Startup pursues optical nano technology

Dec. 3, 2001--Nano technology -- which promises to take the concept of miniaturization to unprecedented levels -- has found its first optical champion in NanoOpto Corp. (Somerset, NJ). The startup has received $16 million in Series A funding to produce "subwavelength optical elements" that it claims will pack multiple functions into devices of extremely small size.

By Stephen Hardy
Editorial Director and Associate Publisher

Dec. 3, 2001--Nano technology -- which promises to take the concept of miniaturization to unprecedented levels -- has found its first optical champion in NanoOpto Corp. (Somerset, NJ). The startup has received $16 million in Series A funding to produce "subwavelength optical elements" that it claims will pack multiple functions into devices of extremely small size.

The emerging field of nano technology has found proponents in the biomedical and material sciences industries as well as optics. However, Barry Weinbaum, president and CEO of NanoOpto, says that optics researchers have made the greatest strides. NanoOptics will base its activities on research conducted over the last two decades by Dr. Stephen Y. Chou of Princeton University. Dr. Chou founded the company and also serves as chairman.

Weinbaum says NanoOpto will use Dr. Chou�s techniques to produce elements with feature sizes smaller than the wavelength of light. As an example, Weinbaum cites one element that is 10 nm wide. The technology should yield devices that can operate over very wide bandwidths and manipulate light in "unique ways." The material technology provides a platform that can host a wide variety of applications and functions, says Weinbaum, using conventional silicon, glass, and metal ingredients. The resulting devices could be two or three orders of magnitude smaller than conventional components, he says.

While the development of such devices represents a significant in-house expertise, the company�s manufacturing process -- based on what the company calls Nano Imprint Lithography -- is an equally important core competency, particularly given the manufacturing hurdles other nano technology efforts have faced. Weinbaum says the company will be able to produce thousands of components on a single wafer. He adds that the company has been able to acquire much of the fabrication equipment for its new facility in Somerset from the open market, although at least some of the imprinting equipment has had to be developed specifically for NanoOpto�s application.

The company is already well on its way toward introducing its first product family, having delivered prototype samples to "more than 10" component suppliers, according to Weinbaum. He declined to describe what the components are designed to do, although he did say that they perform passive functions. The company expects to unveil its first suite of discrete monolithic subcomponent products in the first quarter of next year -- likely just before OFC, Weinbaum predicts. He also says the company should begin realizing revenue by early next summer, particularly given the fact that some of the current beta customers have bought small lot sizes of some of the devices.

In addition to Weinbaum and Dr. Chou, company principals include Howard Lee, acting COO and co-founder; Sheo Khetan, vice president of operations; Hubert Kostal, vice president of marketing and sales; Dr. Y.K. Park, senior director of engineering; and Hope Conoscente, director of human resources.

Four venture capital firms participated in the Series A round, with Bessemer Venture Partners and Morgenthaler leading the way. New Enterprise Associates and U.S. Trust's Excelsior Venture Partners III, LLC also participated.

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