Nick England is no stranger to the fast-moving world of technology startups, but hitting $1 million in sales just 21 months after 3rdTech Inc.’s underfunded inception has even him surprised.

3rdTech develops start-up companies based on technology licensed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. England had hoped angel investors would get the operation off the ground, but amid a tight market for venture capital, he and his wife, Mary Whitton, who are computer science research professors at UNC, wound up using their own money to seed the company.

“We did what we had to do because we had a belief this could happen,” says England, who has grown and sold two companies in the last 10 years.

3rdTech, which signed its first license agreements with the university in June 2000, recently announced new product shipments exceeding $1 million. First-generation products from three companies have been delivered to customers.

HiBall Tracker Inc., which locates the position and orientation of a high-ball sensor to allow tracking, has brought in almost two-thirds of 3rdTech’s revenue, with roughly $650,000 in sales. Sales have skyrocketed in a short period of time because the market is further developed, England says, noting the product’s main applications fall in simulation, industrial design and virtual reality.

Big potential from crime scene analysis

DeltaSphere Inc., which has produced about $200,000 in revenue, develops three-dimensional coordinates and scanners that capture actual scenes for construction, film and video gaming. It has additional applications for military simulations and crime and accident scene reconstruction.

England says DeltaSphere has the biggest opportunity to explode out of 3rdTech’s stable. The company this month signed a strategic partnership with Atlanta-based Quincy Technologies, which supplies forensic science-related software.

“For digitizing crime scenes, the alternative is spending weeks with a tape measure or minutes with DeltaSphere,” he says. “This company is doing critically important work with crime scenes.”

NanoManipulator Inc., which develops software tools for research and development in nanotechnology, is 3rdTech’s third startup. It recently installed four systems in a research lab in Japan.

The interim management team for each company is the same: England runs administration, Doug Schiff manages marketing and business development functions, John Twomey heads up sales and engineering is run by Rich Holloway.

In return for licensing hardware designs, software and patent technologies to 3rdTech and its startups, UNC gets equity in each company, as well as royalties on sales of products incorporating the university technology.

Venture cash in future?

UNC has a policy of distributing income from stock and royalties to inventors, including faculty, staff and students, according to England, who says the university’s recruiting pitch to faculty and students is aided by having technology in use by major customers worldwide.

“We also provide finished products back to UNC at a very steep discount and make our technology improvements available to UNC researchers for their continuing progress,” he says.

Since 3rdTech is generating cash flow quickly in the tight venture environment, Schiff is optimistic the company will be able to obtain venture funding as it expands.

“This validates our business plan since the initial products that we have developed from UNC research clearly fill a market need and are highly valued by real customers,” Schiff says.

England says 3rdTech has a fourth company in development. Morphormics Inc. will be primarily based on a medical imaging technology.

“We are always talking with university people about more opportunities,” he says. “But, we need to graduate one or two of our current portfolio before we can ramp up new companies.”

For details on 3rdTech products, visit