growing, innovative commercial technologies.

SEATTLE - August 24, 2009 - Washington Technology Center announces today the launch of the Microfabrication Laboratory Access Program, a new stimulus program that will award short-term access to sophisticated MEMS fabrication equipment to help small companies in Washington develop job-growing, innovative commercial technologies.

"In these difficult economic times, I commend Washington Technology Center for offering companies increased access to resources for developing market-ready products," said Washington's Director of Commerce Rogers Weed. "This kind of collaboration between the public and private sectors helps support our state's 21st century industries, and more importantly, helps to create quality jobs right here in Washington."

"Our new lab access program is one of three state-funded programs that we're using to invest in innovation in Washington state," said Lee Cheatham, Ph.D., executive director of Washington Technology Center. "We believe this program will help small companies more effectively leverage limited funding for technology development in the current economy.

Washington Technology Center will accept proposals from companies with fewer than 100 employees in any technical area or industry that can utilize the facilities and equipment of the center's 15,000-square-foot Microfabrication Laboratory. Eligible projects include, but are not limited to: proof of concept, prototyping, testing, process development, and small-scale production.

Proposals selected for awards will need to show clear potential for economic impact and a well-defined work plan. As the award program is focused on companies that have an immediate need for laboratory facilities, lab access projects are limited to a maximum of three consecutive months of no-cost Microfabrication Laboratory use.

Tours of the Microfabrication Laboratory will be held Aug. 28 and Sept. 29, 2009.

More information about the Microfabrication Laboratory Access Program is available online at http://www.watechcenter.org/accessprogram.

About Washington Technology Center
Washington Technology Center is a statewide economic development organization focused on technology and innovation. We spark ideas, form connections between people and resources, and foster job growth to position Washington state as a national technology leader. As an organization, Washington Technology Center channels state, federal, and private resources to help companies develop and commercialize new products and technologies. Our 15,000-square-foot Microfabrication Laboratory provides companies and university researchers access to facilities and specialized equipment for micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) research and product/process development. The impact of Washington Technology Center's work has generated more than $600 million in additional investment for Washington companies and researchers. For more information how Washington Technology Center can help research and development projects succeed, visit www.watechcenter.org or call 206-685-1920.

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Positioning the Northwest as a Biotechnology Leader

by Lee Cheatham, executive director, Washington Technology Center

Biotechnology will be a dominant force in the 21st century -- a force that not only drives the economy of the Pacific Northwest, but regional and national economies around the globe.

But our region faces challenges. How effectively we deal with these challenges makes all the difference whether we realize the advantages of a leadership position or suffer mediocrity.

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Challenge #1: Ensure more available capital flows into our local companies
Let's be clear. There is a shortage of available seed capital -- those early stage investments of $50,000 to $500,000. The success of venture investment funds over the past decade has meant they simply can't afford the effort to invest in small amounts. Angel investors are a great source for this seed level investment, but they are difficult to find.

More than three years ago, WTC recognized this lack of capital as a critical issue and acted to develop the necessary programs to address these needs.

Our first step was to leverage federal investment opportunities. In 2001, with nine partner organizations around the state, we developed programs, tools, and training workshops that educated companies on how to access Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) funds. Each year, the ten largest federal agencies make more than $1.5 billion available to small businesses. WTC's program provides easy access to SBIR information and assistance to companies that apply.

Our second step was to create the WTC Angel Network. This program, funded in part by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, is increasing the investment pool by encouraging investors from around the state to participate. The program consists of a network of angel groups forming around the state in areas such as the Olympic Peninsula, Wenatchee, Tri-Cities, and Bellingham. By joining this network, these angel investors will realize benefits similar to larger angel groups.

Realizing that access to investors is critical for growth, WTC has also partnered with the Washington State Investment Board to make a portion of their private equity portfolio available to companies within the state. This program makes it significantly easier for our local companies to gain an initial review of their business plan by one of WSIB's 87 general partners.

