Riding a wave of momentum after a successful merger with a local competitor, Forge Nano Inc.’s leader says the company is outgrowing its startup status and is ready to take its place atop the atomic layer deposition industry.

Louisville-based Forge Nano, which recently joined forces with Broomfield’s ALD NanoSolutions Inc., has developed a process that builds a super thin coating that is applied to surfaces in order to improve material performance.

“We’re trying to graduate beyond our initial startup mindset and viewpoint,” Forge Nano CEO Paul Lichty said. “That’s really what this merger achieves.”

The process has historically been used to build semiconductors and computer chips, but Forge is applying its technology to a range of other products, from lithium-ion batteries to golf balls.

“You can basically put down atoms one at a time,” Lichty said.

As devices get smaller and smaller, manufacturers increasingly need to be able to control and manipulate materials on an atomic level.

“By putting a couple of dozen atoms in a coating around a particle, you can change the way it flows and moves in a mixture,” he said. “You can prevent oxidation and corrosion while not getting in the way and preventing the particles from behaving the way you want them to.”

The company has several revenue streams. Forge Nano sells ALD equipment and licenses its intellectual property to major manufacturers of items such as batteries. For smaller clients, Forge is able to provide in-house coating services.

Forge Nano was spun out of the University of Colorado Boulder in 2013 with the support of CU Boulder chemistry and engineering professors Alan Weimer and Steven George.

“The University of Colorado has quite a presence in the ALD community,” Lichty said. “We got started there just building reactors in a garage and eventually got some [Small Business Innovation Research] funding to get going.”

Lichty, who trained as a chemical engineer at CU Boulder, said the university “does a really good job of creating a fertile environment for innovation and it’s definitely supportive of new business innovation.”

For now, the companies and their 43-person workforce will continue to operate out of the respective office spaces in Louisville and Broomfield. Leadership is on the hunt for a new headquarters space large enough to house both staffs under one roof.

The hope, Lichty said, is to keep the headquarters in Colorado and preferably in the Boulder-Denver region.

“This area has been good for us in terms of employee recruitment and retainment,” he said. “We’ve got a great base of technical experts and engineers, so we’d like to stick around.”

The local ALD ecosystem is a tight-knit one, Lichty said, and Forge and ALD NanoSolutions exist in similar orbits.

“We’ve known each other for a while — both companies have employees who play on the same softball team,” he said.

Forge Nano’s expertise has been in developing ways to scale up ALD technology for large, industrial clients in the battery industry. ALD NanoSolutions has taken a broader approach to product development for industries outside of the battery space.

Lichty said the combined firm offers the best of both worlds: scalable technology that is applicable in a variety of manufacturing settings and markets.

“Each company was approaching the market in slightly different ways and doing our own things, which was very beneficial in terms of allowing for innovation,” he said. “But eventually it just made more business sense to consolidate and combine forces to make sure we’re operating as efficiently as possible. Now that we’re not competing [in the ALD marketplace], it makes those softball games a little more fun because everyone is rolling in the same direction.”

The combination of Forge Nano and ALD NanoSolutions’ resource and expertise has “already driven some of the companies we’ve been in talks with toward more commercial engagements because we are finally of a scale where they can seriously look to integrate our technology into what they’re producing.”

The merger also allows the combined company to focus on providing clients with a wide range of ADL-related technology solutions, rather than simply offering narrowly tailored, specific services.

The company has held several successful capital raises in recent years, including a $20 million Series A round in 2016 that helped the company move to a larger facility in Louisville and scale up production.

“My chief financial officer would probably tell you that best laid plans are always going to need more money,” Lichty said, but past fundraising efforts have the company on solid financial footing.

© 2020 BizWest Media LLC

blog comments powered by Disqus