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Business contest winner MicroGen plans for growth

By Journal Staff

Date:

ITHACA — MicroGen Systems, Inc. expects hiring this year in the wake of winning the $200,000 grand prize in the Creative Core Emerging Business Competition.

The company, based in Ithaca, plans to add four to five new employees this year to its current staff of five. MicroGen had been a finalist in the Creative Core competition for the past two years.

The money will go toward hiring and supporting the work of the company’s scientists. Each of the past two years, company leaders felt like they had won the contest, says Michael Perrotta, MicroGen CFO, chief operating officer, and interim CEO.

“I think one of the reasons is that just because we had made much more progress,” Perrotta says of the win this year. “We’re moving things along.”

The firm also expects to close a $1.6 million round of financing in the coming months, Perrotta says. The company has raised almost $400,000 of that total so far.

MicroGen is commercializing a chip-sized power generator that can transform subtle vibrations into energy. The product will be used initially in commercial and industrial monitoring.

The firm had been expecting its first sales this year, but Perrotta now says its first major sales will come in 2013. The firm’s fundraising push has moved slower than hoped, he adds.

“It’s a difficult market right now,” he says.

The amount of money MicroGen is seeking is bigger than what most angel groups would contribute, Perrotta says. So the company has been talking lately with companies interested in using MicroGen’s technology in their products.

The hope is to bring one or more of those firms on board as strategic investors, Perrotta says. MicroGen has been hitting expected milestones in developing its technology, which is helping those conversations move forward, he adds.

Perrotta doesn’t expect any pressure to relocate, even though the investors probably won’t all be local. Companies interested in investing in MicroGen will be doing so to use the firm’s product, not to buy it out.

Forcing a relocation could mean losing the scientific talent the company already has on board, Perrotta notes.

“They’re not going to move us because they don’t want to upset the apple cart,” he says.

Future investment is also one reason Perrotta is serving as “interim” CEO, he says. Investors will likely want a say in who leads the company in the future.

That’s a standard facet of life with startups, Perrotta notes. MicroGen’s previous CEO, David Hessler, departed amicably after bringing the business to a certain point in its development.

Perrotta expects to do the same. MicroGen’s founder, Robert Andosca, is still with the company as president and chief technology officer.

MicroGen’s product could be used to power wireless sensor networks that monitor manufacturing processes, the health of roads and bridges, and even tire pressure in cars, Perrotta says.

Work done in the past year has also made the company more confident that its generator can work with vibrations of lower frequency, Perrotta adds. At some point, that would allow a consumer to charge a cell phone simply by walking.

Andosca first began developing the MicroGen device while in graduate school at the University of Vermont.

MicroGen is funded by a combination of angel investment and grants from sources like the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.  

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