WTC supports the efforts of the Washington State Legislature, which last year created the Investing in Innovation fund. This legislation creates the mechanism for investment in proof-of-concept and early stage product development that can be especially helpful to the biotech industry.

In addition, the Seattle/King County Economic Development Council has launched a project to determine how a biotech seed fund might be created within the state. The Explore Life initiative is, in part, dedicated to developing private funding for early stage proof-of-concept projects. These and the other efforts to increase the available capital must be encouraged. Effectively addressing challenge one means increasing the number of financing options for our companies.

Challenge #2: Expand and renew our infrastructure
It is safe to say that the biotech industry is driven by the skill and knowledge of its people. In the early stages of the industry's evolution, those people are researchers and entrepreneurs. As the industry matures, the manufacturing experts join in.

But these people need a place to work and develop their ideas. A place that is different from the manufacturing, software or financial services industries. For biotech this place includes wet laboratories, clean rooms, and ultra-high speed computing and networks.

WTC operates a microfabrication user facility in the John M. Fluke Sr. Hall, WTC's headquarters. The MicroFabrication Laboratory represents about $20M in facility and equipment investment. It provides critical equipment and processing capability in a clean room environment for a company's product engineers and university researchers alike.

More than 25 companies are using this facility in their new product development. Significant university research laboratories are also located in Fluke Hall. As a result, Fluke Hall is a place where science and industry really do rub shoulders.

Further development of appropriate facilities around the state is critical for the growth of this industry. Research space for University of Washington, Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory must be increased. Facilities that allow entrepreneurs and our existing companies to co-locate their commercial operations with these research activities must be developed next.

Challenge #3: Position our region among other regions around the world
Make no mistake. This is a competition. We're competing for talented people, for money, for market access. We're competing globally -- against the best from around the world.

Unlike biotech initiatives of a few years ago, regions today are more focused and more selective. They are examining their strengths and defining their niche in the biotech industry accordingly. We have world-class public and private research institutions in our region. We are home to the world's leading non-profit foundation and program for global health. Leading medical device and pharmaceutical companies are here. Our challenge, however, is to describe our competitive edge when we consider these institutions, and others, together.

Several efforts are underway to do just that. Through the support of Senator Cantwell, WTC is leading an effort to develop such a vision and strategy for micro- and nano-scale science and technology. With our partners, PNNL, Avogadro Partners, and the National NanoBusiness Alliance, we are working to ensure that this long term vision emerges. Its implementation will establish our region as a leader by applying "small science" to the discovery, production and marketing of diagnostic and therapeutic devices and processes.

The Bio21 effort launched by Governor Locke last year is an important component in meeting this challenge because it provides the backdrop required to position and brand our region. It is our first concerted attempt to develop a cohesive direction -- 21st Century Global Health -- based on our region's strengths. As Bio21 is refined, I believe it will prove to be the backbone from which many "implementation" initiatives can draw their context. Existing programs, like the Investing in Innovation Fund for proof-of-concept projects and WTC's nanotechnology initiative, are examples of programs that will implement the Bio21 principles.

Challenge #4: Engage everyone
Finally, I believe our most difficult challenge is how to position biotech as an industry that has broad impact. Most people believe it's just for Ph.D. scientists and it won't really affect their lives. No doubt the biotech industry draws its ideas from the depths of research in biology, chemistry, physics, computing and engineering. But just like other industries, its greatest impact will only be realized when local companies and their suppliers are making products and selling them.

At one point the aerospace industry probably faced this same issue. Aircraft design, specialty materials, and complex electronics are all part of that industry. Over the decades, however, the industry's suppliers made metal working and electrical subsystem manufacturing understandable and hired thousands of people to fill those needs.

How to meet this challenge is yet to be discovered. But it is the transition our biotech industry must make if we expect a similar impact to our region's economy.

By addressing these challenges, and others that may arise, Washington Technology Center is prepared to contribute to solidifying our region's position as a global biotechnology leader.

