Q&A: Smart Material Solutions, Inc.

by David Dean Menzies

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State's 27th Celebration of Innovation and Entrepreneurship this past fall highlighted many interesting up-and-coming companies. One of them is Smart Material Solutions, Inc., with its focus on nanocoining. To explain exactly what this is, we spoke with owner Stephen J. Furst, Dr. -Ing. via this Startup TechWire Q&A.

When was your company founded and why?
I founded SMS in 2012 while I was finishing my PhD.  Midway through my PhD, my adviser at NCSU moved to Saarland University in Germany.  I flew back and forth every few months - working on my PhD both in the US and in Germany, but also running professionally (yes, like road races and Track and Field) which required me to be in the US for much of the year.  So the company helped me separate my research expenses and also gave me a means to have a flexible (consulting, mostly) career when I graduated but was still running seriously.  Much of the consulting I did was with the NC State Precision Engineering Consortium (where I did my master degree), and there I was exposed to this phenomenal technology called nanocoining that was out of funding and sitting on the shelf. I partnered with the University, wrote a grant proposal to the NSF, and then SMS became an official startup.

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Where is your HQ and how many employees do you have?
My official HQ is at my house in Raleigh, but I often work with the NC State Precision Engineering Consortium (PEC) at their lab on Centennial Campus.  I have had about 3 part-time employees, but at the moment its just me.  However, I get a lot of help from the University - both the Tech Transfer Office, College of Management, and the PEC.

What are your company’s core products or services?
Nanocoining! This is a novel and scalable manufacturing method that enables the creation of anti-reflective and self-cleaning films.  These could be added to electronics displays to make them look brighter or solar panels to improve their efficiency and keep them clean.  We do this by building tiny structures that manipulate the wavelength of light.

Does your company develop new technologies or re-apply existing technologies to solve a problem?
Both - the technique conceived by NC State University is new, but making it works involve novel application of many other technologies, like focused ion beam machining and ultrasonic resonant actuation.  This is hard-core science on many levels, but the result could transform how we see the world (literally).

Who are your customers?
My direct customers are likely those companies that use roll-to-roll processing to make plastic film products.  These include industrial giants like PPG, 3M, Applied Materials, and SKC Hass.  But there are a host of companies throughout the world. The end customers are even more varied - think of all the electronic display, commercial lighting, and solar panel manufacturers or users...

What problems does your company solve?
Literally, we make physical structures that are smaller than the wavelength of light into metal quickly, such that they can then be transferred to plastic VERY quickly. But this will allow us to solve more tenable problems, like reducing the glare off transparent surfaces, increasing the light that can pass through a screen or into a solar panel, and preventing a surface from getting and staying wet.

Please share any examples of situations where your products or services achieved a positive result for clients.
We have just crossed a threshold in development of this process by actually increasing the amount of light that passed through a thin plastic surface by adding our structure.  This demonstrates that the technology is for real.  At the moment, we are funded by the National Science Foundation, but with these recent results hope to attract the early adopters to continue our progress and deliver a real result for a real client.

What new products or services or services will you be rolling-out in the next few months or into 2017?
In early 2017 we will present results and attempt to create structures of different sizes to demonstrate an array of functionalities, and one service we will offer is the ability to design for such functions.

What makes your company relevant to the future of your industry?
We are able to enable these functions not only on the scale that can be studied in an academic lab, but also on a scale that will allow human beings around the world can make use of them.

Where can people go to find out more information?
People can go to www.smartmaterialsolutions.com/nanocoining or they can email me at furst@smartmaterialsolutions.com

Startup TechWire - Reporting on business, innovation, and education for America's vibrant startup community | David Menzies | 919-274-6862 | Writer and Public Relations Consultant | Editor StartupTechWire.com | startuptechwire@gmail.com | www.daviddeanmenzies.com