Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays.United Protective Technologies (UPT) wants to give new meaning to the phrase “diamond in the rough.”

The company, one of five finalists for the UNC-Charlotte Five Ventures business plan competition on April 8, markets a thin, diamond-based coating developed at the University, among other products aimed at protecting military and civilian aircraft.

Brent Barbee, manager of UPT, tells Local Tech Wire that another of the company’s products can protect $17,000 military helicopter windshields from the sand-blasting that erodes them in as little as a week in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special tear off films can give the windshields 20 percent longer life at a cost of hundreds of dollars, says Barbee.

“Right now the need for windshields outnumbers supply,” Barbee says. “Helicopters are sitting in hangars with their windows completely eroded by sand.”

Founded about two years ago, UPT is a spinout of Charlotte-based United Packaging.

UPT also has a close relationship with Pro-Tint, Kannapolis, which makes a windshield film used by NASCAR teams. The Pro-Tint “Tearaway” film, introduced in 1997, is ripped off during a pit stop, leaving a clean windshield.

SBIR grant

UPT has a small business innovative research grant to study applying its own version of the protecting films for keeping desert sands from eating away helicopter windshields.

Barbee calls United Packaging and Pro-Tint UPT’s “two mother companies,” and says they supported it through the first two years of its product development. The company has received an SBIR grant from the U.S. Military Special Operation Command to investigate adding protective coatings to leading edges of helicopter blades.

It is also exploring uses for the diamond-film coating on radar units exposed on the outside of Air Force Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The diamond-based coating is “very slick,” Barbee says. “It has less friction than Teflon.”

Because it is so smooth, even ice won’t stick to it easily and it is hoped it will prevent ice build-up. It costs about the same as other hard-coating processes but “gives more bang for the buck,” he adds. “Diamond is smooth, chemically inert, and dense.”

Barbee says many other applications for the diamond-based coatings and the windshield films are possible.

Well received

UPT started after United Packaging approached the military to discuss selling it packaging. Engineers from the company, including Barbee, discovered the military had needs for “protective materials we knew something about. So we did our homework and figured out how to spin this off.

“So far we’ve been well received by everyone we’ve briefed, mainly the U.S. Air Force and Army. They’ve been really receptive to our thinking out of the box,” Barbee says.

Barbee says the three-person company, which is located in United Packaging offices, may seek venture capital in the fourth quarter or next spring to expand. He says the company expects to add two or three more people if testing of its diamond-based coating on the radar units goes well.

Testing of its windshield film is scheduled to undergo tests at a Yuma, Arizona military facility and “if everything goes well we’ll move rapidly and may add four or five more jobs,” says Barbee.

“There’s a lot of stuff we want to do,” he says. That includes the possibility of taking a booth at an upcoming law enforcement aviation show in Charlotte.

“Law enforcement has its own set of rules. It’s easier to get things going with them than the military,” Barbee says. “We’d love to have a booth at the show and if we win the Five Ventures contest, may use the funds for that.”

During the winnowing of ten finalists to five for the Five Ventures business plan competition, the company was asked, “How are you going to pursue everything?”

Barbee says, “The answer is we’re not trying to. We’re taking small steps. First the military, then we’ll step out into the commercial world and see what we can do with this stuff.”

The finalists in the contest April 8 vie for $500 cash awards during each of six evaluation sessions. At the end of the day, the company with the highest overall score gets a check for $5,000. All five finalists receive a package of professional services such in law, accounting, and public relations, among others.

Mark Wdowik, executive director of UNC-Charlotte’s office of technology transfer, tells LTW, “The committee felt these five stand the greatest chance of business viability, the only criteria we put forth so we could compare companies that have been around years with startups on an apple to apple basis.”

Wdowik says some winners of the contest in the past haven’t taken as much advantage of the professional services package as others. “Some CEOs think they know everything,” he says. “But most people at Five Ventures take full advantage of the services offered. It gets the whole business community involved.”

Other finalists in the contest are: MixSig Labs, Triad Semiconductor, Angiogen, and Shore Shedders.

BIG networking

Michael Miller of Your General Counsel tells Local Tech Wire a larger than average crowd attended the Business, Innovation and Growth Council’s monthly networking meeting last Tuesday.

“I think about 30 to 50 people attended the last few BIG events and we had 150 for this one at least,” he says.

YGC hosted an open house to show off its 100-year-old historic building, now the site of YGC’s corporate dorm, where BIG moved its offices at the beginning of the year.

“About a third of the crowd walked over from the Sunset Club next door to take a tour,” Miller says.

He also says that when he asked people how they were doing, he often got a one-word response that suggests business is good. “I asked how are you doing and most people responded, ‘busy,’ which is great,” Miller says.

LendingTree loss

Rick Stiegler, 47, chief technology officer of LendingTree Inc., died unexpectedly Sunday.

Stiegler, who was well known in Charlotte, was preparing to run in the Boston marathon to raise money for children’s cancer care.

After word of Stiegler’s death circulated, more than $4,000 in donations flooded the Web site he had used to monitor donations.

Stiegler helped create LendingTree’s software, which connects would-be borrowers with lender offers.

Stiegler’s family asked that donations be made to Massachusetts General Hospital’s CancerCare for Children. Details are available at his Web site.

Stigler Donation site: www.justgiving.com/PFP/Rick

United Protection Technologies: www.unitedprotec.com

Business, Innovation and Growth Council: www.mec.org