Related WTC links:

  • SBIR Program
  • WTC Angel Network
  • Microfabrication Laboratory
  • Nanotechnology

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  • Söliv case study

    Söliv is a small Seattle skin care company with a breakthrough product line founded on marine biotechnology. Armed with a patented proprietary material and R&D; to back it up, the company was ready to hit the ground running. But an economic downturn threatened to cripple the company's progress. The slowdown in the financial markets motivated the company to turn its attention inward to fine-tune its market strategy and hold tight until investment opportunities looked more promising. A consulting contract with Washington Technology Center's Small Business Services proved to be a smart move for Söliv and provided the company with an action plan for moving forward.

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    Company Profile
    Söliv develops, processes and markets bio-active, anti-aging skin and body care products. It is the first company in the Northwest to develop marine-based biotechnology products. In 2001 the company completed its initial research phase through WTC's Research Grant Program in partnership with the University of Washington's Department of Botany to develop an advanced aquaculture system for cultivating a specific seaweed strain used in Söliv's proprietary skin and body care products. The goal was to develop a technologically-feasible method for assuring that large-scale supplies of this raw material would be available for product development and sales.

    The Research Project
    The WTC grant, in combination with support from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), allowed Söliv to develop a successful platform for refining its aquaculture methods along with natural selection and propagation of new strains, each with different properties for skin care products. The result was a raw material base to support an $80M–$100M retail business with 25 products.

    Business Situation
    With its product line well established, Söliv turned its attention towards financing, marketing, sales and manufacturing. The economic slow down experienced over the past three years had made access to capital difficult, if not seemingly impossible, for small start-up businesses. Without a strong climate for going after investors, Söliv decided to focus on its internal operations and use the downtime from seeking funding to evaluate its positioning strategy for entering the market.

    "This time proved valuable for us," notes Diane Boratyn, president and CEO of Söliv. "We got extremely efficient at doing what we do. We were ready to enter the market yet needed a game plan for transitioning the findings and test market maneuvers into a marketing and investment strategy. We had the elements in place, but saw the benefits of having a seasoned professional help shape our strategy for getting the'edge' on securing funding," Boratyn adds.

    Enter Washington Technology Center's Small Business Services expert, Elaine Kong. In late 2003, WTC launched a new branch of its regional and technical services line specifically targeted to assist small- and medium-sized technology companies with financing and strategic planning.

    Having worked with WTC through its R&D; grant program, Söliv was familiar with WTC's services and was introduced to Elaine as a resource to assist them with their business strategy.

    Elaine has a great deal of experience nationally and internationally in developing business and investment strategies for companies in the growth stages. Her background includes venture capital, startup consulting, and strategic business planning.

    For Söliv, the team focused on strategic planning, capitalization planning, due diligence package preparation, stock option research and compensation planning, investor advisory and sales strategies implementation.

    "One of our primary objectives for Söliv was to develop a solid marketing and sales strategy," explained Elaine Kong, manager of small business services for the Washington Technology Center. "For a company in their stage of growth, this is key to attracting investors," she noted. "They are acutely interested in knowing how the company is preparing to move the product to market and generate revenue."

    The Future
    Since completing their consulting contract with WTC, Söliv has a solid sales and marketing plan in place, complete with short and long term goals for broadening their customer base, penetrating their target markets and increasing sales of their product. To date, this includes adding four new full time staff and five independent sales representatives. The projected growth for a sales force throughout Washington is expected to increase three-fold by May 2004. The company plans to use recent capital raised to roll-out its sales plan, expand its production facility and increase manufacturing operations.

    "To put it simply, WTC's Small Business Services consulting services helped us overcome the 'financial paralysis' stage that a company may face when funding is tight," Boratyn stated. "Elaine helped position the company to capture its strengths and accomplishments in financial terms and develop the tools needed to attract the most sophisticated groups of investors," she adds. "Now we're prepared to deliver a high-quality, attractive presentation to investors supported by a solid growth plan."

