When Krishna Nadella was a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington in 2002, he made that leap of faith that technology entrepreneurs are famous for—he saw that the technology he was conducting his Master’s research on was perfect for a start-up. Employing that UW technology for microcellular expansion, Nadella and his team described the potential for a new line of plastic cups and food trays that were lighter, held heat better and reduced material costs by as much as 30 percent. The judges at the 2003 Business Plan Competition agreed, and MicroGREEN Polymers took second place honors, winning $15,000 in seed funding and the “Best Technology Idea” prize. The following year, the nascent company was awarded $250,000 in research grants and began negotiating a license with the University of Washington.
By early 2006, MicroGREEN had raised a $2.5 million venture round to establish a scale-up manufacturing facility. But, as Krishna explained to an audience of mechanical engineering students at a February 9 seminar on the UW campus, “we had the right people on the right bus, but in all the wrong places.” The result was predictable, and MicroGREEN scrambled to refocus its technology and reengineer the business model. By the end of 2006, the company hired a seasoned startup CEO, Tom Malone, who put the right people in the right places.
It’s paying off. Last October, MicroGREEN won a $60,000 ZINO Zillionaire investment prize and is in the process of closing their Series B round. The company is using the funds from this round to expand its staff and build its first pilot production facility in Arlington, WA with the capacity to transform 16 million pounds of recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate), made from discarded plastic water and soda bottles, into a broad spectrum of thermoformed products. At the top of the list are food packaging, general packaging and building materials such as insulated wall and ceiling panels.
Nadella, who is now the chief technology officer of the firm, is determined to make MicroGREEN a success. “In the Northwest, software and biotech companies get all the attention,” he said. “I want to prove that there’s good reason to shine an equally strong spotlight on materials technology companies like ours.”
Check it out: http://www.microgreeninc.com/