If Akron Polymer Systems is half as successful as its founders were before they started the company, its competitors should watch out.
The Akron-based developer of specialty polymers is embarking on a $3.4 million expansion to make more of its own polymers for products such as liquid crystal displays and solar cells, after spending its first seven years developing materials alongside larger companies.
Akron Polymer Systems has yet to release any of its own products, but its founders have proven they can create a successful polymer: at the University of Akron, Frank Harris and Stephen Cheng invented a film that is found in LCD televisions across the globe.
That film, which allows TVs to be viewed from wide angles, topped $1 billion in sales in early 2009. It has generated about $5 million in royalties for the university, which licensed it to a Japanese company in the 1990s, and additional cash for Harris, who is CEO of Akron Polymer Systems, and Cheng, dean of the university's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
That invention has helped Akron Polymer Systems establish relationships in the industry, said Harris, who also is a professor emeritus of polymer science at the school.
The reason we can do it is because we were able to establish a reputation by developing that first product at the University of Akron, he said.
Akron Polymer Systems on Nov. 20 held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new headquarters in downtown Akron.
That ceremony could have taken place in South Carolina.
Officials from the southern state flew to Ohio a year ago to try to lure Akron Polymer Systems away. The company remained in Akron largely because of Ohio's Third Frontier Program, a 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative aimed at stimulating the state's economy through investments in technology.
[South Carolina] had nothing like the Third Frontier, said Harris, who added that his company also received a $1.27 million low-interest loan and a 45 percent, six-year job creation tax credit from Ohio.
The new space will encompass about 16,000 square feet, about three times larger than Akron Polymer Systems' current rented office suite.
With the expansion, the 13-person company aims to employ 40 to 50 people by 2011, Harris said.
The company also plans to add enough equipment to produce low volumes of polymers for specialty products and to test products needed in larger amounts. Akron Polymer Systems has bigger goals, though: It aims eventually to make batches exceeding 2,200 pounds, Harris said.
The firm already is working on polymers that could be mass produced by other manufacturers, second and third generations of the special TV/LCD film.
Among the products the company plans to manufacture are polymers for flexible liquid crystal displays, flexible solar cells, missile nose cones, fuel cells and bone replacement implants.
Akron Polymer Systems' wish to produce medical polymers was a big reason it chose to locate in Akron's downtown, near three large hospitals. Mayor Don Plusquellic convinced Harris that the company could benefit by being part of Akron's planned biomedical corridor.
Plusquellic expressed gratitude that the company stayed in Ohio.
We're very happy not to see more jobs going south, he said.
Copyright 2009 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.