Editor’s note: CharlotteBeat is a regular feature on Fridays in WRAL Local Tech Wire.
_______________________________________________________________________________________It’s an adage of economic development that if people like to live in an area and are happy to call it home, they will start firms there, thereby creating jobs and adding to the area’s economic vitality. That’s why the term “quality of life’ is such a buzzword.
Seertech Corporation, which develops advanced technologies for the display, signage and power industries, is an example that the adage is indeed true.
Former venture capitalist and self-described career entrepreneur Frank Bachinsky is keeping the R&D facilities of his firm in California, but set up his one-man corporate headquarters in Charlotte in January.
“Charlotte is home for me and where I want to be,” he said. “And I want to help create jobs for people who have been displaced by the disappearance of textile and tobacco jobs.”
In his dealings with high tech firms, Bachinsky, 42, saw several “diamonds in the rough, ” and Seertech was formed through a complex series of mergers that created its current corporate structure. With that in place, he moved the company to Charlotte, started looking for manufacturing facilities, and is merging the company into a public shell as a way of going public to fund his growth strategy without the headaches of a traditional IPO.
“Private equity funding is very difficult to get, especially in the early stages, and as a former venture capitalist, the last thing I wanted was a VC to fund us,” Bachinsky explained. “This process used to have a negative stigma, but in the last four or five years, it has become an extremely common and respected process. It provides us an excellent platform for us to grow.”
Seertech has several types of products in the works, and three are close to being introduced to the marketplace.
One is digital billboards, also called digital LED signage. These are paperless — and paper-like — billboards on which the image is displayed electronically. So far, Bahcinsky said, this technology has focused on small displays rather than the large ubiquitous signs you see all over American roadways. “You can change the sign an infinite number of times — even during the course of a day — without having to take one down and put up another, so the owner can expand the revenue of the location,” he noted. He hopes to have these products available later this year.
Another potential product is thin film batteries made with a non-toxic electrolyte material in the core, so they don’t require heavy metal casings. That means the batteries can be a fraction of an inch thick. “There’s a large market for applications,” Bachinsky said. “such as in smart cards and medical patches. They’re light-weight, cost-effective and disposable.”
Seerttech is also getting ready to introduce a line of light emitting vests for use by police, runners and bikers. “These are more efficient than reflective vests,” Bachinsky said. “You can see them at a much longer distance, not just when the light hits them.”
The technology has been developed, but now it’s matter of manufacturing the products, and Bachinsky said he is looking at 16 counties surrounding Charlotte for a possible site (or sites) and has been in contact with some economic development groups. He explained that manufacturing in California wasn’t cost effective and that overseas manufacturing was not an option for him.
“SEER stands for social, environmental and economic responsibility,” Bachinsky said. “I believe in practicing sustainable business practices. It’s not a fad; it’s a direction more companies are taking — if they don’t, they can’t survive long term.”
For example, Bachinsky pointed out, the company uses recycled materials, the battery products are non-toxic, and the electronic billboards offer alternatives to paper. But it’s also about people.
“If you have good intellectual property, you can create new jobs and high-skilled positions for U.S. workers — and make good products and make acceptable profits,” Bachinsky said. “Seertech is a prototype of companies that will establish themselves in North Carolina. We have to consider what we as a state want to be in the future. We can be a high tech center — and not just in RTP.”
Chelsea Therapeutics Raises $21M
Charlotte-based Chelsea Therapeutics has raised $21.5 million from several investment firms. The lead investor was Healthcor Management LP, with RA Capital Management, Great Point Partners, GMT Capital and Vivo Ventures as other investors.
This follows a $14.5-million round of investment completed in late 2004. Both were among the largest capital raisings for a Charlotte startup company. A drug development firm, Chelsea trades on the NASDAQ bulletin board system under the ticker, CHTP.OB
Chelsea was formed in 2004 by a New York investment group to license various compounds for its prime potential candidate, a drug called CH-1504. The drug is modeled on methotrexate, which has proven effective in treating a number of conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and cancer.
UNCC Receives Brain Cancer Research Grant
The Biology Department at UNC Charlotte has received a $50,000 grant to conduct brain cancer research from the Brain Tumor Fund for the Carolinas, a three-year-old group based in Charlotte. Matching funds from the university’s office of academic affairs will also be used to fund the research being conducted by UNCC professor Didier Dreanu to study cancers that begin in other places in the body and spread to the brain.
Grant To Boost Non-Profit IT Use
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation has awarded $50,000 to NPower Charlotte Region Inc. to help the organization fund community initiatives to improve area nonprofit organizations’ use of technology. These initiatives include software and hardware infrastructure projects and planning processes that will improve nonprofits’ technological capacities and efficiencies. The foundation is an affiliate of Foundation For The Carolinas.
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