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ATAMI Launching pad: Expansion boosts Oregon State U incubator for high-tech mfg startups

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The Story

The Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute is primarily a research facility, but for the moment the people in lab coats may be outnumbered by the people in hard hats and safety vests.

A major expansion is underway at ATAMI, an academic-industrial research center and business incubator run by Oregon State University and housed in an 80,000-square-foot building on the Corvallis campus of HP Inc.

Much of that space has been idle since a downsizing HP pulled out of the building, making it available to OSU at a nominal cost starting in 2003.

Not anymore.

The $12.8 million expansion project, which started in January and is expected to wrap up in October, is adding more than 24,000 square feet of tenant-ready space, building out all of the previously unfinished nooks and crannies and bringing ATAMI’s total inventory of usable laboratory and research space to 40,000 square feet.

The work will also double the building’s electrical capacity and add about one and a half times the current air-handling capability. Andersen Construction is the general contractor on the project, with Jacobs Engineering Group providing the design work.

Director Sam Angelos said the growth spurt comes in response to a surge in demand from ATAMI’s client base — a mix of OSU researchers, growth-stage companies (many of them built around technology developed at the university) and industry partners that want to leverage the discoveries coming out of the institute’s labs.

“The reason why we’re expanding now is we see a really strong need for research space in the valley,” said Angelos, who served as vice president of research and development for HP’s imaging and printing group and site manager for the company’s Corvallis operations before taking the reins at ATAMI in 2015.

“This will help catalyze innovation between the university, industry and business spinouts.”

Rising stars

The lion’s share of the new lab space will be leased by two rapidly growing OSU spinouts, Inpria and Valliscor. Both companies are making waves in their respective fields and are ready to take big steps forward.

Inpria has developed a new kind of photoresist, a chemical film used to lay down the patterns for printed circuits in semiconductors. The company’s product is optimized for use in a new production process called extreme ultraviolet lithography, which enables smaller and more precise circuitry for a new generation of computer chips.

“It’s a huge deal,” Angelos said. “They’re the only one that has a material that works for the industry right now.”

The semiconductor industry has certainly taken notice: Inpria has attracted more than $40 million in investment funding to date, with much of it coming from heavy hitters such as Intel Capital and Samsung Ventures. The company already has more than 30 employees and continues to hire, according to a published report from early this year.

Inpria will take about 9,000 square feet of the new space at ATAMI, according to Angelos, with part of it set aside for a pilot production plant.

Valliscor, which will take 5,000 square feet in the buildout while holding onto some of its current lab space at ATAMI, will also be setting up a production line. Co-founded by OSU chemistry professors Rich Carter and Mike Standen, the venture is based on a novel process that allows chemical manufacturers to readily add fluorine to other molecules.

The company’s lead product, called bromofluoromethane, or BFM, gave pharmaceutical manufacturers a more cost-effective way to make fluticasone propionate, a key ingredient in widely used asthma inhalers such as Flonase.

But that’s only the beginning, Carter said. The process can be used to create a huge variety of fluorine compounds — and the potential markets are huge.

“About 25 to 30 percent of all pharmaceuticals contain fluorine,” Carter said. “And the number is even higher in ag products — around 40 percent.”

Rather than seek out investment funding, Valliscor has used revenues from sales to fuel growth, and while Carter won’t disclose employment numbers, he says they’re on the rise.

“We’ve been hiring all year, and we’ll continue to hire,” he said.

But no matter how big the company gets, Carter insists, he sees no reason why it should ever need to leave Corvallis — or ATAMI.

“This makes it possible,” he said of the institute’s expansion.

“We’ll probably have to build another facility for storage … but all our manufacturing and research and development, that will be here.”

Most of the startups that set up shop in ATAMI will move on after two or three years, Angelos said, but Inpria and Valliscor are exceptions to that rule of thumb.

“Having them here provides a stable base for the institute.”

Research enterprise

Another 4,000 square feet in the buildout will be set aside for OSU’s School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, or MIME.

Currently eight OSU professors maintain labs at ATAMI. While their work is wide-ranging, there are two broad areas of emphasis, both reflecting HP’s influence on the institute.

One is process intensification, which Angelos describes as “the ability to make things smaller and more efficient using less materials.”

ATAMI researchers are working on process intensification for applications such as heat exchangers and chemical reactors, in some cases taking advantage of microchannel expertise developed by HP engineers in Corvallis, where the company created the world’s first thermal inkjet printers.

The other main focal point is additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) using metals, an emerging field where ATAMI researchers are collaborating with HP and other industrial partners in hopes of creating business opportunities for new spinouts and existing Oregon companies.

“We’re trying to develop an additive manufacturing ecosystem in the state,” Angelos said.

“This technology of 3D metal printing is really at its basic beginnings – it’s really hard to do it well. But we feel we have a real opportunity to help Oregon become one of those regions that can provide value for this new era.”

Room for growth

With Valliscor and Inpria moving into new digs, that will free up lab space for some smaller ventures to expand or new tenants to move in — part of the ever-changing mix that Angelos likes to see at the institute.

At the moment there are seven other resident businesses at ATAMI, most of them high-tech startups in fields such as energy, 3D printing and microfluidics.

There’s also the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute. ONAMI, which actually occupied the building before ATAMI, is run by HP veteran Skip Rung. ONAMI is focused on providing gap funding and other services to homegrown startups that are not quite ready to fly with their own wings.

Some of the new space at ATAMI is expected to be occupied by technology startups coming out of OSU’s Advantage Accelerator program.

Other business tenants planning to take space at ATAMI include Columbia Sports Science, which is focused on materials development for waterproof/breathable outdoor clothing, and a collaboration involving OSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory working on a method for producing hydrogen fuel cells, according to Angelos.

All of the tenants will have access to a treasure trove of shared high-tech tooling maintained on site. The equipment includes everything from scanning microscopes and gas chromatographs to sputter deposition tools and laser cutting and welding machines.

Connecting the dots

Potentially even more valuable is something Angelos calls “next bench syndrome.” It’s a term he brought with him from his days at HP, when engineers might get curious about what the person at the next bench was working on, sparking a synergistic conversation that could send their own work in new and unexpected directions.

Something similar can happen with the work of professors and grad students at the institute, which can catch the eye of Oregon tech companies and spark new collaborations.

“It’s constantly changing and evolving, and that’s the beauty of it,” Angelos said. “Companies see their research work and want to work with them.”

When it works the way it’s supposed to, all these different elements can come together to create promising new business spinouts from OSU research — maybe even the next Inpria or Valliscor.

“Think of ATAMI as a catalyst for making this stuff happen,” Angelos said.

“I’m just trying to connect the dots with the university professors and business. And if we can connect the dots correctly, maybe we’ll get a real positive result.”


Source: Launching pad: Expansion boosts OSU incubator for high-tech startups | Local | gazettetimes.com

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