    Related WTC links:

  • Söliv is a WTC client
  • Business Consulting

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  • Microfabrication Laboratory showcases academic-industry collaboration

    WTC's Microfabrication Laboratory Open House attracted researchers from around the Pacific Northwest to view the latest prototypes and commercial products developed at this premier R&D; facility in Seattle. Engineers, chief technology officers, academic researchers, and industry executives flocked to Washington Technology Center's state-of-the-art facility to get an inside glimpse of the organization's Microfabrication Laboratory, the largest micro-technology R&D; facility in the Pacific Northwest.

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    More than 125 attendees from Washington and Oregon turned out to tour the lab February 26, 2004. The facility provides specialized equipment, trained personnel and other services for developing micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) -- miniaturized mechanical devices on silicon chips or wafers -- a trend that is revolutionizing the technology industry.

    Washington is home to a growing number of micro-technology companies. WTC is a critical partner in helping both new and established companies fabricate and test proprietary technology and prototypes in the earliest stages of development.

    "Having access to fully-functioning fabrication resources through WTC is enormously valuable to us," says Matt Nichols, Director of Communications for Microvision, a Bothell-based company that develops high-resolution displays and imaging systems based on proprietary silicon micro-mirror technology. "The Microfab Lab offers a controlled environment, which is critical, and we aren't burdened with building these facilities ourselves or dividing our time among labs that only provide a portion of the functionality," explains Nichols. "As a result, we are able to move to market faster with a more stable, reliable product."

    Microvision exhibited its Nomad Expert Technician System at the open house, a wireless wearable augmented vision display that allows technicians to view detailed service information at their point of task, head-up and hands-free.

    CombiMatrix, Intelligent Ion, Neah Power Systems, and TraceDetect also previewed products and prototypes developed at the Microfab Lab. Industry and academic researchers have shared access to the lab, which represent nearly $20 million in facilities and equipment. Clients can customize use of the facilities to best fit their needs, ranging from part time and contract use to full time R&D.;

    "We're pleased to offer a facility of this caliber to our industry and academic clients," says Lee Cheatham, Executive Director for Washington Technology Center. "WTC will continue to deliver resources and services that foster academic-industry partnership and contribute to the growth and economic strength of technology commerce in our state."

    Related WTC links:

  • WTC Microfabrication Laboratory
  • Microvision is a WTC client
  • CombiMatrix is a WTC client
  • Intelligent Ion is a WTC client
  • Neah Power Systems is a WTC client
  • TraceDetect is a WTC client

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  • Washington Technology Center leads consortium in winning SBA FAST award

    For Immediate Release: October 8, 2001

    Seattle - A consortium of eight organizations from around the state, led by Washington Technology Center, was awarded a $100,000 matching grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration under their Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program. The WaFAST award is to assist Washington companies compete more successfully in the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award program and to commercialize the results.

    Under the WaFAST program there will be:

    -- A statewide conference for companies interested in participating in SBIR.
    -- Subsidized assistance in writing SBIR Phase I and Phase II proposals.
    -- Regional conferences for previous SBIR awardees featuring venture capitalists and business development specialists.
    -- Half-day reviews and discussions for selected companies about their business plans with leading Washington industry experts.

    Program funding is for one year; however, the program could continue for as long as five years. The consortium has committed to match an additional $215,000 in support of the federal award.

    Consortium participants in addition to WTC include:

    -- Washington Office of Trade and Economic Development.
    -- Washington Small Business Development Center.
    -- Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute.
    -- Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
    -- Columbia River Economic Development Council.
    -- Biotechnology Association of Spokane Region.
    -- Washington State University Tri-Cities Business Links.
    -- Alliance of Angels.

    "The Federal SBIR Program is a great way for growing technology companies to advance their research and business development opportunities," said Dr. Lee Cheatham, WTC executive director. "With WaFAST, Washington companies will be better prepared to compete for this support, and to leverage SBIR funding into new products and new jobs in the state."

    Related WTC links:

  • SBIR Program

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