By Lauren K. Ohnesorge Senior Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal
Imagine a polyester material as tough as Kevlar.
“We could bring ballistic-like protection to a polyester fiber,” BNNano CEO Steve Wilcenski theorizes.
His Cary company is developing a next-generation nanotube that could make it happen.
And the possibilities are endless for the material, which could be manufactured at a lower-cost than what’s currently on the market.
“The company that makes ballistic backpacks for kids at school is making a record number of sales right now,” he says, pointing to the unfortunate trend of school shootings. Companies like his, he says, could make the world safer – and create jobs at the same time.
But that’s if the more than $1 million bet that angel investors, friends and family have already staked on his company pays off.
In an interview, Wilcenski talks about the company and its possibilities.
BNNano began two years ago – though the partnership behind the startup got its start nearly two decades prior. Wilcenski and co-founder Jason Taylor were colleagues at semiconductor manufacturer Cree. And they’d long had the entrepreneurial itch.
“We always wanted to find a business to start together,” Wilcenski says.
And the idea was too good to pass up. For the non-scientist, it’s a complex-sounding product: Boron Nitride Nanotubes and fibers. The company is producing them out of a converted factory in Burlington.
“Right now, we’re the only company in the world that can make them in volume,” he says. The material is similar to carbon nanotubes, and has a variety of applications. It’s thermally stable at high temperatures, giving it insulation properties. It could be used for plastic heat tanks. It could be used in high-tech, high-density electronics. And it even has possibilities in the pharma space – though that’s not an area Wilcenski is exploring right now. Partnerships could be deployed for future uses in that space, he says.
“What we’re doing now… we’ve been focused on making the material, becoming a manufacturer of the nanotubes,” he says. “We’ve got that down. We’ve got an efficient, low-cost process now. We’re doing product development.”
And the initial focus is on textiles and thermal materials. If all goes well, the company will be expanding the four-person team. But right now is about execution, Wilcenski says. And that means figuring out what products to create with the material.
This year, the firm has raised nearly $300,000 in equity to make it happen. That’s on top of more than $1 million it had raised from angels, friends and family previously, he says.
And it’s in the beginning stages of a $500,000 funding round.