RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Back in 2004, ImagineOptix launched under the leadership of optical science researcher, Michael Escuti, a professor from NCSU, long-time IBM executive Dennis Kekas and Dennis’s son Jason Kekas.
Today, its CEO Erin Clark believes the company is poised to be a leader in the “burgeoning optical revolution.”
“The timing has been very fortuitous,” says Clark, pointing to the firm’s proprietary technology developed over the years that allows optics to be “thinner, lighter, and more efficient than current optics solutions.”
The RTP-based company, which specializes on optics technology used in virtual and augmented reality devices, raised $5 million in new capital this month, and is looking to raise another $4 million in the coming months. That’s on top of $9 million raised just a few years ago. On top of that, it recently opened a new manufacturing facility in the area.
WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to get an update. Here’s what he had to say:
- Why did ImagineOptix decide to fundraise at this time?
ImagineOptix was looking for capital to fund additional runway while building our new manufacturing facility. In addition, we were looking for strategic partners that could help us as we took this next step in our evolution. We were lucky to find a great partner who was also in a position to invest. So, we seized the opportunity to get them invested.
- Who were the investors?
While they wish to remain confidential, we can mention that they are a globally recognized brand with terrific and relevant experience for what we are doing.
- How do you plan to use the $5 million?
The investment will give us the operational working capital needed while we focus less on revenue generation and more on finishing our new manufacturing facility and launching our first product.
- The SEC filing says you’re also looking to raise $4 million more. What for? And from where?
We are looking to build off our initial Series E investment to secure additional working capital and, if possible, additional strategic partnerships.
- You recently opened a new manufacturing facility in RTP. Why was this needed?
Our customers come to us looking for previously impossible solutions to optical problems. With our new facility, we can offer our customers a quick and seamless transition from the first concept of a solution, to simulation, prototypes and volume production. And we can provide this with complete visibility into capacity, cost curves and quality control aspects of volume production from the start of our engagement. This level of service is required for a small business like ImagineOptix to seriously engage our target customers.
- Tell me about the genesis of the company — from when you started in 2004 to where you are today?
ImagineOptix was founded in 2004 based on a three- dimensional liquid crystal structure. We intended to use it to make the world’s smallest, lowest cost projectors, and imbed them in cell phones. After finding some amazing partners and having a demo of the world’s smallest pico projector at the time, another critical supplier went out of business and the whole project dissolved. But that project lead us to mature our polymer based film technology that is the basis of all of our work today. And we have spent a decade perfecting the ability to create completely new optics in thin polymer films – like lenses and beamsplitters. While the rest of the world focused on pushing computing and mechanics to follow Moore’s Law, optics had fallen behind with nearly no advancement. However, we are now extremely well positioned to be a leader in the burgeoning optical revolution as the leader in thin film optics. From that perspective, the timing has been very fortuitous.
- How has the company changed in its mission?
Our mission is to inspire transformative photonic systems by making impossible optics possible. The markets where this is most meaningful, or where the most momentum is, have changed over the years. But our mission has not changed since 2004.
- Where do you see optics technology going?
We truly are on the leading edge of a revolution. Optics fell behind. Whether you consider augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), telecom or any other market, you find that the evolution of products in those markets are being stifled now by the limits of optics. Optics need to be smaller, thinner and way more capable to enable the next generation of products like 5G, holographic smart phones and the AR glasses we see in the movies.
- How many employees do you currently have? Are you hiring?
We have grown from 5 people in mid-2019 to 19 people now. We expect to grow by a few more in 2020 as we start production, and then we will see how fast we need to grow from there.