Northeast Ohio's flexible electronics cluster experienced significant growth in 2010 by attracting $14 million in capital from public and private sources, according to a recent analysis by NorTech.
This cluster of interconnected businesses, suppliers, service providers, and institutions, named FlexMatters(SM), is focused on low-cost manufacturing of electronic devices printed on flexible plastic materials. Based on Northeast Ohio's industrial and research strengths in polymers and advanced materials, the FlexMatters Cluster is emerging as a producer of flexible electronics products sold globally.
Recent funding was awarded to the following FlexMatters Cluster members:
$6 million private equity series B investment to Blue Spark Technologies, Inc., a leader in developing flexible, printed, "green," proprietary power source solutions for battery-powered printed electronic systems. The funding will allow Blue Spark to focus on ramping up manufacturing to support market successes in multiple projects and accelerate new applications that require thin, printed, disposable batteries.
$3 million matching grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Technology Innovation Program (TIP) to Kent Displays, Inc. The developer and manufacturer of Reflex™ No Power LCDs for consumer and OEM markets, was awarded one of nine projects selected from a total of 110 applicants nation-wide. Kent Displays will use the funding to develop manufacturing processes to optimize its production capabilities and lower costs for Reflex flexible LCDs.
$499,514 contract from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to NorTech, Northeast Ohio's regional technology-based economic development organizations serving 21 counties. NorTech will use the funding to focus on small business growth and job creation in the region's flexible electronics industry.
Other FlexMatters Cluster members that received funding in 2010 include AlphaMirror, Inc., Akron Polymer Systems, GrafTech International and Five Star Technologies.
Northeast Ohio is home to companies and research institutions with technical expertise in polymers and advanced materials, flexible displays, printed sensors and circuits, flexible photovoltaics, and organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology, all of which are developing a new class of flexible electronic devices. The region's companies currently produce a variety of flexible electronics products, which include electronic writing tablets, switchable eyewear, printed batteries, and medical implants for various markets such as the consumer, military, industrial, advanced energy, and healthcare markets.
Albert Green, Ph.D., CEO of Kent Displays said, "Kent Displays had a very successful 2010 with the introduction of our first consumer product, the Boogie BoardTM LCD Writing Tablet. We significantly increased manufacturing capacity and jobs to meet demand. The recent grant award will allow Kent Displays to develop major innovations around our manufacturing processes for Reflex flexible LCDs, strengthening our competitive position and ability to enter and expand markets."
Gary R. Johnson, Blue Spark President and Chief Executive, said, "We were delighted to secure additional funding in 2010 to enable Blue Spark's continued growth and success. This funding will help us to increase production of our patented printed battery technology and allow us to enter new global markets, while keeping our headquarters in Northeast Ohio."
The FlexMatters Strategic Roadmap outlines strategies and action plans to accelerate the cluster's growth. In an effort to execute the roadmap's growth strategies, NorTech launched a cluster membership program to connect cluster organizations with funding, revenue and technology partnership opportunities, a regional industry database, and networking events.
Rebecca Bagley, president and CEO of NorTech said, "We are building a robust innovation cluster in Northeast Ohio that is going to put our region at the forefront of the global flexible electronics industry. The capital attracted this past year proves that we have strengths and assets in this sector. It's NorTech's role to seek additional opportunities and funding to help accelerate the growth of the FlexMatters Cluster."
"NorTech's efforts to organize a formal flexible electronics cluster are a tremendous testimony to the industry's emergence," said Michael Ciesinski, CEO of the FlexTech Alliance. "Northeast Ohio's strong manufacturing sector is a real asset in the flexible electronics industry and can provide a unique competitive advantage."