Startup lands $13.1 million from investors

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Plextronics Inc., the Harmarville-based nanotechnology startup, said it landed a $13.1 million investment from a string of investors, including local venture capital firms Birchmere Ventures and Draper Triangle Ventures.

Silicon Valley-based Firelake Capital joined in the financing round, its first in the Pittsburgh region.

Chief Executive Officer Andrew Hannah said the financing would be used to help Plextronics stake its claim in the growing market for printed electronics, in which specialized ink is used to replace traditional electronics devices and components such as light bulbs, silicon chips and flat panel screen displays.

Plextronics' technology is based on an electricity-carrying polymer known as "Plexcore" that it has developed and that can "print'' instead of manufacture electronics. Printed solar cells, for example, will be capable of powering small electronic devices, while painted-on lighting panels will be able to illuminate rooms.

With this round of financing, the company aims to tackle the more immediate and booming market for flat panel displays used in mobile phones, televisions and computer screens, where Plexcore will be used in replacing plasma and LCD screens with the cheaper, more flexible, paper-like screens, known as OLEDs -- or organic light-emitting diodes.

Mr. Hannah said the firm will use the financing to begin selling Plexcore to undisclosed flat panel display manufacturers in Asia. The company also plans to increase its staff from 28 to 45 employees by 2007.

Another version of Plexcore is already being used in radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags that help track inventory being produced by Siemens spinoff PolyIC. Plextronics executives said lower-cost Plexcore replaces silicon in the tags.

The market for the printed electronics has the potential to reach billions of dollars, said Sean Sebastian, investor and managing partner at the North Side Birchmere Ventures, in part because OLEDs and solar cells offer a cheaper, more efficient alternative to current electronic products.

Plextronics' funding round boosts the total venture capital dollars raised this year by local firms to $77.4 million, topping the $75 million total raised in all of 2005.

The local trend mirrors what's happening nationally. Figures compiled by PriceWaterhouse Coopers and Thomson Venture Economics show that venture capital investments across the country rose in this year's first half to levels not seen in four years.

The upward trajectory was driven in part by investments in biotechnology firms, a point at which Pittsburgh startups diverged from the trend. The bulk of local venture capital dollars raised this year were by software firms.


Corilyn Shropshire can be reached at cshropshire@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1413.


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