Source: Democrat & Chronicle | Bennett J. Loudon | June 10, 2015
When companies at Eastman Business Park run into an obstacle while developing a new high-tech product, they often must search for help outside the facility.
Likewise, when companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, reach a milestone in new product development and are ready for the commercialization and production phase, they must seek out partners who often make demands that could threaten the financial interests of the entrepreneurs.
But a partnership announced Tuesday between Kodak and Oak Ridge could provide a solution to both problems.
The two entities have signed a memorandum of understanding that will allow companies at either facility to take advantage of resources available at the other. Both facilities work closely with startups in the areas of clean energy, energy storage, and flexible substrate electronics, which take advantage of roll-to-roll technology that was critical to the historical success of film manufacturing at Kodak.
Officials were hesitant to estimate how many new businesses or jobs the deal could create, but they are confident it will generate well-paying, high-skill jobs in the next several years.
Kodak CFO John McMullen said the impact won’t be felt right away.
“The jobs will come five or six years out,” he said.
He said 16 of about 60 Eastman Business Park tenants are expected to take advantage of the partnership initially.
William K. Pollock, president and CEO of Optimation, the parent company of Kingsbury Corp., an Eastman Business Park tenant working in partnership with Kodak to make touch sensors for cellphones and computers, said the creation of new companies in need of production lines using roll-to-roll technology could benefit his companies. Optimation designs those types of production systems, while Kingsbury does the actual machine building.
“This, for us, is a natural extension for collaboration around whatever comes out. We look at it very positively,” he said.
Christopher Schauerman, co-director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Battery Prototyping Center, which works with Eastman Business Park tenants in the energy storage field, said the partnership between Kodak and Oak Ridge could have a significant economic impact on the Rochester region.
“The existing facilities at Eastman Business Park and RIT have already brought a lot of companies to the area and allowed the companies that are here to hire more employees,” he said.
“Having this relationship will allow those companies to accelerate their technology to the marketplace faster, which will allow them to hire more employees and develop new products and materials that can one day, hopefully, be part of the next electric vehicle, or cellphone that’s in everyone’s pockets,” he said.
Martin Keller, associate director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said his facility is focused on “hard-core research.”
“We do not have the facilities like (Eastman Business Park) to take materials and scale it to the size which you need to develop a product,” Keller said. “We need to partner with organizations like this who can take this and bring it to the scale that you need to develop a product.”
Without the partnership, entrepreneurs who worked with Oak Ridge to develop an idea in the lab would often turn to a larger private company to reach the next level of commercialization, and that often meant turning over a lot of equity and intellectual property rights.
“That’s exactly what you’re trying to change,” Keller said.
While startups are charged a fee for services at Eastman Business Park and Oak Ridge, they retain the rights to their intellectual property.
Agreements like this will be very important and will be pivotal to create new manufacturing jobs in the United States because, if you don’t have this new technology, what are you producing? We need to help companies to do this and be more competitive,” Keller said.
Although the arrangement between Eastman Business Park and Oak Ridge does not come with any upfront federal funds, companies working with Oak Ridge might get some help in the form of federal funding.
“Companies that come here might run into a technical problem. We give them access to the equipment, but we can’t solve some of their fundamental technical issues. Now we can say, ‘We have an agreement with Oak Ridge, you can go there and get your technical issues resolved,’ ” said Mike Alt, director of Eastman Business Park.
“They do have existing programs that have funding from the Department of Energy that can help offset the cost of doing work at Oak Ridge National Labs,” Alt said. “At Oak Ridge, they are funded by the DOE and there’s money available for companies.”
Mainly, the current and future companies that will take advantage of the resources at the two facilities are focused on energy storage, touch screens, electronics embedded on film and other substrates, and solar energy products.
“Think about batteries, think about your cellphone lasting two or three days between charges, versus four hours or six hours. Think about your tablets or your laptop computers being able to last much longer,” Alt said.